Thursday, April 30, 2020

repair, don't replace # 128: thumb shifter

Late last summer, one of the thumb shifter clamos on my BStone bike broke. Snapped clean in two.
Not having time to really deal with it then, I bought a cheap thumb shifter at the CCC and swapped it in so I could get home. I pocketed the old shifter and put it away to deal with later.
With the warming days and the shutdown, I finally got around to taking a closer look at the old shifter,  a lovely Suntour with a hinged clamp (so smart! why isn't that a design standard?).

The break was clean and looked like the result of over-tightening on my part. It could also have been helped by the bike being knocked on its side.

I super-glued the break just enough for it to hold together while I worked on the real repair.

Once the super-glue dried enough to hold, I turned my attention to the real repair.

For this, I selected two bottle caps.

The first, I trimmed so that, when I folded the edges inside, the remaining width would match the width of the outside of the clamp.
This I shaped into the roundness approximating the outside curve of the clamp, and set in place over the break area with clear industrial epoxy, which I allowed to set overnight.

The next day, the epoxy had dried and hardened sufficiently that I could move to the inside of the clamp.

This required a finer touch. I could only use one layer of metal, with no folded edges; and when I'd cut it to size I'd have to first file the edges, and then carefully curve this piece to match the shape of the inside curve.

If I got this wrong, or it didn't set properly,  then the finished repair wouldn't clamp around the handlebar.
One thing in my favor is that I've been riding this bike with a steel Wald Touring bar, which is a very tiny bit smaller in diameter than an alloy upright bar. So I might be able to get away with this repair and still clamp it back into place.

I cut, filed, sanded and shaped; applied clear epoxy and carefully set it into the inside of the clamp with tweezers, then held it in place for several minutes before lightly applying more epoxy on the sides to strengthen the hold.

The next morning,  I was ready to try it and see if it would work.
 Before I reinstalled the shifter, I laid down one wrap of thin blue rim tape, to give the clamp something to "bite" into -- a way to avoid over-tightening an already compromised clamp.
To my delight, I was able to clamp it carefully in place, and have it hold steady while I shifted. It held perfectly and shifted easily.

Stuff like this is why I really became a bike mechanic.

Happy [solo] riding.

Monday, April 27, 2020

perceptions of scarcity in a world filled with plenty

It would seem that bikes are becoming a scarce resource in this time. Department store bikes are selling for nearly what they cost new; old rusty Schwinn Varsity's are being offered for $200 as "vintage"; and bikes with obvious mechanical flaws are being sold as "rideable" when they clearly are not.
Add to this an uptick in break-ins at bike shops, and what we have is a reaction to the shutdown, plain and simple.

So I want to address this new reality with some questions, which readers are free to answer or simply ponder:

1. If you own more than two bikes, how often do you ride each of them?

2. If you have multiple bikes for different purposes -- racing, "gravel" riding, touring and the like -- how often will you utilize them now that we're in a global pandemic where many parts of bicycle recreation simply aren't happening, or aren't safe?

3. When you find a used mountain bike for $20 and you already own multiple bikes, what's your first impulse? Do you snap it up regardless of your own need? Do you leave it for someone else? Why or why not?

As soon as the shutdown was clearly a longer-term concern, I could no longer send bikes to our local refugee resettlement organization. I had a couple in the queue, so when I fixed those up I either sold them to essential workers for a very cheap price (so they wouldn't have to rely on transit, for example), or I stripped usable parts from them to effect repairs on other bikes.

I've been looking for used bikes to buy for cheap so I can continue to keep going in my tiny workshop, and you know what?
They're all out of my budget now.
Crappy bikes are selling for over $100, and they are being snapped up by people with the money to get them. Department store bikes that were bad to begin with and have gotten worse with use and age are selling on Craigslist for $80 to $100 -- and people are buying them, willing to pay prices that just three months ago would've been considered highway robbery.

We are living in a time of tremendous perceived scarcity.
I say perceived because if you ride past a larger homeless encampment you may well find a bicycle chop shop where stolen bikes are stripped and rebuilt and sold or traded back and forth.
There has been an uptick in the number of bike shops being broken into over the last two months, bikes and parts and tools stolen.

