Monday, October 1, 2012

Give Me Three Steps

Man's Best Friends

Almost Prolific
Hello Everyone! Surprised to see me? Yesterday morning I lubed up the keyboard and  dusted off the thesaurus and used it for a coaster where I placed my special typing brew. No, not brewski, not yet anyway, I still have thirty pounds to go. But what we have here is a shot of milk in a large cup of coffee along with a healthy dash of Ovaltine for the vitamin factor. They haven't invented Starbucks around here yet so I am on my own and that is the best I can come up with. But by swapping coffee for beer  my typing speed has improved drastically and you should see how neat and precise my handwriting has become.

Cursive Words 
I know you think I am kidding but when was the last time you tried to write a sentence in a fine hand? Do it now and if you are like me you will be amazed at how hard it can be. Who cares? Me. As I rapidly age my way into the future I refuse to lose any old skills and I continually try to add new bicycle maintenance.

Ya Either Got It or Ya Want It
I just ain't a natural born mechanic. While I can take a word or phrase or sentence and wring it around and twist it about until it screams in agony or sings and dances with the simple joy of being, a thing as obvious as correct chain length or derailleur alignment or cable adjustment is completely beyond my ken. I once owned a '73 Chevy StepVan. When the transmission exploded I was proud of my ability to crawl under there and tear the diseased part out, using only minimal cussing and the use of the sawzall. But when I took it to the transmission guy he cracked it open and, like a Doctor with bad news, came into the waiting room to break it to me gently.

“Would you step back here, sir?”

“Why, Johnny? And why are you calling me sir?” I knew I was in trouble.

"It's shot out, Tim Joe, and I just wanted you to see it before I send it out to the scrap pile.”

“OK.” I was already imagining the agony of taking my old ax down off the trailer wall and heading into Miss Massey's woods yet again, hunting down some dead tree to chop up and haul home so I could fire up the Quasitron 6000 Steam-powered Search Engine in order to start hunting for a new transmission. How long, O Lord?

As long as it takes, obviously,  said the Voice.  I take the coffee off the thesaurus.

"Shut up, Voice, I'm being rhetorical."  I put the coffee back on the thesaurus.

I know A Lot About Art, But...
There on the drastically cluttered bench in Johnny's shop was the old tranny. The housing was separated and laid open and I could see what a transmission looks like on the inside. It looked like a one of those convoluted M.C Escher paintings where stairs go nowhere and switch back on themselves. Johnny, still pretending to be a sad doctor instead of the mechanical pirate he really is, pointed gloomily at the inner workings of this incomprehensible device.

“See?” He said. The only thing I could see and make sense of was his greasy and calloused finger and his gnarly old hands that had repaired or replaced at least a half dozen motors and transmissions for me over the years, the same hands that had counted endless dollars that I used to own and would obviously soon be counting some more of the same.

“Uh, yeah. No. See what?” He took on that pseudo-serious manner he gets when explaining the obvious to dolts like me. He learned it by watching the Professor on Gilligan's Island.

“See here where these grooves are cut into...” I had already drifted off to the woods behind Miss Massey's and was wondering if I should get enough wood to fire up the grill after I got the Ol' Quaz up to steam and hunting a new unit for my soon to be departed truck. I could hear the birdsong of the forest and somewhere, far off, the faint strains of Lynard Skynard singing “Give me three steps”...

Sadly, It All Leads Up To This
So the other day I was out on the front porch of my trailer. I had the bicycle in the stand. I had just finished putting everything back together after cleaning and painting and so on and I didn't put the front derailleur on. I never use the small ring up front and that area of the bottom bracket and front mechanism is always the dirtiest part of the bike, so I left it off. This meant that  I had suddenly developed an increased interest in the functionality of the big 34 tooth cog on the Sram cassette that I put on last year. I would need that big gear to climb the bridges around my riding area. But when I tried to shift into that gear the rear derailleur jammed up into the chain. I was convinced (due to all my previous problems with transmissions) that this simple little bicycle tranny (the rear derailleur) was somehow broken and would need replacement.  There  I was unbolting her when my friend Corky came by to borrow a beer. While we stood there drinking two of the same I pointed out my bad derailleur and explained my problem. Bending over for a closer look, Corky gave the chain a tug.

