Sunday, May 29, 2005

Relacing the wheels

I still feel very stupid for building 4 (count ’em, four) wheels incorrectly. Especially when I built wheels just fine before then. Anyway, I got to work on the Bluebird. While I had the rear wheel off, I put on a new rear cog with one fewer teeth. This will hopefully make 5th gear a better cruising gear. There was a little problem as the ideal cruising great seemed to be right between 5th and 6th gear, with 5th being too easy and 6th being to hard.

But the weather is great, so I could work on the porch, which is a minor plus.

Here you can see the incorrect spokes. Notice how bent the spokes are as they curve on the wrong side of the 2nd spokes they cross (the first crossing spoke is right at the hub). So following the path of a spoke on relation to the crossing spokes, I went over-under-over (and also under-over-under) when I should have gone over-over-under (and under-under-over). I also should have figured this out earlier, simply by looking at one of my other wheels when I was building these.

Here is the after picture, with the spokes all straight.

And another picture of the properly laced wheel.

I got faster as I went on. But it’s still time consuming, you have to strip the wheel and remove half the spokes. I realized after doing one side of the first wheel, that there is actually a system, which involves removing every fourth spoke (every other spoke on one side) and then lacing them correctly. And then you do the same on the other side. The time saving part is that you only have to remove the nipples from half the spokes and not all of them. But the whole project took about 6 hours. Luckily for Zora this is all covered under warrantee.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Good news on the spokes

I took the Screamin’ Salmon over to the new bike store and talked to Andres. He’s going to hammer out the dent, hopefully. I expected him to do it in front of me and talk my ear off. But he was very professional about it, somewhat to my disappointment.

But I asked him about my wheels and he told me I can use the same spokes. That’s good. It means I save over $100. But I still have to rebuild four wheels, godverdomme. Ι left the bike there and will go back tomorrow. It’s so nice to have a place that can hammer out a dent in a rim!

It’s only too bad that I’ve spend about $2,000 on bike parts in the past two months and have no plans to spend to spend any more money in the near future. I would have liked to give him that money. I hope he stays in business.

Pleasantly and quickly, my new handlebar stem and handlebar tape arrived today. So I can ride my Bianchi again and all my handlebars are nice and springy. I taped up the Salmon and the Bianchi. And I like the new up-side-down moustache bars position on the Salmon.

A new Astoria bike store. What joy!

One of the problems with New York is there really aren’t many good bike stores. A good bike store has two qualities: 1) they know more about my bike than I do, and 2) I trust their mechanic with my bike. A lot of bike repair is simple, but time consuming. It’s easy to imagine pressure on somebody being paid by the hour to finish an adjustment faster rather than spending the time to get it right. And it’s not surprising that you’re going to care about your bike more than an underpaid mechanic.

There are two bike stores is Astoria. Neither is that good. They’re very similar. Both are run by friendly Greeks. Both have younger kids working there that I trust with neither my bike nor my girlfriend. Both specialize in kids bikes and BMX bikes. They really don’t know road bikes. I buy some parts from them. But if they don’t have it in stock and have to mail order it, then I’d just as soon order it myself and save a lot of money. I’d like to support my local bike store. And I miss Turin in Evanston, Illinois and Ace Wheelworks in Somerville, Massachusetts. I never actually went to Harris Cycles, because Newton isn’t that close to Cambridge, Mass.

So Zora and I were biking to Sripraphai last night and past a bike store very nearby on 35th Ave. Could I have never noticed it before? Well, no. It’s been open about a month. The man who runs it, a Hispanic man named Andres, was very friendly and, get this, knowledgeable!

He was quick to tell me his experience at working for 12 years at City Bikes on 9th Ave (one of the better bike stores) and his expertise with wheels. I love wheels. He also loves tools: “with tools, you can do anything!” I like tools, too.

He then showed off his very expensive spoke cutting and threading machine, happily wasting a spoke in the process.