Although I am careful about whom I give my location to and only take customers by word-of-mouth from family and friends, I would not be surprised if at some point down the road someone tried to steal a bike or some tools from me. BEcause the perception of scarcity is making people more willing to take chances to get what they want or need.

And it's not just bikes, as we've seen with toilet paper and other household items.

So I invite all of us to stop for a moment and to consider why we're snapping up these old, shitty bikes. Are we buying stuff to hoard, to sit on until the scarcity becomes more real and more widespread? Will we then sell them off at even higher prices because that's how capitalism works?
Would any of us even consider finding bikes to build up and give away to those in need at a time ike this? Why or why not?

I've heard lots of talk about how capitalism is evil and must be brought down. AND I'm highly aware that we are all products of a capitalist upbringing. We are in conflict with ourselves and with our ideals, in a time when it takes all our energy not to just curl up under the blankets and hide until the pandemic ends.

So how do we respond to the current climate? Do we scavenge and then hoard? Or do we begin to use our skills to help bring about a change in our communities? Where is the fuzzy middle in such an equation? Where does concern for our own survival overlap with concern for those who lack basic needs in a time of crisis? Is the overlap subsumed by our animal instinct, our reptile brains?
Only we can decide that, each of us.

Happy solo riding.

Friday, April 24, 2020

ride solo. please.

Dear bikey friends:

There is still so much that we don't know about the coronavirus.
And it will take a long time -- perhaps as much as a year or even TWO -- before a viable vaccine might be developed.
So we need to settle into a new normal that includes taking extra precautions.
Along with frequent handwashing, serious distancing from people you don't live with, and limiting visits to essential places like stores and such...

If you choose to ride a bicycle during the shutdown, you need to ride alone.

There really is no wiggle room around this.

First of all, if you ride with your kids, they need to be old enough and disciplined enough to hold their line and to ride close to you at all times. Kids are known for wanting to race ahead and then let their parents catch up. They like to swerve wide, usually without warning and often while they're looking somewhere else besides in front of them.
You simply can't let them do this kind of riding right now.
If they can't handle more disciplined, careful riding, then they are too young to ride their own bikes and need to be on a tag-along or in a trailer. Or you need to find something else to do outside that keeps them safer.

Secondly, riding in a "socially distant" group where every rider is somehow spaced six or more feet apart is delusional. Pedestrians are walking in the middle of the street to avoid getting too close to other pedestrians on the sidewalk. Kids on foot are having the same issues with staying close to their folks as they would on their bikes. And on many quieter residential streets there's not enough room to stay safely distant.

If you're riding in a group you also run the risk of catching someone else's vapors from heavy breathing and sneezing. A mask isn't a guarantee.For now, ride only with the people you live with.
And if the people you live with don't ride, ride alone.
Solo riding all the time is hard.
There's no one to talk with to help shorten the miles.
There's no one to share lunch with, or to help you fix a flat.

Solo riding in this time of COVID-19 is also risky if you try to stick with you pre-virus riding habits and goals.
Mental and emotional fatigue has taken its toll on all of us and we are all processing the challenging, difficult differentness of this time. We are grieving for the way things were only weeks ago. And we are struggling with the uncertainty of how long this could actually last -- and how things might be permanently changed when it's safe to come back outside and embrace our loved ones again.

So if your old norm was kicking out a 20-mile ride, stopping for lunch and restrooms along the way, that's not going to happen now. And it shouldn't happen. Because the whole point of staying home is to flatten the curve and keep everyone safe -- and a live.
So adjust your riding goals and habits.

Recognize that a shorter ride closer to home will make more sense. Recognize that public restroom access is basically done for now, and if you need a bathroom you will have to turn around and go home to take care of business.
Recognize that your lunch option for now will mean a sack lunch prepared at home. (And of course, if you pack it in, pack it out.) There shouldn't be any stopping at a convenience store to grab something just because you have a hankering for a Charleston Chew. That is not the point of having shops stay open! The shops are open to allow people to buy necessities they need, like milk and toilet paper. Don't take risks by taking advantage of the situation.

