Friday, April 30, 2010

Dad Trek III: The Search For Spokes

As you may or may not recall (or care) two of the most worn-out parts on the old Trek were the wheels. This bike originally came equipped with 36 spoke wheels front and rear, laced to single-wall Araya rims in a cross-3 pattern. Nothing special. What they lacked in lightness and refinement they recouped by being seriously overbuilt. They stayed reasonably true and completely free of spoke breakage (despite advanced spoke rust) through many years of potholes, drops, curb hops, and off-road adventures. The last few winters took their toll, however, and the added grit and abrasives of road salt and dirt had ground the braking surfaces to critically thin condition-putting them at risk of sudden failure. The original hubs were the only parts with any life left in them, so I planned on lacing new spokes and rims to overhauled original hubs.

The choice of a pair of Sun CR18s as my new rims was an easy one. They have a great reputation, can be found online for short money and they are approved for touring and tandems. Mine were found at a discount for cosmetic reasons- slightly flawed anodizing on the braking surface is barely noticeable and will disappear as I ride the bike anyway. These rims should be more than sturdy enough for my planned trip and all subsequent flogging.

The original hubs are nothing special. It would make more sense and be more cost-effective to toss the wheels altogether and find a decent replacement set on sale, but that wouldn't be in keeping with my original goals to save as much of Dad's original bike as I could and learn new skills through this project. A "Joytech 95D" loose-ball bearing hub up front and a Shimano Acera cassette hub out back have gotten the job done for over 15 years now. I've been pretty good about cleaning and repacking the ball bearings over the years, so a new set of bearings should make them once again good-as-new.

I took the old wheels apart. While cutting is a popular method to quickly and conveniently liberate a hub for reuse, I loosened and disassembled the wheels spoke-by-spoke so as to reverse-glean some understanding as to how a laced wheel is held together. This gradual reduction of tension (versus the sudden release of cutting) also reduces stress on a hub if you are planning to reuse it. I set aside a couple of spokes in case they were needed for length-matching purposes (they weren't), and a few more because used spokes have a host of other uses. I noticed that the spokes were a tad long on the front wheel, ending slightly proud of the outermost part of the nipples. Between that and the slightly smaller inner diameter of the new rims, I reasoned that the new spokes should probably be 2 or 3 mm shorter than the originals.

I planned on buying the spokes locally, figuring it would be a good way to glean some tips and expertise from more wheel-savvy mechanics. DT Swiss and Wheelsmith seemed like the best-loved and most widely available quality spoke choices, but I figured I'd just use whatever they used at a knowledgeable shop. I wound up at Central Wheel, where Dave was cool and helpful and served as translator/go-between for the wheel guy, who for some odd reason wouldn't address me directly from 10 ft away (that was kind of weird, actually...). The wheel guy simply went ahead and entered the measurements of my old hubs and new rims plus the lacing pattern (cross two) into some fancy spoke calculating thingie. The results were 72 spokes labeled for their front and rear positions plus a bag of nickel-plated brass nipples. All these elements will come together to form some wheels in the near future. I'll keep you posted. Read more!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The hardest trail in the world!

Ok. It's certainly not the hardest trail in the world, because I don't think anything the reservoir is. In fact, a google search reveals that the Powerline Trail on Kauai in Hawaii is the hardest trail in the world. Although, looking at pictures and reading descriptions of it makes it sound like it's a fire road. That doesn't that difficult.

But anyway, I was riding my Redline last night at the reservoir. It was nice, I don't think I'd ridden my singlespeed since Christmas Eve. I also discovered where they hide all the man-made stunts- some of which are cool and some aren't very well constructed (a lot of rocks kept buckling under me), but that stuff isn't really my thing anyway.

This is the northern entrance to the really hard trail.

Anyway, as you can see in the map up top, I've mapped a little trail that runs on the west shore of Reservoir 2. It starts right by the entrance to the little trail that goes across the causeway. Someone took some time to construct this strange trail. It's benched nicely into the hill side and has stone stairs. It's also narrow and off-camber, with strange rock gardens and big logs. And, it looks deceptively rideable, not like a hiking trail. I had to hike half of it, though, so I suppose I just suck.

See? someone worked hard on this, but why?
Read more!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CCBA = Bike Walk CT

So the CCBA is now Bike Walk Connecticut, with a focus on advocating and educating. Checking out their webpage it is pretty clear that the organization is really intent on being a legislative voice primarily with an education component and a decreased emphasis on hosting monthly events, etc.

