Friday, July 31, 2009

49 Miles on the Single Speed Schwinn Le Tour II. She's a Keeper.

I took Friday off work to burn some vacation, and to enjoy the excellent, mild summer weather. I also wanted to give the newly converted single speed Schwinn Le Tour II a good spin. I'd been wanting to see if a ride to Hitchcock Nature Area, north of Crescent, Iowa, would be a good ride for bike camping.

I selected a route and headed off this morning, stopping by Blue Planet for breakfast. The route took me over the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, along Iowa's riverfront trail, then through Big Lake Park. Then I went north to get on Old Lincoln Highway.

Here it got scary! I wasn't expecting there to be little to no shoulder, and fairly narrow, fast moving traffic. I showed no shame in a couple of instances by ducking off the road where I could hear/feel a lumbering 18-wheeler coming up behind.

Finally I went through Crescent and found that the road I wanted to take to Hitchcock was gravel. I wasn't prepared to ride loose gravel. Just for fun, I tweeted my predicament when Bryan responded. I then messaged him with my phone number asking him to call me. Bryan phoned me, and using online maps, and his knowledge of local roads, he suggest a longer, but safer route back to Council Bluffs. This route was a little hilly in places, but proved to be a very fun ride with some nice views. Bryan says dead customers don't bring in much money to the bike shop, so it was all about profit margins. :)

I had some trouble with my headset getting loose. I overhauled it last night and I'm not sure if everything is tightened down right.

Six and a half hours, including stops for tools at the hardware store, munchies, water, breakfast, lunch, and photographs. 49 miles, and lots of fun on the single speed.


I'm going to try showing the photos in a Picasa web slide show, rather than uploading right to the blog. You can link on to the Picasa album here.

Lessons Learned
  • Research roads more. Talk with other cyclists to get recommendations.
  • When trekking in the Great Plains, maybe consider a geared bike, with gravel tires.
  • There's no shame in walking. I did in a couple of spots.
  • Bring a camera when trekking. Camera phone in good, but higher quality camera is good to have.
  • Take a day off from work to go for a nice ride during these top-ten weather days.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Omaha Urban Cycling, and Early Look at 16th Street Bike Lanes

Tuesday over lunch I ran some errands by bike, and also rode up and down the new 16th Street bike lanes with the camera recording video from the handlebars.

Presented below are two videos with my comments added in.

The first video is me simply riding South 16th Street from Leavenworth Street to Douglas Street. This section is along a sort of "greenway". In the 80s, Omaha revitalized this area to make it attractive to shoppers, but it never really caught on. Most of the storefronts are empty, and the only real foot traffic there are people waiting to transfer buses. Almost all MAT routes transfer along this stretch of 16th Street. Here's a link to an interesting news story about future plans to turn 16th Street into a home for artists and galleries, with an eventual return of shops.

The second video is of me riding from 13th and Jackson Street to Capitol Avenue, then down the new bike lanes on North 16th Street to Cuming Street and then back to work. This one shows some typical stop and go traffic, and then a disturbing incursion into the new bike lanes. To the motorists' credit, the lanes are new, there are no signs up about them, and the traffic and parking lane work isn't done yet. The city took the pre-existing four lane road and converted it to two lanes, with a center turn lane, and a lane of parking on the outside. I'm sure motorists are used to driving in what is now a parking lane, so they are confused.

In closing, I'd like to say that the bike lanes are a small part of a much larger plan. They should not be regarded as an end product of the cycling transportation plan of Omaha. People will get used to them, cyclists will start using them, and the city will gradually come into its own at a truly bikeable community.

Also, please note that the videos are not created to serve some sort of vanity purpose for me. I want to show others what it's like to ride in Omaha on the streets, in hopes that others might take it up. Please let me know what you'd like to see in a bike video and perhaps I can get some interesting on-street footage.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Schwinn Le Tour II Restoration, Phase 3 - Single Speed




If you have been bored enough to follow my posts, you'll know that early in the spring I bought a 1976 Schwinn Le Tour II for cheap. After a couple of weeks, I restored it enough using the stock parts so that I could ride it for a while, putting a few hundred miles on it. I then tried to do a 650B conversion on it, but ran into trouble with brake reach. The stock brake already had a long reach, so the newer "long reach brakes" weren't any longer than the stock brake.

I had already put the Le Tour's chromed steel 27 inch wheels on my daughter's 80s model Schwinn Varsity, so the Le Tour was sitting wheelless, lonely, and unused, especially since I was satisfying my road-style biking needs with the Specialized Tricross.