Riding solo and closer to home means you need to adjust your mindset about why you ride. These shorter, slower rides can get stale, true; but if you remain open to possibility they can also be a way to slow down and observe the life in your neighborhood on a micro-level.

I notice flowers a lot more on my rides these days. Little riots of color pop out with every dogwood flower and iris. Trees are leafing out into their rich, green fullness in preparation for the longest, chlorophyll-making days of the year. Birds are nesting now and before too long their eggs will hatch and you'll hear the sounds of their babies overhead. If you live in the city, notice how quiet it is when the streets are emptier; breathe cleaner air and marvel at bluer skies. Listen closely for the whrrr of your freehub, and the hum of tires on pavement.

Adjusting our expectations during this time can give us time and space to calm down and recharge while we ride. And that's a good thing.

So please, please ride alone, slow down and stay safe.
So that one day we can all ride together again.

Monday, April 20, 2020

why people can't have affordable used bikes

You would not believe the number of ads I see for bikes just like this.  OMG.
Raleigh m20 mountain bike
Posted 19 hours ago in Bicycles
Used (normal wear)

Raleigh M20 mountain bike. Series 6061, aluminum frame.
Right pedal is bent so you can not make a full cycle.
Both brakes do not work. Left side of the handle bar is bent.
Otherwise it is a very nice mountain bike.
These people are simply not living in reality.
Rant over.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

ben's bike: a rebuild

Pal Ben had his bike stolen recently -- hey, times are really hard now -- and needed a replacement to get around on. I scored this abandoned bike some months ago and dragged it home by carrying the front wheel in my front cargo rack and tying the fork high onto my rear rack. (It was ugly getting it home, don't ask.)

It would be a perfect size for Ben, so with his go-ahead, I tore it down and rebuilt it.

As it turned out, I needed the front wheel right away for another project. So I swapped in another wheel when one came along last week. The rear wheel was basically a loss -- too many fatigued and/or broken spokes -- so I pulled the cassette cogs, cleaned them up and installed them on another wheel that should work just fine.

The shock fork had to go. The stanchons were locked out and frozen, and I was horrified to discover that metal had worn away on the inside of each stanchon -- on one, whatever had caused the wear had made an actual hole (photo at left).

After pulling the old fork and removing the crown race from it, I set about replacing it with a rigid fork, all that would be needed for urban riding.

To my dismay, I noted that the one fork I had on hand that would fit was just 1/4" too long in the steer tube. What to do? I looked around, and decided to modify a headset space of the right thickness and install it under the crown race. I cut a gap with bold cutters, spread it slightly with pliers and slammed it home onto the bottom of the steer tube. Then I slammed the crown race home and it not only fit, it stayed put. An odd way of adding stack height to a threaded fork, but as long as it's a very small amount it should work.

Obviously, this is something that would never be done at a full-service bike shop; they have liability issues to contend with and that limits what kinds of repairs the service manager will take in. But that gap is less than 1/4" wide, and the stack and crown race are not going anywhere, especially after the fork is installed. (If it really bothered me I suppose that I could squirt some fast-drying epoxy in there to fill the gap. But it's fine, really. I would ride this repair on MY bike if I had no other options.)

After that, it was onto the rear end of the frame. The frame was straight (sometimes amazing when the bike looks like it had been kludged together and ridden hard by someone living outside), but the derailleur hanger was bent, preventing a good adjustment of the rear derailleur.
(Below: derailleur mounted showing bent hanger.)

 In order to straighten a bent derailleur hanger -- the part of the frame into which the rear derailleur is threaded -- two things have to be taken into account.

First, are the threads damaged? If so, it's very possible that the metal is compromised within and without, meaning that any attempt to cold-set (bend by hand) the hanger could result in breaking it off.

If the threads are in good shape, and the bend isn't too severe, then it's possible that a deft touch with an adjustable wrench may be just enough to bring the hanger back into alignment.