I am meeting with one of the organizations advisors for lunch on Friday and I have a few thoughts written down to discuss, but I want your input to add as well. Ponder the following and post up your thoughts, or send them to me at if you want to keep them out of the blogosphere.

1. what is the best way to promote biking as a legit form of transportation? (ie events, legislative action, education, a mix)

2. are monthly bike to work or other gatherings critical in your mind to keep cyclists in the community's eye?

3. if you are not a member of bike walk ct, why not? what would it take to bring you in?

4. what kind of bike related things would you volunteer your time for?

5. what is the best way to educate potential riders? (ie target schools, target families, target the crazy people who ride against traffic with no predictable movement, no helmet and no awareness of anyone else on the road)

6. here is the big generic catch all, what do you want out of the organization that represents your interests in the state?

Positive, negative, neutral, i want it all. Help me put together some good thoughts and comments so we can make Connecticut safer and more generally conducive to getting around on two wheels!! Read more!

I've been getting a lot of use from my Mountainsmith backpack lately. The other evening, it made easy work of picking up a 700c wheel from Erik's man-cave of bike goodness (thanks again, Erik!) The weight wasn't really noticeable, but every time a streetlight cast my shadow ahead of me I could see that I was basically wearing a strapped-on continental kit.

Read more!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Head, set

I'm not that good at working on my bikes. My Stumpjumper needs a new a new headset, so I bought one awhile ago, a Cane Creek S-8. I have Cane Creek headsets on my 'cross bike and my Kona. I think they're great. So, to replace my relic of an aheadset, I brought it to the local bike shop. And sadly, they told me it wouldn't be ready for two weeks.

I guess I should buy a headset press.

I don't think I'll be writing much about riding my bike in the coming weeks; I've got hours and hours of budget hearings to sit at. Read more!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Olmsted Day!

Today, April 26, is Fredrick Law Olmsted's birthday. He's responsible for making Hartford's parks awesome. At Keney Park today was the CT Olmsted Heritage Alliance's celebration & conference. The guy who wrote the Hartford parks book, John Alexopolos, spoke and then there was a bus tour of Keney. I went on a one man bicycle tour.

I hadn't been on any of the Keney trails since the bizarre call I got from an ATV owner complaining that the police were enforcing Hartford ordinances and confiscating his ATV. They're really ripping up the trails north and west and of the golf course. It's a shame, because they'd never really been that bad.

From there, I took the very long way back to City Hall.

my thumb shifting diamond back in all its glory.

And, in case you were wondering, I've always been a bad writer. I think I submitted that in sixth grade.

Finally, if you're ever cruising in the vicinity of the Portland Reservoir, make sure to check out the skills of the Wesleyan architecture students:

Weirdos. Read more!

Bikes Outside: Legislative Office Breezer

This morning 's bike outside is a Breezer seen locked up outside of the Legislative Office Building on Capitol Ave. While this step-through comfort bike is sparkly clean, shiny and well cared-for, my eyes were drawn immediately to the wheels and hubs. The Shimano Nexus 8-speed internally-geared rear hub is a personal favorite of mine (actually my Nexus-equipped Robin Hood is a 7-speed), and the generator hub/light combo up front seems like it would come in handy. I've never had a bike with a generator hub or Dynolight (I prefer saying Dynolight because I can imagine Jimmie Walker saying it)

I've been seeing more and more non-mountain bikes with suspension forks lately. I don't see myself joining the ranks of the bouncy commuter set just yet, but I'm sure this bike has a super plush ride between that and the suspension seatpost.

There were three bikes locked up outside of the LOB on this particular day, which is two more than I have ever seen and three more than I usually see. The credit for such a turnout probably goes to both the great weather and the fact that it was Earth Day. Like the owner of this Breezer, the other riders had improvised bike racks using posts or railings, as there doesn't appear to be a bike rack in the vicinity of the LOB. Maybe someone should lobby for that.

Read more!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I've been sort of derelict in my blogulatory duties lately. Perhaps my interest in blogging waning. Perhaps I'm a crappy writer. Perhaps I've got writer's block. That would be funny, because I'm not a writer. Some stuff:

1. Riding a bike in a Hartford park is now legal, even if you do it off road. This allows you to ride a bike in Bushnell Park... not that anyone was being prevented before. In fact, bicycles were technically not allowed on the bike path along the CT River. However, this is also opens up the opportunity for riding on dirt. So, Keney Park "mountain biking" is now legal. As you can imagine, I had a little bit to do with this ordinance.

2. I'm not very good at riding a rigid bike.

I thought that I was, so I rode my rigid stumpjumper at the Winding Trails race. I came in 11th (14 seconds out of points). Fun & fast race, though.

this isn't winding trails.