The Single Speed Conversion

Yesterday, on a whim, I grabbed the frame and Tektro 556 brakes and headed down to Re-Cycle bike shop to see about getting some wheels for the Le Tour. Mike, the owner of the shop, had me go ahead and put the bike up on the work stand so we could start fitting wheels. Over the course of the next five or ten minutes, we worked out a plan to single speed the bike with parts he had in inventory. You'll recall that the Le Tour II has semi-horizontal dropouts, and is a common candidate for single speed conversions.

Mike turned me over to his mechanic, Dan, and within an hour, most of the work had been done. It all happened so fast, I almost wasn't able to keep up with what we were doing.

Here's a list of what we (mostly Dan) did:
  • Selected single speed 700c wheels with freewheel. I didn't know that wheels could be built for single speed. I think the difference is the dishing of the wheel to better accommodate the single cog, Also, these are bolt on wheels. Mike said it's common to use bolt on for single speed, especially on the rear when to need to ensure a snug fit. 700C give me more options for tires than I would have if I stuck with the 27 inch. Also, it opens up a tad more room for fenders should I go that route.
  • Selected an optimum rear cog. Mike suggested an 18 tooth cog. He's familiar with some of the hills I ride, so he was able to make a suggestion. Of course, I can change it out to make it easier or harder after I ride it some.
  • Put on a new drive side crank and chainring. By chance, they had a busted crank set brought in by someone who tried a jump and bent up the left side of the crank. The right side was in perfect shape, and included a single 40 tooth chainring. The crank arm length was 170mm, and matched the Schwinn crank arm perfectly. I got a really good deal on this part, and was pleased the way it turned out. My original plan was to keep the existing dual chainring, but this looks much, much better.
  • Selected tires. Mike set me up on skinny 25c, almost smooth tires. I've never ridden a skinny tire before.
  • Used a step drill bit to enlarge the rear brake hole on the fork to accommodate the recessed mounting nut. The stock brake had a bolt that went all the way through and a hex nut on the outside. We saved the curved washers to get a better mount between the brake and frame.
  • Used a Dremel tool to open up the rear brake mounting hole on rear of the frame. There was no room to get the drill in there.
  • Mounted new Tektro 556 brakes.
  • Removed all unnecessary shifting components: shifting levers, cables, cable guides, derailleurs.
  • Cut chain to fit the single gear and bolted the wheel into the dropouts.
  • Selected a new saddle to replace the broken stock saddle. I got a budget racing style Velo saddle. It looks pretty good, I think, but may get replaced with something else in the future (Can you say "Brooks," boy and girls?)
  • Selected new brake levers and cabling. I took home Tektro RL520 levers, black bar tape, and new cabling and cable housing. I installed the levers, cables, and bar tape myself at home. I'm impressed with the look and function of the new levers and how the cables disappear beneath the tape. It makes for such a simpler look on the bars. It's almost like there aren't any cables, as the visible parts of the cable are minimal. It took me a few wraps, and then unwraps, to get it right. My taping still isn't perfect, but I think I'm getting better.
What remains, potentially:
  • A nice powder coat job, to make that 33 year old steel frame look new again.
  • Fenders? Rack? It'd be a shame not to ride this fun bike just because the streets are wet. On the other hand, I already have a bike with fenders and a rack.
  • Brooks saddle and earthy colored, varnished bar tape?

That's Interesting, But How Does It Ride?

Oh my goodness! Oh my! I never knew it would feel so different. I think all of the changes done to the Le Tour, with the new skinny tires, light weight 700C wheels, well performing brakes with sturdy hoods to hang on to, plus the direct drive to the wheel, it's like a totally new bike.

I'd tried to simulate the single speed experience a few times by setting my geared bike at an equivalent gear. However, there just appears to be something magic about that nearly direct connection to the street through the single gear. It's probably not as direct as with a fixed gear, where's there's no freewheel/freehub, but much more so than with a geared bike, and all of the extra chain snaking through the derailleur jockey wheels. It feels more efficient, as if I get more power using the same gear ratio on the single speed as I would using a geared bike. The clicking of the freewheel is loud, but when I am turning the pedals, it's totally silent.

Of course, when using a geared bike set on a particular ratio, there's always that knowledge in the back of my mind that I can change the gears if I want to. When riding my new single speed today, it was kind of liberating knowing that I had what I had, legs, feet, pedals, chain, to wheel, and that was it. I had to make do with the gearing, such that it was.

I took the Schwinn out for a test ride this afternoon to run some errands over about 12 miles of in-town riding. First I rode some of the bigger hills on my normal daily commute. I found that I could stand out of the saddle to do the toughest hills, but for the most part, I didn't need to. I think it's that efficiency thing again. I did notice that on some downhills and some slight downhill flats, I quickly topped out my cadence, and had to resign to coasting, as I couldn't make my legs go any faster. On my geared bikes, these are spots where I could almost keep up with traffic using really big gears, but on the single speed, I'll just have to relax and take what I can get from gravity. On my first few stops, I felt the urge to downshift on the phantom levers.