How do you gauge how much force is required?
We often call that, in skilled trades, mechanic's feel; a sense of how much force is needed to tighten or bend something without going too far -- by stripping threads or breaking a bent piece of metal.
Because the bend was slight, at the end of the hanger and the threads looked good, I didn't have to move the hanger very far at all.

 As a result, when I re-installed the rear derailleur it mounted easily and in line with the frame. All I needed to do after that was adjust the derailleur to line up with where the cassette cogs were spaced on the cassette, set the limit screws and hook it up.

Then I hooked everything up -- cables, housing, a new chain, and some nice old friction thumb shifters on a great swept-back handlebar. I chose to keep the old stem, so that Ben would be able to still lean forward a little even while riding with a more upright position -- most younger men like riding this way and their longer torso can easily manage the longer distance to the handlebar.

I lately had an embarrassment of riches in multiple sets of cantilever brake sets, so finding one to install here was easy. Tires and tubes came from my bike (when I decided two weeks ago to swap in fatter tires on the All Rounder), so on they went. In the end, The only new parts needed were cables, housing, saddle and seatpost, and a top-pull front deraileur I scored from Kai at Upcycles.

I test-rode it up and down my empty street several times, shifting gears and trying the brakes at different speeds to make sure they would stop the bike.

After that, a few more tweaks and checks on nuts and bolts, another test-ride and it was done.

I think Ben will enjoy riding this bike. I hope he has a good lock for it.

If someone wants to bring me a frame and some parts and turn it into a rideable bike, I am happy to do that -- though parts and labor will make this a slightly more expensive proposition than simply buying a used low-end bike and tuning it up. But buildups are fun and can give you a bike that comes a lot closer to suiting your needs. If you build it with decent parts, it can also last longer (though tires, tubes and chains all need regular checking and replacing no matter what).

Happy, safe, SOLO riding!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

small-scale bike repair in northeast pdx


I am now taking appointments for bicycle repairs and tuneups FOR ADULT BIKES ONLY.

Retired mechanic w/20+ years shop/race experience.

Appointments available Sunday through Wednesday.

Located close-in NE Portland near MLK Blvd.

Drop off in the morning means pickup later that day in most cases.
During the statewide stay-at-home order, I will wear a mask and wipe down each bike with disinfectant wipes upon handoff.

My rates are far more reasonable than shops with overhead. NOTE: in some cases I will consider bikes or frames in partial trade (on a LIMITED, case-by-case basis).

You may contact me here in the comments with an EMAIL where I can reach you (no texting, sorry) and I will get back to you to arrange an appointment day and time.

Safe, solo riding, everyone!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

this week in the brain trust

This week, having scored a decent rolling storage tub unit, I began tackling the mess in the workshop, beginning with upgrading component storage and sorting through some of the oddball components that have come my way over the last several months.
I was glad to have found a better way to store parts. It's not super-strong but it will be durable enough for my purposes until I can find a small all-metal version out there somewhere.

Tomorrow I have some time in the morning to continue cleaning and straightening up. Next, to clear off my tiny workbench so I can actually use it again, instead of dumping parts into my lap while sitting with my shop apron spread across my legs. Because yeah, this looks pretty neglected. (Kind of embarrassing, actually. My workbench at Citybikes never looked this bad, even in the middle of a job.)

Along the way I'll be pulling doubles and extras from my tool collection to toss online to sell and try to make a few bucks (while we all wait to see just how much Trump plans to rob from our COVID-19 checks before they're issued).  Stay tuned and check eBay for some VERY reasonably-priced tools.

Along with continuing to find and repair bikes for my ongoing refugee bikes project, now in its fourth year, I am beginning to take in bike repairs and tune-ups as a way to make a few bucks and help cover some bills while the president sorts out how much or little we will actually receive in COVID-19  stimulus checks. Because right now it's still up in the air for freelancers like me, and I still have bills to pay.
And enjoy those solo rides wherever you can!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

#30daysofbiking, Day 12: photo gallery

Day twelve of #30daysofbiking was a loop taking me to Harbor Freight and back home along quiet residential side streets and alleyways in North Portland.

Evidence photo taken in reflection on Interstate Avenue.