Then he looked at the Bluebird, of which I am very proud, and told me I built the wheels wrong. Oops. I laced the spokes wrong. You’re supposed to go over (or under) the first two spokes and then on the opposite side of the last spoke. I’ve done this before. Well for some reason I got into a wrong habit and did all the wheels and Zora’s and Katie’s bike wrong. I went over over, under, and over. It means the spokes are bent too much around the other spokes. I like to think that I’ve invented a super strong wheel, but I doubt it. What a pain in the ass. And potentially expensive as well, since four wheels of spokes will cost about $125.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The $70 pothole?

So much bike work, not enough biking. So around midnight I decided to enjoy my new moustache handlebars and bike around Central Park (one of the nice things about living in New York City, at least when the main loop road isn’t open to cars).

Coming off the bridge, on 60th Street right around Madison Avenue, I hit a pothole. A bad one. I saw it, it was small but deep, but I was too close to swerve. I probably could have jumped it, but for some reason I froze and didn’t. I hit it, hard. A half block later, as soon as used my front brake, I realized that the impact dented my front rim. Not horribly, but noticably. The wheel is still round, but on the left side of the rim there is a little indent It will bother me every time I use the front brakes. Beyond that the rim isn't damaged. It went ever-so-slightly out of true, but nothing I couldn't fix. And the other side of the rim is fine.

I don’t know anything about hammering out rims. And, as I just found out on-line, this is a $70 rim.

I didn’t built this wheel. It has radial spoking (and every fourth nipple is brass, just for the hell of it). I wonder if the rim would be OK if it were triple-crossed? My guess is no. But I still wish the spokes weren’t radial.

Then when I got home I swamped handle bar stems on all my bikes. The new handlebars made the handlebars too high on the Screamin' Salmon. That and I decided to turn the bars around, so that the they angled up. This way the brake is better positioned, more towards the bottom. And Katie's bike really needed a higher stem. So I took the high handlebar stem off the Screamin' Salmon and put it on the Del Ray. I took the Del Ray stem and put it on the Bianchi. I took the low Bianchi stem and put it on the Salmon. I like the low Bianchi stem for one reason: it was two screws and you can take the bars off without taking everything off the bars. But I couldn't put the new handlebars on without taking everything off. Maybe it's for the better as the old handlebars had duct tape, and I really need an excuse to redo them with proper handlebar tape on them. The handlebar stem shall be the excuse.

But then I learned that Bianchi handlebars (and most Italian road bikes) are 26mm and regular handlebars are 25.6mm. Small difference, but it matters. So I had to order a shim for the Salmon and a new stem ($40) for the Bianchi. Jeezelouise! The old stem from the Del Ray went into the closet, where it will sit for years before being thrown out.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

You say living room I say workshop

I don't really need a big living space. But it would be nice to have a workshop (or a guestroom... or an office). But the living room must suffice for all. When I'm in the middle of bike work, it become a mess. And this picture is after the bike has been removed from the center.

But now it's clean. Well at least by my standards, which tends to mean the floor is dusted and the surface areas are covered with clutter.

No matter. Katie's Del-Ray is finished. I biked her (the bike, not Katie) over to the bike store today and got a seat post ($20) and a seat ($25). It wasn't easy to bike on that seatless small bike, but I'm good at riding bikes. And the bike rides well.

Then I made a few hours of adjustments: The kickstand clamp was clamped over the rear shifting cable (oops), the right shifter was too close to the hand, the front derailleur needed adjustment (as it always will), the fenders stays had to be adjusted and tightened, the shifting cable housing between the frame and the rear derailleur had to be replaced (it was too short), I put on Zora's old front light, trued the rear wheel, and popped ferrules on the end of the four cables. She's a fine steed and good to go!

Bike blogs galore!

There's a meta-site of bike blogs. Of course there is.

The Fuji Del-Ray

Katie may have a nice frame from between 1983 and 1986. Confirmed, I think, by the Dia Comp rear brake.