3. Thai Food on the Wheels in back in Bushnell Park, so my lunch opportunities have been expanded.
this is fungus soup in a bowl

4. Hi water has receded, so one can ride near rivers again.

5. I'm sort of antsy to go to Vermont and ride for long on dirt.

6. I fixed my mom's bike (well, as well as I can fix a bike). Maybe she'll start riding it again.

that gel thing + the giant saddle weigh as much as the rest of the bike
Read more!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Schleppin' Ain't Easy

My long Easter weekend began by waking up at four a.m., possibly still drunk, to pack for Jersey. It is of little concern that I don't believe Christ to be the cat who came back the very next day (or, two days later, as I have been since informed). Nor is the record of me saying "you can't drag my stinking corpse to NJ" of any consequence. At the blurry hour of 0400, what matters is the thought process that helps select transportation. Driving less than a mile to Union Station to then park my car in an expensive lot was out of the question. Calling a cab meant paying stupid money for a trip I could make easily on my own. Walking at that hour seemed like a great idea earlier in the week, before I realized that the sun does not come up until a bit later. This forced me to weigh my options: Starry Starry Bike, The Jenny, or The Pretty Red Bike AKA Brakeless Wonder. Given that the bike would be locked outside for a few days, the possibility of theft was considered. The Jenny would under no circumstances find herself stranded outside of the train station. In addition to theft, I had to consider which bike I would mind least if it was peed on. That's like asking which of my children I would prefer run away to join the circus. Of the two remaining bikes, one has a rack and panniers; the other does not. The choice came down to which I am least sentimental about in case of theft or urine, rather than all-around practicality.

Schlepping three bags of random fancy clothes, shoes, and gifts, before sunrise, is not the best idea I have had. Doing so on a bike with no recognizable brake system is among the worst. Between one nonchalant handbrake and a decorative coaster brake, I barreled down the street in a somewhat sideways, rather than straightforward, position. This somewhat compensated for the vodka-inspired angle my head was stuck in. It seemed brilliant to cut through the grassy knoll on the corner of Broad and Farmington/Asylum, which is how I discovered this was more mud than anything, and sunk. In heels. Before the sun was even thinking about rising.

The train was awesome, even if everyone else hates it. I've been told that getting a ticket as inexpensively as I managed to was a miracle rivaling the Second Coming. Until the gum-snapping teenager boarded in Upstate New York, I was able to enjoy the view of graffiti and junkyards in silence. I would have hated her more, but saw she was reading Pride and Prejudice. A wave of unprecedented sympathy washed over me and I gave her an extra half inch of leg room.

To rectify the weekend of Jesus in the Jersey ahead, I scheduled some me-time in New York City. Aiming for Tiffany's, I landed somehow in the Strawberry Fields section of Central Park instead. It was here where I felt seething jealousy over those who had more between their legs than I. If I were not such a cheapskate, maybe I would have coughed up the money to rent a bike, but then, where would I leave my baggage? I could have hired one of the many rickshaws. The what-to-do-with-my-bags problem would have been solved, as would be my feet-already-hurt-and-I've-been-here-twenty-minutes problem. But these bikes were for tours of Central Park. I really just wanted to hire someone to haul my lazy self up and down Fifth Avenue, waiting outside patiently as I browsed merchandise that would, if purchased, lead me straight to defaulting on my mortgage.

Instead of renting a bike, I bought biking clothes. Having ridden my bike pretty much year-round, I needed something to mark my rite of passage into spring. What better than a shirtwaist dress? It's short enough to avoid spokes, but long enough to avoid unfortunate bike seat calamities.

When I landed in Jersey, I again had bicycle envy. Riding the mile from train station to house would have been so much quicker than walking. The trip was mostly flat and there were lots of little kids riding bikes out on the street. In a lot of ways, this was the perfect bicycle town. There was not enough traffic to warrant designated bike lanes and people seemed alert. Alas, it would take me a few more days and a motorcycle ride to feel somewhat satisfied. We landed in a New York village that offered both decent vegetarian meals and an open, well-lit, unpretentious bike shop. Here is where I found the next project for completing Starry Starry Bike:

Read more!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bikes Outside: MagnaTude

This Monday's bike outside brings us to the Center for Urban and Global Studies on the Trinity College campus. This setting is the epitome of solid. The 19th-century brownstone, slate roofing, heavy door and massive lamp post hearken to another era. The very pavement on this chosen stretch of Vernon Street smacks of old world, old school, and old money. A solid, stalwart old bicycle would round out the scene nicely. Something with a long, storied history. A British roadster or an early Arnold, Schwinn & Co. machine would fit the setting, a Hartford-made Columbia would be better still. Yes-yes, that would do nicely.