Below: Crossing over an eerily quiet I-5 North. Just crazy and surreal.
Graffiti in bright spring colors.

Below: Stopping past a homeless encampment along N. Michigan, at a "soundproofing" wall along I-5 South. You can still hear the cars and trucks go by but there are far fewer of them than there normally would be on a Sunday afternoon.

Honestly, it is really hard to use bike rides as a mental health distraction when I ride past such encampments on nearly every ride; what happens to me and Sweetie if the shit really hits the fan, if the shutdown lasts through the fall and into the early winter and we can't go back to work or pay our bills? It's not difficult to fear ending up here in the worst moments.

Along one of NE Portland's many little alleyways on the way home, I saw this beautiful growth over an old stone wall and had to stop and admire it.

Below, curbside score! A man had set this out and when I stopped to inspect, he handed me a bucket containing a spray bottle of diluted Pine-Sol and disposable towlettes.

I wiped it down, mounted it on my cargo rack, and thanked the man with a wave and a smile as a rode away. This will be a nice addition to the Bicycle Brain Trust, a perfect under-workbench storage unit for cables, housing and other parts.
I am grateful for the warming and lengthening days of Spring.  We're looking forward to highs in the low 70sF in the coming week, and I'm preparing to swap out the winter sweaters from my drawers for the shorts and ankle socks. I'm also taking a delivery of a couple of donor bikes later this week and I'm glad; it will give me something to work on at home.

Wishing you all good rides wherever you go.

Monday, April 6, 2020

biking in the time of coronavirus

I've lost track of how many days we've been under a stay at home order here in Oregon. We've been staying home for at least a couple of weeks now, maybe almost three. But when I can I still get outside for a bike ride.

#30daysofbiking has helped provide some impetus for this; I admit I wouldn't be riding so faithfully without the goal in mind. (In anticipation of an eye surgery that is now postponed until at least May or June, I'd banked a few rides in advance. I am only using those if my depression becomes so severe that I'm better off at home under the covers.)
Yesterday I took advantage of a sunny afternoon to ride over to a local park and do some drumming on a practice pad. The closest Starbucks has just closed to all but drive-thru traffic, and I was cheerfully directed to use the drive-thru on my bicycle, a first at a Starbucks.

Mindful of both my immuno-suppressed status and the CDC's new advisory, I fashioned a functional mask from one of my cycling bandanas. Will it actually make a difference? I dion't know, but folks who saw seemed to appreciate my efforts.

Coffee obtained, I headed over to Penninsula Park, and found an open bench. As I settled in and enjoyed a half-hour of drumming (punctuated by pulls off my cup of coffee), I noticed with some surprise that people were simply not being careful about keeping a safe distance apart. Some passed within four or five feet of my bench behind me; parents were not able to keep their young children from running around and getting too close to others in the park.

I played louder, which seemed to encourage folks to stay farther away from me. (I can get pretty loud on a rubber practice pad. Next time I'll try a real drum and see how socially distant that keeps me from others...)

When I couldn't stand watching peoples' inattention anymore, I packed up, threw my cup in the trash and rode away from the park.
The nice part of my bike rides has been seeing all the new spring growth, which is really taking off here in Portland. Lots of daffodils are just giving way to tulips and even marigolds. The first Irises can't be too far off now, I think.

Today, new reports in my feed have appeared about experts saying that six feet isn't nearly enough distance to stay safe. Some suggest a minimum of twenty feet; others insist that new evidence about the virus' airborne qualities suggests not going outside at all. (Thank god I don't have kids at home, or we'd all go bonkers.)

Since nobody really knows everything (or even most things) about COVID-19, it seems a safe bet that people are going to do whatever makes sense to them -- even if what makes sense is to ignore the whole thing and brush it off as some kind of commie propaganda.

Nonetheless, we are living -- and biking -- in a highly unusual time, and it seems the most sensible thing is to protect ourselves and each other as best we can. If our government can't or won't take the necessary steps, then we have to kludge it ourselves and hope we all make it to the end of this crisis together.

I'm trying. I ride alone, I stay home when I'm not riding, and I take care in all things.
Hope you are as well.
Happy solo riding!