The Golden Wrench

A blog about bicycle repair and maintenance by the mechanics at Freewheel Bike.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

North Side Glide Ride

Public events add an interesting twist to bike mechanichood. Early in the summer, I had the opportunity to sit in cold rain for National Trails Day down at the Hopkins Depot. I think I fixed one bike all day while I stomped and shivered, but I got to commiserate with some worthy folks and eat a worthy scone from the coffee shop.

A few weeks later, Nick from Freewheel Mobile and I did #1 tuneups all day, in the rain, in promotion of National Bike to Work Week at the Christopher and Banks corporate HQ down in Plymouth. In the rain, all day, having forgotten rags and towels. Happily, there was a Home Depot nearby where we could purchase some of those blue disposable shop rags, but they didn't do so hot in the rain. At least it was a warmer rain that day.

You may be sensing a theme here.

Scotty B and I got the nod to do the safety checks at the North Side Glide Ride last Saturday, and I packed my rain coat even though the forecast said "sunshine, chirping birds, and fat cherubs playing harps." The weather held strong however. We met up in a vacant parking lot on the corner of Penn and Broadway, and after some van parking theatrics (It was 7:00 in the morning and I was yet enjoying many of the benefits of sleep, so cut me some slack, OK?!?!), finally got the van set up.

I was really impressed with the focus of the BikeWalk Ambassadors: they want to see North Minneapolis get some bike lanes and paths, bikers to populate those lanes and paths, and increased awareness of cycling as a cheap way to get around town. Usually, when I hear the words "increased awareness," it usually turns out to be some bogus thing where so-and-so has always wanted to ride his bike from Portland, OR to Portland, ME, and realized that the only way he could get people to give him money to do it is if he said he was doing it to "increase awareness" for the Zebra Mussel Adoption Fund, or the Association of Manly Men Who Still Wear Tube Socks, or Comb-Overs Anonymous. Whatever.

The BikeWalk Ambassadors had their act together however. They handed out tons of maps to people which show you how to get just about anywhere on a bike. The maps are works of art: they are well-marked, easy to read, and compact enough to fit in your pocket (and we have them at both West Bank and Midtown locations for $0.00). The Ambassadors also led a group ride around town just to demonstrate the possibilities of actually using a bicycle for your alpha transportation. And many of the folks in this particular neighborhood never leave this particular neighborhood simply because transportation is such a hassle. Lots of folks were hanging around Freewheel Mobile brainstorming about how to get low-cost, sturdy bikes into the hands of people who could benefit from them.

The BikeWalk Ambassadors (blue shirts) with the Major Taylor Bicycle Club

But Scotty B and I were there to fix stuff, not save the world through bicycles. I think I may have saved one lady's life: there was a brown recluse spider (how I know my spiders is a long and tedious episode--ask me in person if you have some time to kill) which had taken up residence in the spokes of her rear wheel. I discovered it when I was preparing to adjust her hub, shrieked like a frightened girl, and shooed it away with a screwdriver. He shook his little fist at me and told me that he had his rights, and that I would be hearing from his attorney. I stepped on him, ending the discussion. That was, thankfully, the tensest moment of the whole morning.

*willies* This is Mister Brown Recluse, pre-shooing.

On the right, you can see the carcasses of his hapless victims.

Such events are a great way to get out into the world and a welcome change in the line of duty, as long as the poisonous spiders are not too plentiful.

Monday, July 26, 2010

We Don't Mean to Nag, But...

Cue the creepy, minor-key music: you may be killing your suspension fork with your JRA behavior. Now, I speak (or type, more properly) as one who forsook suspension for several years in favor of a rigid carbon fork on my mountain bike. Incidentally, my wrists declared that decision to be unwise this spring with some spectacular flashes of pain, but those seem to have resolved since I restored my relationship with the old Manitou Skareb I had been using for spider habitat under my workbench.

What never resolves, however, is the subtle effects of riding dusty trails all summer.

Here in Minnesota, it's a lot like training camp for high desert racing. The trails are either closed or dusty, so we spend a lot of time drifting corners that are made of powdered adobe. Although the dust at, say, Theo Wirth is about the consistency of baby powder, each of those little particles of dust looks like a tiny porcupine under a microscope. And to those particles, the anodizing on your fork uppers looks like an axe handle. If you know anything about porcupines, you probably know that their favorite food (after corned beef and goulash) is axe handles, about which they frequently rhapsodize in grunts and squeaks. So then, while you're roosting through powdered terrain at Theo, those clouds of porcupine-shaped dust particles are attracted to your fork uppers by an innate sense of hunger that they can't control.

They begin by chewing away at your upper seals, where oil from the semi-bath reservoir found in all major fork systems gathers dust at an alarming rate, turning it into that brown goop we affectionately call "brown goop." Not only is the brown goop unsightly, it is abrasive: do not brush your teeth with it! After the dust particles breach the upper seals, they mosey or saunter down into the oil ring and the upper bushings where the real fun begins. It's like a microscopic axe handle buffet down there! When they've been at it for a few months, it looks like this:

Axe Handle


Where the Porcupines Hang Out

Oh No, More Porcupines

As you can see, there are lots of nooks and crannies where the porcupines can hide to chew on your fork uppers. Fork manufacturers recommend having the porcupines evicted every forty hours of riding, but if you get it done once a season, you'll save a lot of wear and tear on your equipment. Believe it or not, those upper seals, that foam ring, and even the damping oil itself are all things that wear out and get yicky. Additionally, there are o-rings inside that wear down over time, allowing oil and air to go where they ain't sposta. So it isn't just porcupines chewing axe handles, it's also saber-toothed tree mackerels committing larceny with respect to your o-rings. That's frowned upon by more than one publicly-funded advocacy group!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Bike Don't Shift Smooth

Cables are often overlooked as a cause for life unhappiness and premature general sadness takeover because folks are bummed. The reason cables are so often overlooked is that they're just not flashy, blingy parts. Even the Dura-Ace cable sets are gray and relatively inexpensive. You can't impress bike people with your Tiagra steed decked out in Dura-Ace shift cables: they will see right through you.

