Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bike stuff

  • The other day, on the way to get my bike from the cage where we keep them locked up outside our office, I encountered a fellow doing a rather elaborate stretching routine before mounting up. I said hi, fetched my bike and rode to the boathouse thinking, "he does all that stretching before his ride? My ride is my warm up." I ride nice and easy to the boathouse—there is a gentle hill, but nothing too taxing—and stretch when I get there.

  • That night, after getting off the water, I went to fetch my bike. I turned on all the lights, three total: a red blinkie in the back, a white incandescent and a white blinkie in the front. I also put on my reflective sash. By the time I leave the boathouse, 8:10 or 8:15, it's getting dark. I rode slowly to the street because a few of my teammates were standing at the end of the path, on the sidewalk. They turned around and saw me. I heard, "Here she comes!" and "You look like a beacon!" I laughed. Someone else said, "No one's going to miss you!" I said, "That's the idea." They laughed and the general chatter included, "I guess that's right." Right indeed.

  • Recently, my father and stepmother were in Europe for a vacation. They spent time in Sweden, Berlin and Copenhagen. My stepmother wrote a couple of long emails describing their trip in detail. My dad wrote one long-ish message the day before they returned to the States. A major topic of his missive? Bikes! And my dad doesn't even ride a bike anymore (even though I encourage him to get back into it). He used to ride a couple of miles to work but his bike was stolen and he never replaced it. A few years later, he had some back problems, which further cemented his "no biking" attitude. I still try and convince him to use a bike for his day-to-day activities. Most of his errands don't take him more than a couple of miles from home. And while Berkeley is hilly, he lives in the flats. Anyway, it was great to read about how many bikes he saw in Berlin and how many more he saw in Copenhagen. He did note that both places are very flat. I recently saw a story in the WashCycle about how "bike use has taken over car use" in Copenhagen. To quote Dad,
    Bicycles are a major mode of transportation – there are hundreds parked outside every major building and 10’ specially curbed and surfaced bike lanes along the major streets. Bikes are also heavily used and well provided for in Berlin, but not to the extent here – both cities are very flat, of course.

  • For the last few weeks, something has been up with my bike. It makes a terrible, loud clacking noise, especially when I pedal with pressure. I finally managed to take it into the bike shop on Monday. The repair folks were very nice and one guy took apart the rear wheel but did not solve the problem.

    Wednesday, when I was riding to work, the problem got really bad. I stepped on the pedal and it spun, but the rear wheel did not turn. Occasionally, it would make connection and I made to the office, but it was a little scary. Not knowing if the bike would move forward from a dead stop when I pedaled was unnerving. I found that rolling starts were the safest (kind of like a push start for a car!). When I got to work, I talked to my bike-expert boss and he said, "It's the freewheel—or the free hub. The freewheel is easy to replace. If it's a free hub, you need a new rear wheel."

    I went to the bike shop after work, explained the problem and they agreed. They had to replace the wheel, but they could do it right then. I said throw on a new chain while you're at it. He wasn't sure it was a good idea and we discussed the pros and cons of a new chain on the old cogs. Finally, he said he'd put on a new chain because the cogs weren't too worn. If it didn't work, then he could replace the cog set too.

    He replaced the wheel and the chain in less than 30 minutes and it cost less than $100. The guy said, "Ride it around the block a few times to make sure the chain isn't skipping." I followed his instructions, and the ride was fine. Problem solved! However, when I applied the brakes, they squealed to high heaven. Heads turned. Babies cried. Dogs howled.

    I went back to the shop and said, "It's great, but the brakes are screaming. Is that just the new rim or do they need more toe-in?" (Brakes squeal if the pads are mounted parallel to the wheel rim. They need to be mounted at a slight angle—that's "toe-in.") I figured the brake pads might have gotten messed up while he was replacing the wheel. Another guy took the bike back to the shop area and worked on it. For a LONG TIME. Toe-in is something I can fix myself and I even have the tools for it (all you need is an allen wrench). It should only take a couple of minutes. I waited for 5, 10, 15 minutes—and I could see the guy fiddling with the bike the whole time. It was 6:25 and I needed to beat it out of there so I wouldn't be late to practice. Finally, I said, "Hey, what's going on?"

    The new guy said, "Oh, I'm sanding down the pads. They're still noisy." This is hilarious—those break pads are at least five years old. Either replace them or adjust them, don't modify them! I said, "Look, I'm in a hurry. I can't leave the bike. I'm going to be late if I don't leave right now. Can I just have it?" He said ok, made sure the wheel was seated properly (good thing too; it wasn't) and I hurried away. And, guess what? The brakes still squealed as loudly as ever.

    When I got to the boathouse, I took a look at the pads. One of the them was installed BACKWARDS. Thus, guaranteeing toe-in. How the heck did he manage to do that?

    I haven't fixed it yet, but I won't be riding my bike until I do.

Grateful for: mechanical ability and friendly mechanics.

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