Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bicycle Repair and Technical Links

This entry is a resource I made for people attending today's clinic and it might be helpful for others. I'll put this on the main site sometime and add to it when possible. There is nothing groundbreaking here, and most of these resources are well known to bike geeks, but they're a solid start for anyone who is starting out, and can be useful to experienced mechanics for some obscure questions.

General

Sheldon Brown's Website The late, great Sheldon was a walking bicycle encyclopedia. He put much of his knowledge on the web and never tired of helping others with their questions. His website contains various technical articles and a very helpful bicycle glossary are found on his site.
Park Tools Repair Page Instructions on how to perform repairs on specific components. Just point your cursor of the part of the bike you need to work on.
Diagnosing clicks, creaks, and other noises emanating from a bike is one of a mechanic's toughest, most time consuming jobs. This page will give you some pointers on how to hunt down and eliminate annoying noises.

Other Links and Web Tools

Sheldon Brown's Gear Calculator
Sheldon Brown's Internal Gear Calculator
Chainring and Cog Combos for turning a bike with vertical dropouts into a singlespeed or fixed wheel bike.
Tubular Tire Repair Few people ride tubulars anymore, and many think repairing them is next to impossible. Don't be intimidated, it can be done fairly easily.
Seatpost Stuck in Your Frame? Fifteen ways to get it out from Sheldon.
Tire Sizing can be confusing because of the lack of standardization, especially on older bikes (a "26 inch" tire can be five different sizes). Once again, Sheldon will help you sort it out.

Repair Workshop Today at 4pm

Sorry to announce this late, but I'll be holding a repair clinic today at 4pm as part of a DIY festival being held downtown at the Soapbox. The clinic is at the shop, and I don't know how many people to expect, honestly. The content will be tailored to whoever shows up, but we'll have to cover basics first if anyone is there who doesn't know them. Bring your bike if you can, because the clinic will be hands on when possible, and it will be better to learn on the type of brakes, shifters, headset, etc. that are on your bike.

If you can't make it today I plan on restarting the monthly clinics that we did at Trinity, so perhaps you can make the next one.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Think of the Women and Children

Transportation cycling in places without friendly roads or bicycle facilities tends to be an activity undertaken by solitary males. These men might have families, but they're at home or in the car while dad pedals. This is a normal and healthy reaction to the perception of danger.

But solitary males do not a bicycle (or any lasting) culture make. Only when cycling is a viable choice for everyone who can pedal or be carried on a bike do you have the necessary conditions for a bicycle culture.

Accordingly, those who are in positions to influence city planning and infrastructure should submit all proposed roads and bike lanes to this litmus test: would an average mother with a young child feel safe cycling along this road or in this bike lane? If cycling is viable for the most precious and vulnerable members of society, then it is viable for all. If not, the road or bike lane is a failure and needs modification.

It is no exaggeration to say that people are terrorized out of using their bicycles in the US. People are willing to sweat, people are willing to get from A to B in twenty five minutes rather than fifteen. They are not willing to be seriously injured or killed. Save me the stats about how relatively safe cycling is, even in the US. This response boils down to "get over it." Even if the danger of being hit by a car were not real (and it is very real if you cycle in traffic every day), the intense anxiety created by the perception of danger would be unacceptable. Some portion of alienation and anxiety is a normal part of the human condition. We're willing to accept such discomfort in matters existential and spiritual, but we shouldn't have a world in which anxiety and fear is attached to the mundane act of going down the street.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

City Bikes--Part One: Particularity

If you had asked me this time last year what the best all-around bike for the average person was I'd have answered without hesitation, "A randonneuring bike with 35-42mm tires, fenders, a front bag or medium sized basket, and generator powered lighting system." That's a fairly specific answer for a general question, but it is an answer arrived at after much experience on the roads. And to be fair to myself of a year ago, it might be the best general answer considering the typical infrastructure of a typical US city.