The steel frame seems more comfortable than the aluminum Tricross frame, as I think it really absorbs the bumps in the road, despite the more narrow tire. Nothing I've ridden is as comfortable as my Trek 7300 hybrid, with its 35mm tires and seatpost and head shock suspension, plus gel saddle. But the performance of the Schwinn was a lot of fun. I've got the brakes tuned so that I can do most of my braking with a feather touch from my index finger around the hoods. I did have to toe in the shoes a bit, since I was getting some vibration and squeal on my rear brake, which came right up into my saddle for an odd sensation. With my clipless pedals, the acceleration is quite snappy.

I will probably try to commute with this bike this week. Between the 12 miles of errands I ran this afternoon, plus the eight mile round trip to dinner out, I've really enjoyed riding this "new" bike. I think the single speed conversion was the right thing to do at this point in time with the Schwinn, since I already had the hybrid for hauling and wet weather, and the cross bike for fast road and gravel riding. The single speed will be my "city" bike, for fair weather commuting, and tooling around to the coffee shop and restaurants, and casual, easy rides when I don't need to carry any cargo.


Here are some photos of the completed bike.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Bike Racks of Omaha

Humor me.

I'm creating and maintaining a map of all known bike racks in the Omaha metropolitan area. This may seem ridiculous to you folks who already live in a biking town. It would be akin to creating a map of all the automobile parking lots in a city.

When this map gets too difficult to maintain, it will mean that Omaha has come into its own as a bike friendly city.

I could use your help. If you come across a bike rack out in public or at a business, send me an email with the location, description and a picture, if you can snap one. Optionally, send a Twitter message to @OmahaCyclist, the Twitter feed for Omaha bicycling news.

If you're a bigger geek than I am, and want to help by adding your own map points, let me know and I can add you as a collaborator to the map.

This map has a friendly TinyURL name for easy memorization:

View Omaha Bike Racks in a larger map

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Tiny Taste of RAGBRAI

This blog post, in no way, approximates a detailed report of what's happening with RAGBRAI this weekend. I am sure there are any number of other blogs, Twitter feeds, Flickr pools, etc, that can do the job. However, Roxanne and I cycled downtown and across the BK Bridge to check it out the RAGBRAI eve festivities. I was blown away with just how many people were out in the bikes between the Old Market and the Mid-America Center. Just riding the few miles among hundreds of other cyclists was quite an experience. I think the experience was enough to whet my appetite for participating in a large group ride like RAGBRAI.

Below are some photos.

Cyclists dipping their wheels in the waters of the Missouri River. I think they will also dip in the waters of the Mississippi River on the other side of Iowa. This picture is on the Omaha side. There was also an odd setup on the Bob Kerrey Bridge wherby water from the river was pumped up through a hose and deposited on the bridge.

Council Bluffs wisely established a dedicated cycling path from the trail at the casinos all the way to the Mid-America Center. The poor suckers in cars sat forever while we pedaled right on by.

At the Bob Kerrey Pedistrian Bridge with information directing visiting cyclists to valet bike parking in Omaha.

I'm not sure if there was more than one location for bike valet parking in Omaha. This lot was funded by the Omaha Downtown Improvement District at 11th and Farnam. The attendants told me that they didn't have a lot of takers, but we all agreed it was the right thing to do. Roxanne and I parked our bikes there while we ate at O Casual Dining.

Lots and lots of people on the bridge.

The Riverside Grill seemed to be a popular spot.

Hundreds, if not thousands of campers in and around the MAC grounds.

We saw Ryan and Roxy at the exposition at the MAC.

These single-speed bikes are being given away at Barely's Tip Top by 42 Below Vodka as part of their sponsorship of the WeLikeBike42 ride across the US to raise awareness for cycling, and probably to try to sell some vodka. I had some with cranberry juice and honey. It had a really unique taste. I even got to pedal one of these around the parking lot. It was fun, but I'm not sure if it was due to the novelty of the single-speed experience, or from the vodka.

Not photographed were many odd looking bikes, and all kinds of cyclists on them. I saw an elliptical-bike, on which a guy ran like you would on the pedals of an elliptical machine. I also saw a cycle operated by a hand crank, making me think, perhaps, the cyclist did not have the use of his legs. Many riders wore strange things on their heads, like wedges of cheese, balloon hats, and various stuffed animals. There were young, and old. Skinny and fat. Racers and cruisers. Despite all the different kinds of people, one thing in common they all shared was the good time they were having, and the ride doesn't even start until tomorrow.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pedaling the Daily Grind - A Year of Bike Commuting

It was a year ago today that I, as a "grown-up," rode my bicycle to work and back and set forth sequences of events that have, literally, been life changing.