Sure, Nokon makes flashy compressionless housing out of little bits of metal, but they creak and click, and you can't get a good, precise adjustment out of them. Plus, they quickly eat through fragile paint such as that found on high-end steel bikes, while creaking and shifting poorly. Oh, and they corrode in salty conditions.

Gore makes expensive cables and housing, but the average bike observer can't tell outside of a five-foot radius that you're sporting Gore cables.

Average Bike Observer: "Is that a bicycle you've got there? I recognize that."

Bike Owner: "It just happens to be, yes."

Average Bike Observer: "What kind of bicycle is it?"

Bike Owner: "It's a Guerciotti X-Crow, 2009, with Sram Rival and wheels I built myself."

Average Bike Observer: "Oh, a Gary Fisher, eh? I like Gary Fishers. They're neat."

Bike Owner
: "No, I said it's a Guerciotti."

Average Bike Observer: "Apology accepted. Where did you get the Gary Fisher?"

Bike Owner
: "It's not a Gary Fisher. It's Italian. My cousin has a job that takes him to Europe every few years, and he picked up the frame for me in France."

Average Bike Observer: "Why did you need to go to France to get a Gary Fisher?"


Average Bike Observer: "It's a forgery! They didn't spell Gary Fisher's name right. You got ripped off. Nice Jagwire cables though, are those Jagwires? Jagwires are neat."

Bike Owner: "A pox on your tardy-gaited household! Those are Gore Ride-Ons, you simpering sovereign of chaff and scrapple!"

Average Bike Observer: "Uh, thanks! I'll see you later!"

So cables don't make the bike: fashion-wise they're like seat collars, spokes, bar plugs, and stem caps: more or less invisible as long as they don't clash too badly. Cables are an important part of a good maintenance plan however. New cables and housing just put the icing on the cake of a well-tuned bike, at least until they stretch a bit and throw the whole world into despair.

This particular piece of housing made a bike shift very poorly:

Check out how much it scrunched up when the inner wires stampeded effortlessly through that cheezy plastic ferrule:
Yep, that's cause for complaining.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chris King Bottom Bracket Grease Purge

So I ordered the Chris King bottom bracket purging tool and thought that we had everything that we would need to provide this service. Turns out that we also needed a grease gun with a Zerk fitting, you can't just use the typical grease gun. I found this hand pump that comes with Phil Wood grease tubes.

Now that we had the tool we had to try it out so Sam brought in his bike. The first thing that you have to do is remove the black plastic ring.

Then you plug the tool into the bearing and start pumping new grease. The old grease and dirt gets purged out. It's a pretty slick system. We now have all the necessary tools to perform this job at our West Bank and Midtown locations as well as on the Mobile Repair Unit.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Saturdays in the bike shop world are a unique day, not because of anything intrinsic to Saturdays in general, but because of a mood of insanity which suddenly infects the population at large. Nothing causes a seasoned wrench to go into survival mode like a nice, sunny Saturday morning. We awaken to the sweet trilling of male cardinals outside our windows, roll cheerfully out of bed, see the sunshine dancing through the gently rustling leaves on the oak tree in the front yard, realize what day it is, and promptly faint dead away. Nice, warm, sunny Saturdays? Bah! We'd rather have tornadoes and meteor showers or a plague of frogs and lice, because every anthropoid specimen and his cat within fifty miles will go for a bike ride on such a sublime Saturday morning, and roughly 80% of them will have a flat tire 20 minutes before lunchtime. And they will stand in line waiting for us to save the day.

We've saved lots of days: stop by and check out our thumb callouses!

It's funny how many different ways to say "I have a flat" people come up with.

Customer: "I was JRAing down the Greenway, whistling a merry tune, uhh... something from Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, an aria or some such, in the key of B major, and all of the sudden, molecules began stampeding out of some unauthorized aperture in my pneus velos. Can you burst forth in a glorious flurry of industry in my behalf? Can you resurrect my faithful companion and transportation? She has the soul of a thoroughbred, you know. Give me hope! Will my inexorable steed ride again to fame?"

Mechanic: "Indeed!"

Another thing that's funny about Saturdays is that people come in with old, French frames and long lists on yellow paper. Sometimes it's an old English frame, and sometimes the list is on pink paper, but this person is intent on making a fixed-gear something-or-other out of it, having just watched a bunch of videos of guys in fedoras and slip-ons doing slow wheelies and 30-foot skids in parking lots. He feels that every item on the list should cost an average of $3.72 and that his total bill should be around $100: after all, it doesn't have derailleurs, right, and it's old, right?

Fortunately, most of these frames have some sort of game-over damage to them, such as a 26.8 mm seatpost lodged in a 26.4 mm seat tube (which is splitting toward the bottom bracket), or "I rear-ended a parked bus while teasing my 'fro" wrinkles near the head tube. Others, though not broken physically, are broken in soul.

Oh yes, we can make this thing sparkle for $100.