"I believe the Del Rey was Fuji's top of the line sport touring bike when it was first introduced. "

"I have a 1983 Del Rey, and I'm pretty sure it was the first year that model was made. It got a good write up in 'Bicycling' that spring, so I bought one. Price was $300. It came with Sun Tour Vx derailleurs, Sugino 52/42 crankset, Dia Comp brakes and levers, Ukui (sp) rims and I can't remember the name of the hubs. Nitto bars and stem. The weight was advertised as 24lbs. although I never weighed it. The frame is quad butted Valite steel tubing as T-Mar mentioned. And yes, the Del Rey model became a hybrid around 1986 ~."

"I've put over 50k miles on it over the years. I still ride it occasionally; although I've graduated to lighter and faster bikes, I never forget the sweet ride."

"The Del Ray was a 1980s model. I have specs for 1984-1986 and it cost $300-350 US. It's a bit arbitrary on where to draw the line between different levels, but I'd call this upper, entry level. At best, it's lower mid-range. All these version used Fuji's own Valite, quad-butted tubing and various SunTour/Sugino/Dia-Compe component mixes. The 1986 version did have a triple chainring, which would explain your touring description."

Note that Katie’s frame has little if any relation to the crappy aluminum hybrid bike Fuji now makes under the used-to-be-classy Del-Ray name.

Fixed Gear. The Screamin' Salmon has a new look!

The Screamin' Salmon has news look!

Of course almost nobody reading this knows the old look. But let me tell you about the Screamin' Salmon. This bike was originally built and named in Boston by my friend Ryan Tacy. It was also ridden by John Gertsen. I underpaid one of them (I think Tacy) back in 1999 and it became mine. It’s the only bike of mine with a name.

It's a fixed-gear bike. I learned to ride this bike in Baltimore. I didn’t bring my Bianchi when I moved to Baltimore in late 1999 so I’d be forced to ride the Salmon. It worked. I rode it to the police academy everyday for 6 months and less so after I had to buy a car. But it was my Baltimore bike.

Then it sat in the Cambridge basement for the past four years (it actually improved a bit as Tacy put some more work into it). It’s not easy to move bikes long distance without a car. I have a bag large enough (and specifically designed) for bikes. And thanks to the Chinatown bus (they don’t care what you throw down there), I finally brought it back about a month ago to its new home in New York City. It’s mine again!

A fixed-gear bike means you can’t coast. When the rear wheel turns, the peddles turn. A little nomenclature: all fixed-gears are one speeds, but most one-speed bikes are not fixed gear. Most bikes are free wheel or free hub, meaning when the rear wheel goes forward, the peddles don’t go with it. And any bike that doesn’t have a derailleur can be called a single track. A single-track bike (it’s not a very common term, I don’t think) can be your old 1-speed, a fixed gear, or an internally shifting bike with many-speeds (like the Bluebird).

And all track bike (racing bikes for track racing) are fixed gears; but not all fixed gears are track bikes. Most fixed gears you see on the street, like the Screamin’ Salmon, are converted road bikes. Now you can actually buy a new fixed gear in a bike store. This is a new development. It shows they’re gaining popularity, but they’ll never be mainstream.

How can you spot a fixed gear? Look at the rear cog. If it looks like a racing bike and it’s only got one cog in the rear (as opposed to a standard “10-speed” setup), it’s probably a fixed gear. But it could just be a one-speed. Next, look if there’s a rear break. Fixed gears don’t have rear brakes. That’s what your legs are for. Many fixed gears don’t a front brake either, but more on that later. Finally, look if the rider stops peddling when he or she slows down. If the rider coast, it’s not a fixed gear.

Finally, look at the rider. Is the rider a white guy with dreads? Is the rider somebody you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley? Is the rider somebody you wouldn’t want to date your daughter? Is the rider somebody you’d like to date? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then the bike is probably a fixed gear. If it is a fixed gear and you’re caught staring at it, feel free to give the rider a knowing nod and a sly smile.

Fixed gears are very old-school (I’m talking 19th-Century old-school, not Afrika Bambaataa old-school). Fixed gears are very popular among bike messenger. Fixed gears get you some street props. They’re generally considered hard core. But in general, being able to coast is good. He who invented the freewheel was on to something. So why, you might ask, would anybody want to ride a one-speed fixed-gear bike?

