Sunday, April 15, 2007


There have been a number of things go by in the last two or three weeks that I thought worthy of mention but haven't got around to. Now you get 'em all at once!

Hiawatha Bridge

The Midtown Greenway is a great installation, a serious transportation-oriented bicycle and pedestrian facility, but the crossing of Hiawatha Avenue hasn't been great, a crosswalk across many lanes of traffic. The plan is to put a bridge in to carry the Greenway over Hiawatha, and construction has begun. This photo is actually from March 24th, my first outing on the Atlantis this season:

Bridge piers for the Midtown Greenway bridge

The Greenway website is uniquely uninformative in telling about this but my recollection is that it won't open until next spring. Still, given the long lead times on these kinds of projects, it's good to see concrete being poured.

Handlebar Review

The kids went to Kentucky for Spring Break to visit one of my sisters in Pikeville, deep in the heart of Appalachia. They went by Amtrak. They've never travelled alone and I had some anxiety about the outbound connection, a 2 hour layover in Union Station. If they were late and missed this, the next train to Ashland wasn't until Tuesday and I didn't like the idea of 15-year-old Henry and 13-year-old Geneva alone in the Big City. Given all this, I flew down to ensure things went well, show them the ropes, etc. I put them on the train at 7:30AM in Saint Paul, caught a very full flight to Midway in Chicago, took the CTA into the Loop (you can buy a $5.00 24-hour transit pass, a great idea), found Union Station and checked the train status (a bit late), then had some time to kill and was hungry. I decided to go to the Handlebar.

There was a blogger called Den of Awkwardness (the blog's still there, but has been dormant since last fall) who is a young lawyer riding in the Big City. Along the way, she bought into a bar called the Handlebar, which is bike-oriented, and it sounded like a hangout for cyclists. When planning this I noted that I had time to kill before the kids showed up so I thought I'd pop into a few bikeshops and did a google. The Handlebar had popped up in this search and is close to one of the shops I wanted to visit, so off I went to lunch.

The reviews on the Handlebar are mixed, from "greatest place in Chicago" to "interminable wait for surly service". I took the CTA Blue Line out to the Damen Park, made a couple of false starts (Milwaukee Road comes through the grid at a diagonal right here, cutting up the usual grid), and went to the bar. Here it is:

The Handlebar in Chicago's Wicker Park area
A couple of reviewers mentioned the tuna, tomato and avocado sandwich, so I had that and some local ale. It was delicious. I actually was very fond of the spicy coleslaw but only got a little dollop of that. The place does look pretty attitude-filled (I liked the bumper sticker "Only Users Lose Drugs"), lots of urban hipsters, young, tattooed and perforated, but my waitstaff was polite and the service pretty quick. Of course, it was about 1:45 on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, maybe it would have been different at 6:00PM. Bike attitude can take you only so far, good food and drink is necessary, and the Handlebar makes it on that point. I wandered down to the bike store (Rapid Transit Cycles and poked around, then caught the train back downtown.

Here are some other Chicago views:
Sears Tower on a cloudy day
Iconic Chicago view I: The Sears Tower. This is actually very close to Union Station.

Razor wire in Chicago
Iconic Chicago View II: Razor Wire. When you ride the trains, this stuff's all over the place, in this case, at the Damen Street station. Chicago was just selected to make the U.S. bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, so I figure their logo ought to be the Olympic rings in razor wire.

Folding chair on a rooftop in Wicker Park
You think they'd have wicker chairs in Wicker Park. This is also right next to the Damen Street station.

I flew home that night and the following week the kids came back. I didn't go back to meet them, my point on the outbound leg was to show them the ropes, and they successfully made the homebound connection and got back Easter Saturday, 15 minutes early.

