Sunday, September 27, 2009

Photos From "Oh! What An Alleycat!"

Omaha's first annual Oh! What An Alleycat! event was a huge success! Read the official blog here.

When Sean announced that he was going to organize an alleycat race, I knew I wanted to help make it happen. Rather than participate, I offered to help run a checkpoint. I'm not terribly fast, and sometimes not the best navigator, so helping out seemed to be the thing to do.

About 15 people showed up to race, and several more to help out. Our gathering at the arch in the Gene Leahy Mall was certainly noticeable. There were bikes everywhere of all kinds. Fixies, single speeds, racing bikes, mountain bikes, and hybrids. It was a beautiful thing.

We helpers showed up early and Sean briefed us on the protocol. We each were given a grease pen for marking player's playing cards, and an index card telling us where our checkpoint was, and the location of the next checkpoint.

I rode off to my post in the Heartland of America Park. Sean had directed me to an area on the lake that was near the boat ride piers, describing a boardwalk. I think most people interpreted their clue, given by them by the officials at the first checkpoint, as the wooden footbridge over 8th and Farnam. In the confusion, some people rode all the way to the wooden bridge leading to the riverfront before seeing me waving from my checkpoint. Please explore the map below.

I got a kick out of seeing the leaders trying to get to me at great speed. Some bombed down the steep grassy hill (on fixies, no less), while some hefted their bikes on the shoulders and ran down the steps from 8th Street. I think everyone ended up finding me. However, I had forgotten to ask Sean how many riders there were, so I wasn't sure when I was done.

Just to be safe, I moved out more in the open to the boardwalk at the boat piers, waited, and fed some cookies to the ducks.

Finally I got a message from Sean telling me to rejoin the group at the arch. By the time I got back, all prizes has been awarded. A few of us went on to Upstream for some post ride refreshments.

After some snacks, some of Upstream's finest beverages and some fun conversation, I rode off toward home. Ben was looking to get some more saddle time, so he joined me for the ride to my house. I think afterward he might have continued on to the Keystone Trail for some more miles.

Everybody I talked to seemed to enjoy the alleycat, and is looking forward to the next. Thanks to Sean for putting this together, at his own personal expense, and thanks to everyone who came out to race or to help. Also, thanks for The Douglas for making the special event spoke cards. That's something you don't see every day in Omaha.

View Oh! What An Alleycat! Checkpoint #2 in a larger map

Here are some photos I took.

Click here if you can't see the slideshow above.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Photos From The Last 2009 Bacon Ride

You can read all about the Bacon Ride adventure here at Pedal-Omaha and here at MITMON.

Here are my photos.

Click here if you can't see the slideshow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Shiny Bike Is A Happy Bike

I'm not a particularly neat person. I'm not dirty and I've got good hygiene, but one could never call me a neat freak.

However, lately I've been trying to keep my bikes clean. You won't see me with a toothbrush working out bits of gravel dust and grease from every nook and cranny, but it's pretty easy to wipe things down with a rag and a pre-moistened dusting wipe.

I've found that cleaning my bikes is relaxing, and also helps me inspect parts for wear and damage, potentially identifying a problem before it gets too bad.

My friend Jeff had been telling me about some of the various citrus based, biodegradable degreasers on the market, such as Simple Green and Purple Power, and how easy it is to clean a chain and cogs using them. I found the jugs of degreaser in the automotive section of a big box retailer.

I'd already learned how to remove the master link from my chains, but didn't have any way to get freehub cogs off.

Last week I got a cogset lockring removal tool and a chain whip. Using these I was able to take off my nine speed cogset off the Specialized Tricross and soak it in some Purple Power degreaser.

I put the chain into a big Gatorade bottle and sealed it. I let everything soak while I cleaned the rest of the bike. I'd give the bottle a good shake every now and again to try to dislodge some of the grease on the chain.

After I was done cleaning the bike, I removed the cogs and chain from their degreaser bath, rinsed them off, and then wiped them down with an old tee-shirt. The result was amazing. All of the parts shined like so many crazy diamonds. I was able to pour off most of the used degreaser into another container, leaving the dirty stuff at the bottom, where I could dispose of it later. I'll keep the used degreaser for the next time. Perhaps I can get two or three uses out of a batch of this stuff.