'It looks like your chain is a couple links short. Two or three links.” I immediately flashed to the Gerber baby food jar I had tucked away on my workbench. No longer full of applesauce, it now contained several schrader valve stem caps and a piece of Sram chain, three links that I had removed when installing the chain last year

“Well, Corky... I, well, you know I write a Blog about bicycles and I read a lot about them and I'm pretty sure the problem here is the derailleur. Want another beer?”

“Sure. And what's a Blog?” I went to the refrigerator and got out a couple more frosty Budweisers. Then I casually drifted over to the workbench and picked up the little glass jar with the three incriminating links. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the Corkster out on the porch on one knee, intently fiddling with the chain and derailleur. I was thinking fast and hard. I quickly unscrewed the cap, plucked out the links and palmed them under my beer. I went back out to the porch.

'Here ya go, Cork. Man! Look at the size of that squirrel!” As he spun around to catch a look at the imaginary giant I dropped the three links on the floor under the rear wheel. Corky turned back to me.

“I guess I missed it.” He looked at me a little more closely.

“Ha ha, well, those big squirrels are pretty quick.”

'Yeah, I guess so.” He looked suspiciously at his beer. He tried to casually look behind me. He and I go back a long ways.

'Well, I guess I'll be going. He chugged the beer and set down the empty can, trying not to make it obvious that he was looking into it for signs of mysterious residue. “Good luck with your bike.”

“Oh, hey, thanks, man. No need to run off. Hey, what's this? I bent down to pick up the three segments of bicycle chain. “ Well, I'll be danged! You were right, man! This must have fallen off when I was putting everything back together!”

Corky looked a little dumbfounded at the thing in my hand. He looked back to make sure a giant squirrel wasn't approaching stealthily from behind. He looked at the beer he had just finished and he looked at the expression on my face and we both bust out laughing. Old friends are the best.

'I guess I'll have another beer after all,” Corky said.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and House of Mirrors


  1. Oh Tim Joe, you old scalawag! You're so right, amigo, old friends are the best.

    In a few minutes, I'm taking my trusty steed to the bike shop because, as a bike mechanic, I'm an excellent woodworker. And I have a century ride coming up on Saturday and the bottom bracket has an intermittent chirping sound going on. And I don't have the time to learn it this week or I'd take a whack at it. And I hate the thought of a mechanical out in the wilds of central VA and my riding partner having to finish solo.

    Best regards, sir!

    B in VA

    1. The coolest thing about bicycles in relation to cars is however bad it is, the fix is nothing compared to what happens when you drop your car off at the garage.

      You are turning into a Long Rider, Bryan! Another Century already! I remember your trepidation before your first you mention it in passing. Good for you! Have fun and write it up.


  2. I can still write out a sentence in readable long hand, the interesting thing is how much my handwriting has become to resemble my Father's. I have letters from him from 20 years ago and it is surprising that they could have been penned by the current style of myself!
    A long time ago I used to "work" on the couple of VW beetles I owned. My eyes glaze over at the thought of working on cars now, plus the gymnastics it takes to work on a car.
    It is great to share a beer with a bud and the understanding of the goofy habits we have.
    Cheers to you TJ!

    1. Jim, I rode my bike to the Volkswagen Show in Daytona last Saturday and my lust for one last VeeDub was re-ignited. There were a handful of 181's (Thing)on display. One immaculate bright read Thing was so poised, so utilitarian and clean and just possessed of such a look of ability that I wanted it. The $6000 price tag seemed perfectly reasonable, also.

      But I am a guy who thinks riding my old steel bicycle 25 miles through traffic to look at old cars is perfectly reasonable, too.

      Have you ever noticed that there is a statistically improbable number of ex-VW owners among the steel bicycle crowd? I'll bet everyone on here has had a Bug or a Bus at one point. I've had two bugs and a squareback, all daily drivers.