Motor Trend

I'm guessing that most readers of this blog, a number thought to be well into the double digits, don't subscribe to Motor Trend. I don't either, but one day a couple of weeks ago I was in my dentist's office about to get a new crown installed and the May 2007 issue was sitting there. The cover story is about the Subaru WRX, a hot little overpowered sports car, and I noticed it because I've been involved in a VIN re-symboling project at work (tedious enough to be fatal to the uninitiated) where WRXs are real outliers. I picked up the issue and paged through and there's an interview in there with former CIA director James Woolsey. He's a strong advocate for energy independence and has attitudes that are right in sync with many cyclists: We are funding both sides of the War on Terror, gas pumps are collection plates for Al Qaeda, his Prius has a bumper sticker saying "Bin Laden Hates This Car". It was kind of unexpected for a magazine that usually salivates over the prospect of new V-12 engines to have this interview in there. It's worth a read, it's not online, but you can stand around in Barnes and Noble or your local library and get through it.

Peak Oil: Mexico's Cantarell Field

I read some of the Peak Oil stuff and believe that we are at around the Peak Oil point, that there will be an imbalance between energy supply and demand and that energy will get more expensive. I think those that believe energy will be cheap again are being unrealistic and hope that those that expect total societal breakdown are wrong. The Wall Street Journal on April 5 had an article entitled "Mexico Tries to Save A Big Fading Oil Field" about their Cantarell Field. Here are the first couple of paragraphs:
In March 1971, a Mexican fisherman named Rudesindo Cantarell took a few geologists from state-run oil company PetrĂ³leos Mexicanos to this spot, where he had seen oil slicks. Mr. Cantarell didn't know it, but he had stumbled across one of the largest offshore oil fields ever found.

A few decades and 12 billion barrels of oil later, the field that bears Mr. Cantarell's name is dying, and Pemex, as the state-owned company is known, is struggling to stave off the field's demise. From January 2006 though February 2007, Cantarell lost a staggering one-fifth of its production, with daily output falling to 1.6 million barrels from two million.

The oil industry was stunned. Cantarell, which currently produces one of every 50 barrels of oil on the world market, is fading so fast analysts believe Mexico may become an oil importer in eight years. That would batter Mexico's economy, which depends on oil exports to fund 40% of its government spending.

The continued deterioration of the world's second-biggest field by output would also put pressure on prices on the global oil market, where supplies are barely keeping up with growing demand as it is. And it would leave the U.S. even more dependent on Middle Eastern supplies -- and that much more vulnerable to political tumult in that region.

The Oil Industry was stunned? Even I have read about the likelihood of this happening, and I think the estimate is that production will decline another 15% this year. I do like the almost whimsical way the field was discovered, this fisherman who kept complaining about his nets getting ruined by oil and travelling hundreds of miles to complain to company officials until they finally came out for a look. Anyway, I find it interesting when the Peak Oil stuff makes its way into traditional business media. Eventually, the facts can't be ignored.

Drilling my Dropout

Long term readers may recall that I bought a big Schwinn World Sport a couple of years ago, fundamentally an ok bike but in kind of rugged shape; that I changed this to a 3-speed internal hub for last year's Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour, then switched over to a Nexus "Redband" 8-speed internal hub; that I ended up liking this bike much more that I thought I would, and that I am now going to get it painted.

One quirk of this bike which makes it problematic for internal-gearing is that the left rear dropout was partially filled-in with steel, meaning I had no back-and-forth adjustment to get the chain tension right and thus severely limiting the choice of rear cog. Here is a photo of the dropout right before I rectify this:

Schwinn right dropout before cutting out material
It wasn't just my bike; by buddy Paul has one of these and his has the same situation, but his is now a derailleur-equipped Xtracycle so the horizontal adjustment is not critical. Time to fix this.

Hole drilled through dropout
First, drill the hole. There's a hardware store nearby going out of business and I got this cobalt bit from them. I was concerned that the dropout might be forged and tough to drill, but it didn't take long at all. It did make for an awkward setup on the drill press, a 68cm frame held by my wife and I and several clamps and props in position. Even with the hole drilled, I still have a bunch of material in the dropout to get rid of.