I put a little grease on the freehub splines and reassembled the cog set, spacers, and loose cogs back on to the hub before using the lockring tool again to tighten the assembly. I wasn't sure how hard to tighten down the lockring, but after it started to catch into a series of grooves, I gave it one more good twist. I didn't want it to be too hard to take off again the next time, or risk damaging it or the threads. If anyone has some advice on how tight this should feel, please let me know.

I threaded the chain back through the derailleur jockey wheels and rejoined the two ends using the master link. Then I applied some of my drip lube on the chain, shifted all the gears while turning the pedals, and then wiped down the chain.

I'm still amazed as how shiny this all is. I always forget that these parts come silver colored, and not really blackened, as they tend to get over time.

The next order of business is to get it all dirty again with lots of gravel dust on Sunday's Last Bacon Ride of the Year.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Art of Being Seen

Motorists often don't see bikes at night, so we have to go out of our way to be seen when riding the streets of our cities. My morning commutes are often in the dark, and the occasional Taco Ride has me biking home 30 miles in the dark.

Being Seen

I could add lots of reflectors, like this guy. (Photo courtesy of AJ Jones IV)

I could also add a dozen blinkies, like these guys:

Nah. (Is that even legal?)

The Art

My Schwinn project is just as much about art as it is a functioning bicycle. Even if I've made it up myself, I've got this standard in my head for what this old bike should look like. I'm trying to preserve its 30 year old style while making it fun and safe to ride using modern components.

So mounting dozens of reflectors and LED blinkies, while it would help me be seen, there's no art in it.

The Art of Being Seen

I ruled out a seat post light when I came across bar end blinkies. These tiny lights slip into the rear facing ends of road handlebars. While they aren't as bright as a good seat post flasher, they are passive to install. When they are off, you can't even tell they are there. One con is that I can't direct their beams. They point down toward my legs and the street below the bike.

Bar end light on

Bar end light off

Today I added a new rear facing light. This one is a nifty looking bullet light made from polished aluminum with a bar end light inserted. The Soma Fabrications Silver Bullet can be mounted in many places, but I choose to mount it on the dropout eyelet so that I could avoid using the ugly plastic seat stay mount.

Finally, here's a video of a 360 degree walkaround showing the lights in use. They aren't as eye catching as a Planet Bike superflash, but in the interest of preserving a little artistic style, the bar end lights and the Silver Bullet will do.

The Law

Nebraska law demands that bicycles operating at night have tire reflectors, either in the form of a reflective sidewall, or spoke mounted reflectors. See the side reflector code here.

I don't meet the requirements of this law, yet.

Also, bikes must have a forward facing light, and a rear red reflector. A rear light is permitted, but does not take the place of a reflector. See the rear reflector code here. I think in the city of Lincoln a rear light is required.

I still haven't found a suitable retro looking forward light for permanent installation, so I've been using a Planet Bike Blaze light.

I put a rear reflector on this afternoon. Some, like Sheldon Brown, argue that reflectors don't work, and that lights should be required, but I figure that a rear reflector and a light can't hurt, and helps satisfy legal requirements.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Schwinn Le Tour II Restoration, Phase 3.5 - Single Speed with Fenders


I put Phase 3.5 in the title because the bike's configuration hasn't changed that much from the so-called Phase 3. There will be a Phase 4, so stay tuned.

The addition of fenders, Brooks B17 saddle, cloth tool roll, silver crank dust caps and retro bottle cage does change the look somewhat, though.

The fenders are the 37mm polished aluminum fenders from Velo Orange. I installed them myself using the supplied hardware. Fortunately, I didn't have to drill anything, but unfortunately, I didn't have all the hardware I needed, and had to pick up some extra parts from Ace Hardware.

It seems to me that the tire clearance is a little too wide but due to the way the frame is built, there wasn't much I could do about it if I wanted to keep the clearance uniform.

The old-school bottle cage straps are designed to secure certain bottle cages against the tube. These straps don't have any nuts that would replace brazeons, so I can't use any bottle cage.

I felt a stainless steel bottle would work well with the chrome and polished aluminum elsewhere on the bike. Some also recommend steel bottles, as they don't get gunked up the way plastic can, leach chemicals in the water, and make the water taste funny. The bad news is that the bottle and cage aren't designed for each other, so there's a little vibration and noise when the bottle is empty.

The tool roll is a Bike Burrito and looks really good underneath the black Brooks B17 with copper rivets and rails. I keep an extra tube, tire levers, wrenches, rag, patches, pump, and a multitool in the roll.

