Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bike Nerdvana

My cycling buddy Paul, last seen riding south out of Prescott a couple of weeks ago, showed back up Tuesday with his eleven-year-old son Karl. They drove up this time, and are leaving their car with us while they take Amtrak to Seattle to visit family. The westbound Amtrak leaves around 11:00PM and Paul showed up about 12:30PM. Time to kill! What do we do? Work on bikes!

W A R N I N G ! Boring Bike Tech Stuff Follows!

First on the list was re-gearing the Atlantis. The high gear on this bike was a 46/11, or about a 112 inch gear. I never ride gears this high. On my old Motobecane my high gear was a 52/14, or about a 100 inch gear, and I basically never rode a gear that high even back when I rode a lot more. Also, I wanted closer gearing jumps in the middle ranges, so Paul brought along a bunch of cassettes and random loose cogs.

The first order of business was taking apart my Sachs cassette. While on some cassettes this can apparently be a chore, involving punches and drill presses, this one proved very simple; a single long thin bolt loosened with a 1.5mm hex key, out it came, and the whole thing fell apart. We then went through putting it back together but substituting in new gears. The cassette went from Old to New gearing:

Old 11 12 14 16 18 21 24 28 32

New 13 15 16 17 18 19 21 24 28

Perhaps this display shows the change better:

Old  11 12    14    16    18       21       24          28          32

New         13    15 16 17 18 19    21       24          28

The overall range is less, the lowest gear is higher and the highest gear is lower, but that tight cluster through the middle should allow some real fine-tuning of my effort and speed in the useful cruising gears. And, if I don't like it, I'll just take it apart and try something else!

Time also for more practicality. Paul brought up a couple of kickstands he had lying around. One was way too short, but the other one worked, after a trip to the hardware store to pick up a 2-inch 3/8" bolt for the mounting. Kickstands are funny things, I think that almost no serious cyclist thinks they're cool. I'm not sure if the correct word for the traditional cyclist's attitude towards kickstands would be 'disdain' or 'contempt'. Me, I love 'em. I love the cheap one-legged ones, like I just put on the Atlantis, somewhat less than the $50 Esge twin-legged ones like I have on the Marin, but after having had kickstands for years it seems incomprehensible to me that a Practical Bike would come without one. It's just so darn handy to flip it down and stand the bike up. Riding an Atlantis with a Brooks saddle can quickly get you pegged as a Retro cyclist, but even the Retros don't use kickstands.

I happened to mention to Paul that I'd seen the clearance Blackburn rack ($10) at Boehm's on Sunday but it didn't fit. Nonsense, he said, we'll bend it! We threw (gently) the Atlantis in the back of my pickup and hauled it down to the Boehm's at Selby and Snelling and took the bike in. After fiddling with the rack, we decided maybe it would fit and I ponied up the $10.70. At home, I lit the charcoal and while it was getting going we got out The Pipe (a big long pipe clamp) and put it over the fixed seatstay extensions on the rack and bent them, using the Wonders of Leverage, until they fit. I came up with a motley assortment of 5mm bolts and sure enough, the rack fits. It's even silver, which is a good look for my Atlantis.

Let's see; gears fiddled with, kickstand on, fenders installed, rack mounted. About all I need now is a bell and this thing will be useful.

We also ruined Henry's bike, at least in some eyes. I bought this Trek 620 touring bike from a bike shop in Iowa Falls in April for $100. It's in really nice shape. However, it has a gearing which is a bit odd, a six-speed freewheel (on the legendary, though not necessarily in a good way, Helicomatic hub) with 28/45/50 chainrings. The tight spacing between the 45 and 50 tooth chainrings was for a gearing setup called Half Step Plus Granny and it had many Wild-Eyed Zealots who loved it back in the 1980s. The gearing, laid out, did make sense, but every increment up was a double shift, one cog on the freewheel and a shift to the other of the middle and large chainrings. Paul brought along some chainrings he had lying around, and now Henry's bike has 28/34/45 chainrings. I might even dig up a 24 tooth small chainring for him to lower the low range on the bike. We figure somewhere there are some weathered but fervent Half Step Plus Granny zealots shedding a tear.

As happens on these things, it's the small stuff that's a total timesink. The 45-tooth chainring on Henry's bike wasn't meant to be the large chainring, so lacked a little stubby bolt next to the crank arm to keep the chain from wedging in there if you accidentally overshift. Your bike probably has one. So, we walked over to the hardware store, bought a small bolt and a couple of nuts, marked, drilled out and tapped the chainring, then installed the little bolt which was too long so we got out the trusty Dremel tool and cut it off in a satisfying shower of sparks and the acrid smell of disintegrating cutoff wheels. All told, this took more than an hour. If we keep that derailleur properly adjusted, this little bolt will never be needed. This is why I don't work in a bike store. I could see telling a customer, yep, we can put a little screw in there. The parts will run you $0.37 and labor will be $108.00.

There's more to do on Henry's bike. We're going to build him a set of 700C wheels, which will fit better than the 27 inchers that are on there now and allow fender clearance, and the rear wheel will use my Marin's old Deore LX cassette hub (I bought a new wheel after the old one kept breaking spokes because of corroded nipples)(I just love the words "corroded nipples") and thus go to eight speeds. This will require spreading the rear triangle on the bike out to fit, but this is a steel frame (lugged Reynolds 531) and so can take that sort of thing. If it still works, we'll stick with the slightly odd Duopar derailleur he's got on there.

Some more mods are coming for my bikes. Nashbar had a 20%-off sale on everything and I ordered up a couple of cheap sets of clipless pedals, a pair of shoes I hope are big enough (size 48s) and some cheap brake levers and a kickstand (for Henry's Trek 620). I'm going to try the clipless thing for the first time. I'm going to go purely clipless on the Atlantis and got a pair of clipless/platform pedals for the Marin so on that bike I won't need to always put on bike shoes to ride to the bagel shop or grocery store.

I love this aspect of bicycles, that everything can be modified and customized and you can be very intentional about every little part and component, or care deeply about some (my frame, bottom bracket, handlebars, tires) and be agnostic or oblivious about others (brakes, levers, rack, seatpost), or be oblivious about everything. Cycling welcomes the whole spectrum of involvment with the machines and I really enjoy my little point in the continuum.

OK, it's all clear, civilians can return to reading.

I took Paul and Karl down to the Amtrak station and the train showed up about 45 minutes late, about par for the course. Paul is taking a folding bike with him in a big suitcase. Once the train got there, I left. They'll be back in a couple of weeks.


Nathan said...

Awesome writeup of your wrenching! :D


Anonymous said...

Thanks! It's gratifying to know someone actually read through it!