It certainly held true in Dallas, which like most young cities, suburbs and exurbs has developed under the assumption that automobile is and will always be the primary form of transportation for the vast majority of residents. Accordingly, the distances between home, work, and daily destinations in such places are longer than, well . . . any other living arrangement in human history, so anyone attempting to use a bike as primary transport will be forced to travel long distances on roads made for fast automobile traffic. These roads will have typically have infrequent and visible intersections with buildings set far back from the road, often separated from the road by a parking lot.

Getting around in such a world is best on a rando bike. The semi-upright position affords a good enough view of the road while still putting the rider in an efficient enough position to bring the large muscle into play while pedaling, which helps cover those long distances. Those who want to be even more efficient can easily change their position by dropping their bars and changing the fore/aft position of their saddle, which will slightly change the effective seatube angle.

When I moved to downtown Wilmington I noticed that my rando bike felt a little awkward. Downtown Wilmington's layout was built for pedestrians and horses. The blocks are very short, so intersections are numerous. Intersections aren't incredibly visible, because the buildings are pushed forward so that pedestrians can enter easily from the sidewalk. When there are parking spaces they are at the side of a building, not the front, but most business don't have any off-street parking at all. There are numerous cyclists and pedestrians. These features cause car traffic to be much, much slower. But because of the bad visibility and frequent intersections, driveways, etc. a cyclist needs to be constantly looking around. This makes a very upright position desirable. Luckily, my average trip is much shorter here, because almost everything I need to do is within four miles of my house so the only drawback to an upright position (less efficient position and less speed) is not an issue.

Add to all of this the fact that I daily carry a child in a stem-mounted seat (which works best on an upright bike) and my my primary bike has changed dramatically.  This realization was humbling and instructive. I found that I slowly made some changes to my bike, and then built a second bike that was very different from the one I'd used to get around Dallas. What I'd cobbled together was a city bike with a very upright position a type of bike I hadn't had previously held in high regard.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wilmington Cyclotouring Club (Provisional Name)

My friend Scott and I have been kicking around the idea of starting a bicycle club. The club would be based in downtown Wilmington and focus on reviving the tradition of cyclotouring and bike camping. Before the ascendancy of the car in the 1950's, bike camping and cyclotouring were popular leisure activities, particularly in Europe. The club is in its nascent stage, and we're gauging interest, though we're likely to get it rolling even if we only have a half dozen member to start out.

If you're in and need no further persuasion, click here to join the Google Group. But please read on to see what we're about. And if you're not yet sure, please read on and join the group if you're so inclined.

Here's the plan so far.

The club would encourage and promote transportation via bicycle to and from camping and other recreation destinations. Our activity is not a philosophical or ideological statement but a preference for riding our bikes as transport when possible and the wish to encourage and assist others who would like to do so. We suspect there are others who would like to substitute bicycle for automobile transport to and from popular outdoor leisure destinations, and intend to provide convivial assistance to those who are interested. Rides will begin and end in downtown Wilmington, rather than outside the city, so that people do not need to drive (or at least not drive far) to the start of each ride.

Extended tour rides would be minimal, since we understand most people's schedules make group multi-day trips nearly impossible to coordinate. However, we would serve as a resource to anyone undertaking such trips and encourage all members to offer hospitality to traveling cyclotourists by registering at the Warm Showers website.

Club rides would consist of the following. I've listed the rides in order of time commitment, which is inversely related to frequency with which the club would organize rides.

1--Day trips to the area beaches. These are easy (distance) rides from downtown, but often traverse roads inhospital to single cyclists and families. By riding as a group we would increase our visibility, safety, and the comfort of riders--especially those who are unaccustomed to riding on roads with fast automobile traffic. Group participation would also allow the group to rent a beachouse for the day at minimal cost to individual participants.