I still want to cut the fender stays to keep a clean look.

I needed to create some spacers to move the fender further out from the chain stay bridge. I used a long bolt with washers and nuts as spacers. I used leather washers from Velo Orange to help absorb vibration.

This part was tricky. The sliding mount was in the form of a strap that I had to bend, fold, and pinch myself for a custom fit. This holds the top of the fender secure to the seat stay bridge. The hole in the strap for the brake bolt wasn't wide enough for the nut, so I had to ream it out a bit with a drill.

The fenders came with a fork crown daruma. This nifty piece of hardware connects to the brake bolt as it passes through the crown. It drops a bolt that goes through a hole in the top of the fender. I don't know if I did it right, but I didn't tighten down the nut under the fender too tightly. As a result, I can wiggle the fender a bit to align it over the tire, and it gives if I clip the fender with my toe, rather than bend the fender.

The Good

  • Fenders rock. I've got fenders on my Trek 7300 hybrid, and they've enabled me to ride comfortable in wet conditions. They also help keep the bike clean, especially the underside of the new leather saddle.
  • They look cool, I think. I feel almost caveman-like when it comes to shiny things. Oooohhh... shiny!
  • Yay! I installed the fenders myself! It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but it did take a while. It should go more quickly next time.
  • Being able to carry a bottle is nice on those hot days when I might not be riding near water. This bike is more of a city commuter with skinny tires, and not intended for long adventure rides, but a swig of water every now and again is a good thing.

The Bad

  • These fenders, while not as pricey as Japanese Honjo fenders, were a little more expensive than plastic fenders.
  • I'm afraid the metal fenders will get dented and scuffed with everyday commuting. This is a working bike, and not being restored just for show.
  • Toe clipping is a problem now. My days of the almost-track stand are done on this bike, since my feet hit the fender if I move the handlebars from side to side.
  • I didn't notice any vibration or rattling during an easy test ride on the trail this afternoon but I wonder if commuting on the rough streets of Omaha will shake something loose.
  • I guess it's impossible for Velo Orange to predict all the parts that I would need. I spent an extra $10 on assorted nuts, bolts, washers, and such from the local hardware store.
In summary, I like the look of the shiny new parts. Fenders extend the riding days of any bike. I've got a few more ideas for the bike before I call it done, so be sure to watch for updates.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's Going Around: Single Speed Fever

A curious malady is making the rounds in my barn. Symptoms of single speed fever are spreading.

My true single speed, the 1976 Schwinn Le Tour II is now my favored city bike and fair weather commuter. There's a 40 tooth chainring on the front and a 17 tooth freewheel on one side of the rear hub, and a 17 tooth track cog fixed on the other side. I find that this combination is perfect for me for tooling around town tackling the typical hills in my stomping grounds. With the addition of a new saddle, I'm all the more eager to spend a lot of time on this bike.

I've gotten comfortable standing to climb, spinning on the flats and coasting when the road turns downward.

This weekend I went to clean about 100 miles of Nebraska gravel road dust and Iowa Wabash Trace crushed limestone dust from my Specialized Tricross when I noticed something odd about the cassette.

A couple of Sundays ago combined a Bacon Ride with my first century ride, and last week I did a Taco Ride. Without realizing it, I'd been riding the Tricross as if it were single speed; standing to climb and spinning when not climbing. I got into a nice pace and spent most of the time pedaling.

As I got my degreaser and cleaning rags ready, I noticed that all the cogs but one were covered with white dust. The one that was cleaner was obviously the one I'd been using for my recent rides. At 34 x 14, I was cycling at a gear ratio just a tad stiffer than on the single speed Schwinn.

This weekend, I grabbed the grocery panniers and my Trek 7300 hybrid and headed out to Whole Foods to stock up one some specialty items that I can't get at my local Bag & Save or Hy-Vee. With 35mm tires and a cargo rack, this is my hauling bike. Again, I noticed that I was doing all the pedaling in a similar gear ratio. I did have to shift down to climb out of the Papio Creek valley into my neighborhood, as I was loaded down with groceries.

Incidentally, I saw Rafal D. with Megan, and Steve O. with some friends at Whole Foods and talked for a moment with each.

So, look out. If you ride near where I ride, you might want to keep your distance. If your bike gets too close, you might find it, too, afflicted with single speed fever. I just hope single speed fever doesn't jump over to humans in the form of some kind of knee pain!