Monday, April 25, 2011

Help Me, Obi Wan Kenobi!

Old Steel Rocks!

But alas and alack, all good things must somehow be tinged with a tincture of bad. I took the newly rejuvenated Schwinn for a longish test ride, over to Beachside and up to the Inlet, then out and about on my Country Rd loop, some twenty or so miles overall. The bike was fantastic, just a whole lot of fun. After a year of cruising around doing fairly long miles on a rather mulish single speed mountain bike conversion, this old steel twelve speed felt like a racehorse. Which is a fair comparison, after plans are to use the Mongoose as my Mountain Goat Single Track Raider. The new (old) Schwinn will be my Long Rider for preparation of my bike tour planned for next spring.

The First Taste of Trouble

Towards the end of my test ride I noticed a clunking from the rear wheel...not too bad, but noticeable. On further inspection I found that a spoke had snapped at the rear hub. No problem! Had I not just yesterday become a master wheel builder? Ha! This would be an excellent opportunity to ply my new trade. Into the shop with the patient, let's get that wheel off and figure out how to replace a spoke. Hmm...Oh, damn...I'll have to remove the cassette in order to thread in a new spoke, it turns out. Better drink a beer and sort this out. No problem though, for did I not master cassette removal only last year when I converted the Mongoose into a single speed, using a Park FR 6 removal tool, a big plumber's wrench, a rusty hacksaw, my bench vise and so on? I had craftily cut a short piece of PVC pipe to use as a spacer in place of the cassette, bolted it all back together and rode off. This spoke thing will be no problem.

Old School Is, After All, Old...

Except this one weren't a cassette, it was a freehub. Instead of a splined axle housing courtesy of Shimano, this hub apparently screwed on a threaded axle and tightened itself while the bike is being ridden. Interesting. SunTour was the venerable old company that made this device back in the day. my growing wisdom as a master bike mechanic and because of some of the things that went wrong on that single speed project last year I thought maybe I better search out expert advice. After all, don't all our favorite bicycle blogs constantly exhort us to “support your local LBS”? Yes they do and I decided to do so too and purchase whatever Park tool was necessary from the bike shop rather than Jensen or Performance or Nashbar and their ilk. So off I goes to the nearest shop to the trailer court for some expertise and camaraderie and humiliation.


When I arrived at the shop at noonish the front door was locked. Peering through the storefront I could see a pair of ladies inside. We made eye contact and I got the distinct impression that I had caught them up to no good, although I was unable to make out what their nefarious midday activity might be. I went around the side to the repair shop. The garage style door was open and I could see the repair stand and tool bench but no LBS Guy.

“Hello?” I called. I started to add “I know you're in there and I saw what you were doing” but sometimes a little witticism like that can backfire and for all I know those ladies might come blasting through the shop door riding Jamis or Trek broomsticks and waving wands or frame pumps and god knows I just stood there. And in fact one of those women did poke her head through the door. And yeah, she did have a kind of guilty look on her face as I asked “Is the Repair Guy in?” and then, sensing that maybe I was displaying some of my well-known political incorrectness I quickly added “Or are you the repair guy?” which made me think Oh great now she thinks I'm saying she looks like a guy and I started to plan my retreat when a gentleman did at last come through the door. Oh, good, I thought. Not a young smart-ass. In fact, he doesn't look like a bike mechanic at all. Hell, he's as old as I am. Looks like a janitor. A homeless janitor. 

Great. Oh well, forge ahead...

I humbly held out the wheel that brought me to this place to begin with. “Hi,” I said . “This wheel is off an old Schwinn I'm fixing up and it broke a spoke and I wondered if you could take a look.” He glanced at the wheel in my hands, shook his head sadly and looked at me. It seemed pretty obvious that maybe he had been drinking a beer when I interrupted his day. But that's OK, I thought. I had already had a couple myself. He gave me a wry , sorrowful smile.

“You have to totally destroy this kind of wheel to fix it.”

If my thoughts were text messages right about here my brain would be typing “WTF?” But instead I simply nodded my head and said “Huh?”

The sorrowful homeless janitor bike mechanic smiled a rueful smile and explained. “Yeah, for that year only Schwinn was experimenting with some kind of 'shift on the fly' system and there's no way to remove those gears without destroying them. But that's OK, 'cause once you get them off, it should only cost nine or ten dollars to get a replacement hub.”

Shift on the fly?   But...OK, hold on here, Tim Joe, this is one of those situations that calls for a cool head and a tactful exit. I started backing towards the door.

Hey! OK, ha ha, just my luck, but you've been really helpful and uh, see ya!” and I spun around and GTF outta there.

Looking back over my shoulder for flying pursuers I saw only the empty shop. Alright then. That was easy.

Better head back to the trailer for some internet research and about twenty beers.

But in fact, it did turn out that there are indeed rear wheel gear systems that require destruction to remove.


It reminded me of a Suzuki Samurai jeep-car I once owned. I opened the hood to see why it wouldn't start and there was a big sticker that said “Do not attempt to repair this engine, replace with new unit” or words to that affect. My Japanese isn't all that good. My well-lubed research did however reveal that my particular Schwinn Approved Sun Tour system was not one of these, and Park Tool did indeed make a wrench appropriate for removal of that system so I got out my bank  card, said my customary prayer that there would be enough funds available and fired off an order to Jensen.  Now we wait.

Whispering Pines Trailer Court and Bicycle Emporium

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