2--Overnight camping rides. These rides would go from downtown Wilmington to a camping destination 30-40 miles away, where the group would camp overnight and the return ride to Wilmington leaving late morning or early afternoon. Typically the ride would leave Saturday afternoon with a Sunday afternoon or evening return, since this would fit into the largest number of people's schedules. Club members who work on the weekend would be encouraged to find others with similar schedules and organize rides during weekdays.

3--Three to four day touring trips. These rides would be infrequent, perhaps twice yearly, and planned well in advance to make participation practical. The trip would consist of a three to four day (2-3 night) loop beginning and ending in Wilmington. Depending on the number and inclination of the participants, overnight accommodations would either be at campsites or motel/hotel rooms.

Please note that if you're interested in any of these rides, we want you in the club. Even if you're interested in meeting us at our destination, and don't plan to ride with us, we want you in the club. We won't ask how, or discriminate according to, your method of transport to our destinations (that will be one of the few club rules). We understand that because of various factors, some people don't feel comfortable biking in traffic. We regret this situation and welcome all.

I think that covers it--at least for now. The next step is a club website and all the electronic management it entails. I can cover the hosting fees, and I could build the website, but I'm very open to anyone else who would like to do so. I only ask that if you take on the task you take it on for at least a year. It is less hassle for me to build a simple website than hunt down a new webmaster/mistress every month.

If you don't yet want to join the group but are interested, comment below with any questions, e-mail me, or drop by the shop. But joining the google group is a no obligation thing, and the group will facilitate and exchange of ideas to get the club off the ground and get rides organized.

When the club does exist, there will be no dues, waivers, or membership forms. People who participate in our rides will be free to claim or disavow membership in the club. Claiming membership will merely commit members to riding in our rides when they're able and willing, and acting like decent human beings while on our rides. We welcome characters, wallflowers, eccentrics, and the opinionated. Boorish and impolite conduct will be the only impediments to participation. All other are welcome.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Quick-Hits

Review of Cardiff Saddle--Good so far. Keep in mind the shape is that of a racing saddle, if you don't have your bars at least two inches lower than your saddle it probably isn't right for you. I rode 42 miles on the saddle Sunday and felt good. I'm trying not to let the fact that the saddle is drop-dead gorgeous bias my review. I'll have something more extensive after I've put some more miles on mine.

Time: I don't have any of it. I get into work at 9 or 10 and go-go-go until 6 when I come home to eat and spend some time with my wife and son. When he's asleep I either go back up to shop or do computer work at home. I feel like I need to work fourteen hours a day everyday, which I can't do it without being a bad father and husband. Consequently, things like the website and the blog, which are very important, keep getting pushed into the background and neglected.

Good things: Lots more locals stopping into the shop. Buying components, coming by for repairs, having me fix up (or help them fix up) old frames. There is a solid contingent of people in downtown Wilmington who ride their bikes everyday and use them as primary transportation, which is very exciting. I still don't have complete bikes, but right now I don't have many people who come in looking for complete bikes. I do have my eye on a good bike for basic transportation (internal 3 speed hub, stock rack and fenders) that would sell for $320--a Model T bicycle if you will. I'll get a few of those as soon as I can. Gross revenues are up . . .

Bad things: . . . revenue up but not enough profit. This is probably my fault. When sales are good I order more product to build up the inventory. This is good as long as the business still makes money, bad if we have more inventory but aren't clearing enough to stay in business. Also, increases in local business bite into the time that I can devote to building up the mail-order/internet side of the business, which is frankly much more lucrative.

My out of town customers are a dream to deal with. They're smart, polite, and understand that you get what you pay for and are willing to pay for quality and knowledgeable service. (If you're the grammar police beware I endorse the serial comma and will continue to use it.) I often think that my unusual business would have a better chance to survive and thrive if I primarily focused on the specialty customers. But at heart I'm a localist. I want to help the riders in my area. I want more bicycles on the streets of Wilmington, I want to help people who use their bicycles as transportation in my neighborhood and city, and I can't see being in business and not making myself available to the locals.