After cutting out material with a Dremel tool
Dremel to the rescue! Unfortunately, my cutoff disks were pretty small and I had to go at an angle, so I couldn't tidy it all the way up. Instead, I moved out most of the remaining steel in a dramatic shower of sparks and acrid smoke.

Finished opening up Schwinn dropout
All done! I filed the remaining material down until the right dropout was cleaned out. Oddly enough, the left dropout (on my bike and also on Paul's) didn't need this. There must be some reason they left the dropout partially closed, but I'm damned if I can figure it out.


The Schwinn had a headbadge on it and I had to take it off before going in for painting. It was two small rivets and drilling them out was quick work. The frame was now close to ready for painting. (I did go ahead and sand off all the decals too). I looked at the headbadge and thought, wow, that's lame. Headbadges are a bit of the bicycle that allow for real artistry. There's a Bicycle Head Badge group on Flickr and I was looking through that. There are some wonderful badges in there, and the Atlantis of course has a magnificient one. There is a woman named Jen Green who does custom headbadges (you can see her work at though the site design kind of blows) but I didn't want to spend $80+ on a headbadge. At the other end of the scale, while paging through the Flickr Group I saw that there is a bike shop called The Bicycle Escape that does badges by hammering flat beer bottle caps and selling them for $1.50. You can see a photo here.

Damn, that sounds easy. I happen to have a box of about 3,000 bottlecaps in the basement (I use them for homebrewing, from a brewery I once ran for about 2 months as it was going out of business, it's a long story) so went and got one and hammered it flat. Here you go:

Jos. A. Pickett & Sons headbadge try
I'm not going to use a Joseph S. Picketts & Sons bottlecap, boy they're dull, but as a proof-of-concept it looks to be just about the right size compared to the original Schwinn. Cool! I could even use beer can material, as far as that goes, and as I clean out my Dad's house in Des Moines there's a bunch of steel beercans down there....the Tuborg Gold bike, or Billy Beer bike. We actually used to cut a bit of aluminum can material and put it in the bottom bracket to keep grit from falling into it down the seat tube, but I never thought of beer packaging as a fashion statement.

Anyway, I'm going to give this a try. I just got the bike back from being powder-coated Friday and it looks wonderful (full story in a couple of weeks, I am going to be gone for a bit here), a RAL 5002 Aquamarine that probably looks different on your monitor than in real life. I went to my local liquor store and decided that LaBatts Blue caps looked great, so bought and dutifully consumed a six-pack and am going to try hammering those out. The best thing is, the more you screw up, the more you can drink (oh darn, out of bottle caps, need to get another one).

Once back, I'll write up the paint job. Anybody can paint a bike frame, I had the frame painted, a Wald steel chainguard that I'd had de-chromed, and, in what I feel will be the beginning of a fashion trend, a set of smooth Honjo aluminum fenders. It's going to be built out next weekend and I'll run photos after that. In the meantime, I like this bottle cap idea and think I might tap and thread the rivet holes in my headtube and bolt on the headbadge with tiny stainless steel allen bolts so I change it when I so desire.


Director of Human Potential said...

Hi Matt,

I'll be interested to see the powdercoated frame and know where you had that work done. Beer cap/headbadge idea is genius. I am glad you are blogging and riding again. Some day I will run into you at Hiawatha Cyclery or Freewheel or One On One...

I am working to get my Surly LHT finished and getting ready to go for a week long supported tour in beautiful, scenic Northern Illinois in June. Actually that came out wrong. I expect to take my Romulus on the Illinois tour but I expect to use the Surly for non-supported tours this summer.

Cheers and best wishes in your quest to keep ahead of the demand for headbadge blanks. Drink up.

John Blish

Anonymous said...

i know this is an older post and all, but i'm curious if you still have that old schwinn headbadge. i'd be interested in throwing it on an old bike i'm working on. thanks!