      It has been said that we all become our parents, eventually. I have a forty year old handwritten letter from my Dad stashed in my Trunk of Memories. I may drag it out and check for similarities. Thanks, Jim


    2. TJ

      You may be onto something. My VW history includes 2 Bugs and 2 Ghias. As impractical as it would be for me now, I still wish I had another Ghia...

      Steve Z

    3. TJ and Steve,
      This is an interesting history connection. Vw's and steel bikes. I had a 67 and 73 bug. How many of us had that repair book for idiots, the one with the pictures and step by step guides to fix anything on your bug. I loved that 67, had to sell it to pay for my last semester of college. The 73 was never as cool as the 67.

    4. In college (1974) it was a 66 dark green bug, paid $100 for it because it wasn't running. Towed it from Indy to Bloomington, changed the fuel line from the gas tank and drove it to Ft. Lauderdale for Spring Break.

      Then a 68 (green again)during the Air Force. This one was GIVEN to me by a fellow Airman on his way to Germany. I drove it all over California then sold it to get the down payment money for a brand new Honda 750.

      The last was the squareback. I found it in the weeds behind the Toyota dealer's lot. Someone had removed the rear side glass on both sides and filled it with plywood and fiber glass. They did an awesome job and it had ridiculously fat Bridgestones all the way around and may be one of my favorite car-memories, of which there are many.

  3. I stopped trying to write in cursive in the 8th grade because I was so horrible at it. Then I took typing in the 9th grade and never looked back. My handwriting is, still, "deplorable." That is a direct quote from someone who LOVES me. Imagine what everyone else thinks.

    Keep writing, TJ - we'll keep reading.

    1. Berry, I have always printed anything that wasn't written with a machine. I took a drafting course once and ever since was aware of the value of clarity in printing. But I never had reason to write in long-hand until one day a couple months ago, for no apparent reason, I made a journal entry in cursive. I couldn't do it! Man, I had forgotten how to write long hand! My hand rebelled, not understanding what I was up to. So now when I make my daily entries in my log book I write it out by hand, being careful to get it just like third grade. Actually better. I am, after all, practically a grown up.

      I do it because I don't know what it means to lose an ability like that; maybe nothing...but one loss can easily lead to another and I intend to hold what little ground I have. Plus I am always doing goofy stuff like that. Tell your loved one that deplorable handwriting is a sure sign of intelligence. My doctor told me that.


  4. TJ,

    I could tell you the story of trying to replace a transmission in an old Monza, an effort that ended with me having the car towed to a scrapyard. Starters, brakes & radiators I can do - transmissions apparently not.

    As for rear derailleurs, a recent post on shamed me into learning how to adjust them (that and the $$$ that my LBS charges for that chore). After figuring it out I was astounded at how easy it was. Now I'm working on cleaning up an old front derailleur to replace the one on my mtb. The mounting bracket and adjustment screws on the current derailleur are a rusty mess, a fact I attribute to their location directly in my sweat-drip path.

    Keep up the good work. And who needs Starbucks anyways?

    Steve Z

    1. Yeah, Steve, I have heard of sweat being a problem for top tubes as well. I sweat out there, but not like THAT. Might explain a lot about my slowness.

      My trailer neighbor Jungle Jim is one of those guys who finds stuff in dumpsters and backyards and turns them into beautiful and functioning machinery. He has promised that if I get the VW bus I have been talking about he will show me how to tear it down and put it back together. I fear he drastically over estimates my abilities.

      I don't know what goes on inside a Starbuck's so I don't know if I need one or not. But I have often wondered if it was named after the character in Moby Dick or the Burt Lancaster character in the Rainmaker. I guess I could google it...

      thanks for coming by, Swampboy.