July 16, 2008, I walked into the Trek Bicycles store at 72nd and Dodge and stated that I wanted a bike to use for commuting. They set me up with a Trek 7300 hybrid bike, and shortly afterward, I added a rack for carrying stuff and fenders for all-weather riding.

The next day I rode the bike, and have ridden a bike to work almost every day since then. Rain or shine, snow and ice. I've had to drive to work less than five times, usually to run an errand that required a car. I also rode the bus on a few days.

A lot of what I've learned about bike commuting can be found in my 2008 year in review post.

Below are some extra stats:
  • Total miles cycled: 3,673
  • Total bike-to-work miles: 2,476
  • Total weight lost: 25 pounds
  • Parking money saved: $750 (low estimate of $3/day)
  • Commuting gas money saved $304 (estimate of $2.75/gal)
  • Total bikes owned: 3 (two complete, one "project bike")
I can't say enough just how awesome it is to be out riding a bike all year long. I've made many new friends with some really cool people. I think Omaha is on the verge of becoming a notable "bike city," and I'm really excited to be a part of the change.

I'm here to demonstrate that if I, an ordinary, almost 40 year old dude of average fitness, can ride a bike to work in Omaha, then you can, too. Get out there and ride, and participate in the various online forums and blogs and be a part of Omaha's cycling culture.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Clean, Safe Benches - Coming Soon To A Corner Near You

The word is that Omaha's bus authority, Metropolitan Area Transit, has gotten a new contractor to provide advertising bus stop benches. Gone are the broken down, dangerous wooden eyesores, and in their place, are new, environmentally friendly plastic benches.

These new benches, provided by Best Buy Signs, are replacing at least 400 benches around the metro area this year, and another 250 will be placed in 2010.

If you like the new benches, be sure to let the sponsors know.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rolling Stone and Gasoline

Moss doesn't grow fat on a rolling stone, and vines don't grow on a rolling automobile.

Such is not the case with my truck, though. I've been favoring the bicycle so much lately that viny vegetation from a nearby hedge started growing up my aerial.

The last time I bought gasoline for the truck was back in April. Since then I have driven 266 miles, using 14.6 gallons of gasoline.

At this rate, I am filling up my truck about four to five times a year, spending perhaps $120 - $150 a year.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

You Can Fix You Own Bike - Headset

A couple of weeks ago the headset on my Specialized Tricross got really stiff. It was so bad that I could just feel it grinding when I turned the handlebars. It took a small amount of force just to turn the handlebars.

My guess was that the headset needed to be overhauled, or even replaced.

I'd seen some exploded view diagrams of headsets, and having overhauled wheel hubs, thought I might be able to give this a try. Since the Tricross uses a threadless headset, I was a little afraid of tackling this newer technology.

I searched the web and came across various tutorials and videos on how to do it. YouTube is indispensable here. Just take your time and watch lots of videos and take away the best parts from each. After seeing some how-to videos, I thought I might be able to give this a try.

All I needed were a hex key set, hammer, flat headed screwdriver, WD-40, bearing grease, a bowl to soak the parts in, and a rag for wiping and cleaning.

I took the headset apart and took some reference photos along the way so I could be sure I'd get it all back together right. The first thing I noticed that there was a lot of dirt or sand right under the top cover on the stem. I can't figure out how all that got there! Note that the bike is new to me, but it's a three year old bike, and likely, the headset was never serviced.

I used a flat screwdriver to knock out the races and bearing retainer. The bearings were really fouled. I soaked the races, ball bearings, retainer, etc. in WD-40 to get all the gunk off. I also used WD-40 and a rag to clean the cup and races. It seems the cups are integrated into the frame, which is bad news, since I think the top cup is damaged a bit. I think the BBs are a little mashed, too. I might get some new ones and do it all over again.

After getting everything clean, I put the BBs back into the retainer rings, packed it all with grease, and put all the parts back in the opposite order that I took them all out. I did have to tap the races with my screwdriver and hammer to get them click back into place inside the fork tube.

The end result is a remarkably smoother turning fork. I think I can still detect a little roughness, but it's smooth enough now that the fork will turn freely if I lean the bike from side to side.

Here are a few photos from the process. If you view the larger version, you can really see the caked on sand or dirt.

Is it normal to get this much crud under the stem cap?

The bottom of the fork tube with the bike inverted. A little blurry, but you can see the ball bearings and some of the rings.

The purpose of this rambling fix-it is to encourage any other newbies like myself to try some basic repairs. With some research and patience, I've found that I can do some of these basic repairs on my own. It's fun, saves money, and gives me a little more confidence in tackling the next job.

To any experts reading this post, please let me know if I missed any points, or if I totally did it wrong and am now riding a rolling death trap.