Fixed gears have a couple of big advantages over “normal” bikes:
1) They’re really light. There are no extra parts like deralleures and breaks and shifters.
2) They’re really simple. Because they don’t have extra parts, they really get to the essence of what a bike is about. And there’s less that can break.
3) They’re so efficient to bike. Nothing takes less energy to peddle than a fixed gear. It’s a combination of light and efficient. There’s no wasted effort on your part. What you peddle is what you get. No friction, no noise, just power.
4) They’re really precise and easy to steer at very low speeds. Useful for city riding.
5) They’re great going uphill. Many people find this surprising. I did. People have gears for going uphill. It doesn’t makes sense that a one-speed is better. But fixed gears always pass racing bikes going up hill (and everything passes mountain bikes. I really don’t get why people have mountain bikes with big nobby tires in New York City. It just don’t makes sense). I’m not 100% sure why fixed-gear bikes are so good uphill. But it’s got to do with being light, being efficient, and the fact that you have no choice. Since you can’t downshift, you just have to keep peddling. The ability to zoom uphill, to me, is the main advantage of riding the Screamin’ Salmon. Pretty much the only big hill where I go is the bridge into the City. On a fixed gear, I know that the half-mile Queensboro Bridge uphill will be a piece of cake.
6) You’re much more “at one” with your bike when you’re riding. I don’t want to get too Zen here, but trust me on this one.

Fixed gears also make you a better bike rider. You learn how to ride a bike much better when you can’t coast over bumps and through turns. The first time you ride a fixed gear, it’s tough. You can’t stop peddling. You instinctively try to coast and you almost get thrown by the peddles. The peddles will move you. Momentum is on their side.

When you learn to ride a fixed gear, it’s a little like learning how to ride a bike all over again. And since you don’t forget what you already know, you become a better biker.

But breaking is what tends to define a fixed-gear bike. Many don’t have any brakes. But that’s just dumb. Why not have a front brake? Chains can brake. Rarely. But they can. Why risk it? But most fixed gears, including the Screamin’ Salmon, have a front-wheel brake.

To slow down on a fixed gear you just sort of reverse peddle. You can’t really reverse peddle, of course, as long as you’re moving forward. But you apply force in the backwards direction. To break medium hard you basically stand on the peddle as it’s coming up. It’ll lift you, but you’ll slow it down. A lot.

With a little practice on a fixed-gear, you can also lock your legs and freeze the rear wheel, This slows the bike down with a rear-wheel skid. But I’d just a soon use the front brake for quick stopping. And using the front break lifts the back of the bike up a little, making it easy to lock the rear wheel. Fixed gears require toe clips or bike shoes. Your feet have to stay on them peddles.

If you can't picture this, think of your old Big Wheel (I don't think I ever had one--I was on to "real" tricycles pretty quickly--but I sure thought Big Wheels were cool, especially the skid-inducing read-wheel hand break). Big Wheels are fixed gears, or they would be if they had a gear. You slow down on a fixed gear like you did on your Big Wheel.

I think a fixed gear is safer to ride than a normal bike if you tend to ride fast, like I do. Because the fixed gear is a one-speed, you tend to bike slower on the level roads than you would on a 10-speed. But slow and steady wins the race. And on a fixed gear you also start slowing down a bit earlier.

What’s the downside? Not coasting can be a downside. But really there’s only one: going downhill. It’s not as fun or as fast on a fixed gear. You can’t go too fast downhill, because your legs have to keep up. And it’s not as fun, because you can’t coast after you crest a hill.

Truth be told, if I could only have one bike, I’d take my Bianchi over the Screamin’ Salmon. But the Screamin’ Salmon or any fixed gear is a great second bike. I probably ride it half the time I could take my Bianchi. Especially for short to medium distances.