  5. Tim Joe great post as usual, as with anything bike related most of what I know I got from the late, great Sheldon Brown. He has an excellent method for correct chain length that I use every time I mount a new chain. Check out and you'll never have to do the old "Look a Giant Squirrel" scam while you palm the lost links again. My hand writing is passable only if I slow down to kindergarten speed and pretend I am using one of those big ol horse leg sized pencils and carefully write each word. Enjoy that 40x34 granny gear my friend. Note in some cases road rear derailleurs have a maximum number of teeth they can accommodate - usually 28t and you would need a mountain RD ("Long Cage")to 30t or greater cog. If you are still having the issue after surgically reattaching the missing links you could be right in your initial diagnosis. Something like this ought to fix that issue right up

    Note that this type of derailler comes in two types the TX35 that attaches to the rear axle dropout and the TX55 that screws into the Derailleur hanger (assumes your bike has one). Anyway that's a long way of saying good luck and have fun riding Velo Brother.

  6. PS can you tell I have messed this up before....? LOL

    1. Ryan, I can't remember but I think it was that very Sheldon page that resulted in the removal of those links. I must have misread the instructions. But I have never been comfortable that the old derailleur is in max just doesn't seem to be as crisp as I think it should be. The plastic housing that wraps around the big spring is broken and seems to let the spring "relax"...that Tourney derailleur you referenced looks newer and more better and the price is certainly right. Do you think it will work in friction mode with my down tube shifters?

    2. I know it will as I have used that very Derailleur on a 70s Fuji that I rebuilt a few months ago. It ought to work just fine just be sure you get the right kind for your bike (i.e. has a derailleur hanger with threaded hole or works in the drop outs). And since they are in black it goes with your whole stealth look for LMD (Little Miss Dangerous).


      PS I am not as crisp as I was in 1981 either! ;-)

    3. Ryan I forgot to say that after re-installing the three links the chain went into the mega-gear just fine. But I still think I will get a new rear D. As for which type: my original Altus LT has a separate hanger that the derailleur bolts into, so it looks to me like I could use either type. Thoughts?

      (I was going to shift to e-mail then decided to leave this conversation in the public eye because this is just the kind of stuff I started my Blog for, to help me and others like me find the real info needed to preserve old steel and get up on two wheels without spending thousands.)

      Thanks, buddy.

    4. Hey TPC glad to hear the missing links are working for ya, what good is granny if you can't make her work? I would go the "direct mount" route since you have a hanger. Shimano uses the "SGS" designation for their long cage rear derailleur (i.e can handle big cogs). After looking closer the Tourney RD-TZ50 is the one I used on a build but any of the Tourney SGS series ought to be fine and there is even an Altus if you wanted keep the lineage Enjoy.


    5. I may actually hold out for the Tiagra, to match the Mavic/tiagra rear wheel...I plan to upgrade the front wheel to the same Mavic Open Sport as the rear. That little Schwinn will be with me a long time.

      I bought a new bicycle yesterday. Brand new but a project all the same. I blame Hugh for giving me the idea.

  7. Man, I am just glad you did not overlook putting the front wheel back on. THAT would have been embarassing.

    In college I was short on dough - who wasn't?- so I rebuilt my 70 VW Bug engine on the cement floor of the garage. I had it all back together, but could not get the thing to start. I called the local VW repair guru who was a casual friend - I think I bought him a beer once - and he offered to stop by on the way home. So he stops by, hops out of the car, and tells me to crank the engine. It turned over a few seconds and fired up.

    Guru flashes me a smug smile and walks back to his car. He never would tell me what he did. I reckon some days I am great at the first 99%.

    Yer Pal

    1. It looks like magic but it is experience, probably. That fuel line I mentioned: a guy (VW Guru) said, "It's the fuel line. No pressure." He started the engine, slowly waved a sheet of typing paper around the engine compartment and sure enough, a faint cloud formed on the page over the pinhole leak. Definitely looked like magic.

      I want another VW.

      It's great to see ya again, Zig!

    2. Zig, It does seem like magic. I had the same thing. I had a friend that was a VW mechanic. He messed around in the back for about ten minutes and then did that thing of reaching through the front window and turn the key and.....brmmm...started right up.
      How much would I like things to be that simple again.....

    3. I'm working on it, Jim, I'm working on it...