As it happened, the classic velocipedes of yesteryear had prior engagements on this particular day, so today the part of bike-about-campus will be played by a young plebe, the Magna Glacierpoint. It may not have over a century of brand heritage behind it, but it does have plenty to say; things like: "15 SPEED!" "CANTILEVER BRAKES! INDEX SHIFTING!"

The Target-marketed Magna shares with many cheap bikes a penchant for over-stating the obvious. At some point, they would do well to simply label every component with descriptive blurbs. This would ease the bikes' serviceability and render owners manuals redundant. Think of all the paper they would save!

Magna is also the name of a discount cigarette brand, which I doubt is related to this bike. That does, however, remind me of the recently featured Marlboro Adventure Team bike and bring to mind a world of potential tobacco bike ideas. Think about it: a Virginia Slims women-specific design, a Parliament-labeled Retro British roadster (or go the Mothership Connection route.) Kool could market a sleek black city bike, Shaft-driven? Damn right! You get the idea. What a terrible idea.

Lest I spend this whole post slagging the box-store bike, I will pay it one earnest compliment. I like the color. It's not a stunningly beautiful shade of green, but it is an appealingly nostalgic hue that would look right at home on a 1969 Dodge Polara or a Schwinn Collegiate of a similar vintage. Sometimes, the right coat is all you need to fit in on campus.

Read more!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Postcard: A Great Day in Harlem,or Some Days The Bike Rides You

After all the hassle surrounding my attempt to purchase a headset locally, the one I ended up with still didn't fit (the fork crown race had a too-small inner diameter for my fork) so there was no chance I was going to have the Trek together in time for Saturday morning. By Friday evening, I was tired and disappointed. My plans for the day had pretty much fallen apart.

The Blessing of the Bikes was not only held on the first anniversary of Dad's passing but a mere three blocks south of St. Luke's Hospital, where he spent most of his last days. The coincidence of all these things was too great for me to pass up. Besides that, I needed a day away from home and the weather was supposed to be fantastic. I decided I was going to New York no matter what, and the bike was coming with me.

Time for a contingency plan. As it happened, Schleppi was bound for Newton, Mass on Saturday, so I walked over to her house with the Trek fork and a note for the good folks at Harris Cyclery. I relaxed, confident that this matter would now be in competent hands. I grabbed the day pack I use for backcountry snowboarding and attached the bare bike frame in seconds. It couldn't have worked much more smoothly-- or looked much more ridiculous.

I caught a pre-dawn lift to New Haven from friends en route to catch a morning flight to Guatemala. I took Metro North to the 125th St station. Harlem's main drag was still sleepy and quiet as I strolled westward through Morningside Park to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. A steady stream of bikes were arriving at 9 AM and being carried up the Cathedral's massive front stoop. A charmingly stubborn older woman refused my offer to help carry her ungainly vintage Triumph 3-speed up the stairs. Her friend rolled her eyes and chuckled. The overall mood was warm and good.

The ceremony was fairly short, the perfect blend of lighthearted and solemn. Words were said, holy water sprinkled, dead cyclists memorialized, bagpipes played, many pictures taken. The ceremony concluded with a procession around the enormous Gothic cathedral, with much lingering and milling about afterward, both inside and out. I chatted with a bunch of people as I made my way to a bench to enjoy a bagel and a coffee in the late-morning sun. There were at least two other unrideable and incomplete bikes in attendance, so the yoke of ridiculousness was shouldered by more than just me.

I wandered the area for the next few hours, walking around Columbia University, Morningside and Marcus Garvey Parks, and savoring the food, culture and architecture that abound across 110th St. The chromoly frame strapped to my back was virtually unnoticeable to me as I walked, though I was asked nicely to leave it in the coat check at the Studio Museum. I made my way back to Hartford by late afternoon, but not before getting a bike permit for the Metro North train. It's not needed for a bare frame or a folding bike, but I will need it to ride the train with a full-sized bike. I ponied up the $5 fee as both an incentive and a promise to be back again soon. Read more!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bikes Outside: Literary Giant

Bikes Outside brings us back to the Hartford Public Library this morning for a Giant Rincon-turned-commuter special.
A mountain bike with smooth tires, fenders and a rack is a tried-and-true recipe for a solid everyday ride. I realized after taking these pics that this bike belongs to an acquaintance who is in fact a year-round cyclist. There are few bikes that see more personalized custom touches than the dedicated commuter. The more hours you spent riding something, the more you get to know it and tweak it until it is just so. Even if you get another bike, there's a certain set of parts, parameters and settings that inevitably find their way onto the bike you use the most. For example, most of the times El Prez sets up a new bike for himself, I can tell it's his at a distance from the vintage North Road handlebar.