So what’s the new look? (please excuse the--as Ali G might say--digestion) The handlebars! The Salmon had straight mountain-bike handlebars. I didn’t like them. They were too hard on my arms, especially my wrists. It’s much harder to absorb shock in your arm on straight handlebars and with your fists straight out and horizontal.

I’ve always wanted to try these handlebars. So I ordered me some Moustache Handlebars on e-bay. About $35. And I had to buy a road-bike brake lever (about $20). Along with looking slick, these handlebars give your hands lots of positions, a huge advantage. Because of the multiple hand positions, moustache handlebars aren't great with brakes and shifters (which demand that your hand be on them). But they're perfect for a fixed-gear.

The brake lever is up on top so that I can put my hands anywhere on the bars. And you don't need to keep your hand right on the brake on a fixed gear because your legs are the main brakes. I'll cover the bars with handlebar tape. I have some coming in the post. The only obvious disadvantage to these bars is that they're a bit wide. Not good for sneaking through stopped cars and avoiding side-view mirrors.

And I took off the bar ends for the old handle bars and put them on Katie’s bike. I feel like it’s good charma to put a bit of a old bike on a new bike. Like passing the flame.

The real color is actually a bit more pink than in these pictures.

Want more on fixed-gear bikes?

Of course, Sheldon Brown has something to say about fixed gears.

This a good article from I especially like the comparison between breaking on a fixed-gear with breaking on a Big Wheel. I stole the concept from this piece.

Here's another very good article called the fixed gear purist cult mentality thing. This article reminds me, did I mention how smooth a fixed gear is? Very.

And the fixed-gear gallery.

Finally, a quick "how to."

Introducing Katie's Bike!

Just cause I don't post much doesn't mean I'm not busy building bikes. My friend Katie needed a bike. She was pretty jealous of the Bluebird, as she should be. So I said, what the hell, I'll put together a little something for you. This one I tried to do on the cheap. But that still means $500. But that's half the price of the Bluebird. I reused as many parts as I could. Not most. But I had cranks and chainrings and handlebars and brakes and a front wheel and a rear hub. All free! Well, free for Katie. I don't think anybody gave them to me. But I'm happy to put them to good use. And the frame was a steal on e-bay: $60 for a nice frame including headset, bottom bracket, and rear brakes.

So why can't a build a bike for less $500? Mostly the wheels. I won't chintz on them. Cheap wheels will give you a biketime of problems. And who’s going to be fixing my friends' bikes? Me, of course. So better they spend money and I make a good bike and have fewer hassle in the future. So even with a spare wheel and a hub laying around, the wheels still cost $210. The rear rim and spokes cost $62, the tires costs $90 for the pair, and fenders cost $45. That’s $220 right there. Add $70 for new derailleur and $25 for shifters and Bob’s your uncle.

I'm sold on expensive tires. Cheap tires get flats. So do old tires. And both can be dangerous, if they slip and fall when you need them most. Ultimately your life does depend on where rubber meets road. But it's the no-flat thing that sold me.

I accidentally bought $50 tires for my Bianchi last Spring. I thought it was $50 for the pair, but it wasn’t. So then I had to spend another $50 to complete the set. (I just found the same tires for $40 each when looking for Katie’s tires. I got two spare for me. But they’re still not cheap.)

Before I put on the expensive tires, my tires cost about half as much: $50 for the pair. I was getting flats about once a month. New York streets are rough. Lots of glass. Flats suck. Since I put on the expensive Continental tires in February of 2004, it’s been 16 months without a flat. They paid for themselves in saved tubes alone! And saved hassle? Priceless. I’m sold.

I didn’t take pictures of building Katie’s bike. We’ve been (slowly) working on it together for a little while. It’s pretty much done now, except for a seat post and seat. If only we had a good name.

I found that (yet) another bike can be kept in this nook in the bathroom. I’m pretty sure I have more bikes per square foot of living space than do most people.

Here are three of my bikes. In order: Katie's, the Screamin' Salmon, and my Bianchi. If I ever need a flag, I think I'll use these three colors. Not shown are the two outside and the folding bike in the closet.