Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Build a Better Bicycle

It's not that I don't have better things to do, but I decided to build Zora a bicycle. I've never done this before. There are reasons. Her bike needs repairs. Her bike is too big for her. Her chain is slipping. Her brakes are cheap. She can’t shift except with great effort. And if she had a better and lighter bike, she could bike faster, which is more fun for me when I ride with her.

At the very least she would need a new chain, new rear cogs, and perhaps a new chain ring. That’s what happens when your chain gets too old. It stretches out (actually the bushings in the chain wear down, making the chain a bit longer). When it stretches too much, it starts slipping when you peddle, particularly under force. Annoying at best; dangerous at worst.

Each link in a chain should be exactly 1 inch long. If 12 links are shorter than 12 1/8 inch, you should replace the chain. No harm down. Chains are cheap. And unlike other bike technology, chain technology has actually improved tremendously the past decade or so. New chains are great. If the chain gets longer than 12 1/8 inch, then you have to change the rear cogs as well. Cogs wear down with the chain. If you put a new chain on cogs that ran a stretched chain, the new chain will slip. If the chain is longer than 12 1/4 inch, then the chain ring (where the peddles are) should be replaced as well. All that work is a dirty, pain-in-the-ass.

And it's never fun to work on bad bike because 1) the work is harder, and 2) you wonder why you’re putting time and money into something that will never be that good. For instance, Zora’s brakes and kind of screwy and to get the wheel on and off, you have to deflate the tire first. And then her brake pads fall off when you put the wheel back on. It’s just a pain.

Also, Shimano has a new 8-speed internal hub. I have an older shimano 4-speed hub on my folding bike (AKA: the guest bike). I like these hubs. Unlike derailleurs, they’re virtually maintenance free. And they shift really well (unlike old Raleigh 3-speeds).

So I really wanted to build a bike around the Shimano Nexus hub. The downside, it’s not cheap. About $200. And only one or two bike stores sell them. Harris Cycles, outside of Boston, sells them and almost everything. They’re perhaps the best bike store in America. Not the least of all because Sheldon Brown works there. He’s undoubtedly the most famous person in the world when it comes to strange, technically, and downright nerdy bike issues.

Don’t believe me? Just type in “‘Sheldon Brown’ bike” into google and you’ll get 22,800 results. By comparison, “Mayor of Boston” gets only 20,500; my name turns out 353 (and they’re not all for me). Sheldon Brown is a true professional (as Ali from Kebab CafĂ© defined professional): “somebody who does what he loves and makes enough doing it to support himself.” Sheldon’s website is a treasure trove of everything you could possibly want to know about bicycles.

If you have any questions about the bike terms used here, check out Sheldon Brown’s bike glossary.

It is March 9th, 2005.

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