Some people like big seats and they cannot lie.. While this plush, sprung double-wide saddle is not original equipment on the Giant, it is rather giant in its own right. The original seat on my cargo bike was approaching this size, and I yanked it off the first day I rode it. This saddle suits the bike's owner, and that's what matters.

The bike racks at the library are getting more and more crowded these days, which suits me fine. Not many people do enough reading or riding these days, and an upswing in either activity bodes well for society as a whole. If I ever show up here to find no empty spots, I know can lock up across the street at City Hall, and I'll do so with a contented smile on my face. Read more!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Deez Locknutz- A Rant

Tomorrow, April 10 is the Blessing of the Bikes in New York. It also happens to be the first anniversary of my father passing away. The overhaul of his old Trek had fallen by the wayside in the face of more prosaic things like house repairs, etc. and still sat scattered about the apartment as of yesterday. The coincidence of the two aforementioned events seemed too significant to pass up. I began a sudden fit of bike fixing with the goal having the Trek ready to ride by Saturday morning. I had accumulated most of the parts I needed to fix it up, but still needed a couple of thing to get the job done, the most important one being a new headset, as the original one was thoroughly done.

I called some area bike shops yesterday afternoon to see who had a new 1" threaded headset in stock. The first shop reacted as if I had called up looking for French-threaded tandem cranks. Threaded headsets are NOT THAT RARE, people! Sheesh! Strike two was more sympathetic, immediately offering to order me one. Finally, a shop said they had one, so I headed for their suburban location. The shop was busy. This is a good thing in the sense that many people are excited about riding bikes, but a bad thing in that customers were getting a bit backed up. None of the parts I came for were in the retail area, so I had to wait. Aaaaand wait. The owner apologized. Then I waited some more.

I did finally get the headset, a BMX-style Odyssey Dynatron. I liked that it had upgraded bearings and a nice rubber seal to protect the vulnerable bottom bearing race. I also liked that it sounded like an option on a 1950's Buick. While there, I got some brake cable housing and a couple of other parts that I needed asap. By the time I got out of there, I was in a rush, running late for my weekly farmers' market gig back in Hartford.

I made two annoying discoveries last night when I finally went to work on the bike. First, my cable housings were not in the bag from the store; second, the headset was missing a locknut, rendering it useless. Grrrr.

I returned to the bike shop this morning. The person who had sold me the parts yesterday recognized me immediately. "You forgot your cable housing!" he announced across the room. While I happen to think that it was not so much that I forgot it as much as he had failed to put it in the bag with the rest of my purchase, I nodded and thanked him for the housing. I then showed him the headset I had purchased yesterday sans locknut. He seemed puzzled at first, but then asked a mechanic to find one. The mechanic returned with a gouged used locknut that looked like it had been attacked by a wilding gang of angry Vise-Grips. I indicated that I wasn't happy with this and he went on another search, eventually returning with a shiny new one. At this point, I was again late and running out of patience, so I thanked him and left. I later looked closely at the new nut and saw that it was really cheaply made, had a built-in fake "spacer" and lacked the nice rubber seal that the Odyssey headset components featured. Unwilling to make another trip, I dug through my stash of derelict bikes and found a Trek 730 with a Tange headset that yielded a higher quality locknut. It's a little beat-up, but it will do the job.

This was a minor annoyance, but still kind of a stupid, unnecessary ordeal. While it's true that threaded headsets are not as common these days, there are still brand-new bikes ranging from big-box store crap to $2,000.00+ Rivendells that come equipped with them. Many of the bikes I see in daily use around Hartford are 10-30 years old and are likely to need replacement parts from time to time. Indeed, they are MORE likely to need such parts than a late-model bike with a modern threadless fork, yet everyone in the area has the threadless parts in stock. Finally, offering a customer mangled or substandard replacements for parts missing from a brand new item he has already purchased is really lousy customer service. Read more!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

(no subject)

I've been outside as much as I can muster lately, but it's not really leading to anything to write about. You go outside, it's nice, what more is there to say? Lots of mountain bikers at the reservoir again. It's good to have company.

Johanna and I did some hiking and camping on the AT last weekend.

First race of the year this Saturday!

And, some very sad news about that kid at UConn who got hit. I hope he's ok. Read more!