Friday, April 29, 2011

There's Got To Be A Morning After

The Next Day. I Think.

Sometimes I get religious. Early the next morning around sun rise I was awakened by passionate kisses and a terminal hangover. I was lying on a hard surface. There were birds singing and I could hear the heavy traffic on Highway One as those people who still have jobs drove themselves to work. Before I opened my eyes I knew it would be a bad one. So I got religious and said a prayer.

“God, if you'll just stop this pounding and make the world stop rocking up and down I promise...” You know. The usual prayer. There are no atheists in the foxhole of a hangover.

Irresponsible People Are Mean

The passionate kisses were courtesy of my trailer-mate Miss Daisy the Yellow Dog. The hard surface was the front porch of my trailer. At least I had made it home. But my evil plan had worked and I was successful at prying the inner secrets of foreclosed home salvage out of that rascally Mayor. I think. I can't remember. For some reason I was covered in wet sandy dirt and I had a knot on my forehead. What the hell happened? What kind of irresponsible monsters would leave an entire home bar stocked with whiskey and vodka and tequila and so on just lying around for some innocent person to stumble across? There should be a law.

If You Were Paying Me I Would Have To Give You A Refund

I wasn't too worried about what had transpired the night before. Here at Whispering Pines news travels fast and as the day unfolded there would be various neighbors who would come by to variously and vociferously praise or condemn my actions of the previous evening. (Not unlike the comments section on a popular Blog.) ) I am confused as to how I had forgotten that Bobby the Mayor didn't drink and only kept that dreadful free booze stash for the enjoyment of his friends (of which company I was doubtless no longer a member). I just noticed that the ends of my shoelaces are burned off. But what the hell, starting a new business is not for the timid or the meek and I never met a hangover a long bike ride can't cure. But typing and thinking right now are just strenuous as hell. To the showers, then. I'll try to be more better tomorrow.  Here are two photos as feeble consolation.

This isn't the Whispering Pines,  but I wish it was.  I like to show this photo for laughs,  but close perusal will reveal that whoever put this place together had a fine understanding of craft.  For all my apparent butchery of bicycles,  those who stay with me here at Trailer Park Cyclist will soon learn that I too appreciate a Job Well Done and that this blog is at its core a story of how I have been clumsily searching for ways to do just that:  a good job.  Once a cyclist begins to really put on some miles,  bike maintenance becomes a simple fact of life.

Reading about cycling and bike repair makes it seem that everyone rides shiny new bikes and that every Local Bike Shop is a fantastic place where all you have to do is walk through the doors and all life's problems are solved.  Well,  that certainly has not been my experience,  as the stories I tell on these pages reveal.  What I am doing here is dragging my loyal readers (if there are any) down the painful road of Discovery and Learning along with me.

And as anyone who has found themselves traveling a painful road knows all to well,  it can be lonely and disheartening,  but by plugging away and keeping a sturdy sense of humor everything will be alright.

I don't know what this is but it seems both cycling and trailer related so I threw it in here.  See...even hangovers can be fun!

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Bicycle Emporium

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Best Rides Start With Proper Lubrication

A Broke Back Mountain of Money Woes

The Internet service has been cut off for a few days now due to non-payment and while I am experiencing mild withdrawal I notice that I am actually Riding More, writing more and doing a hell of a lot more reading. I miss the instant gratification of the web as well as some of the benefits of research and information and of course the Late Night Bike Gear Fantasy Shopping Sprees but I have been getting by without television for some years now and the Internet isn't really all that much different from TV...

In Search of a New Trade

Oddly enough, I have been spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to go about becoming a Bicycle Mechanic. It seems strangely feasible but I would need an infusion of dollars to get started, primarily for tooling and secondarily for shop space. Plus the fact that I am apparently quite challenged as a bike repairman. This morning I noticed that I was having a problem screwing the lid back onto the milk jug and The Voice chuckled and said something like “some bike mechanic!”   But who in their right mind listens to voices before the first cup of morning coffee?

The location out at my storage unit would make a pretty good half-assed bike shop, other than the toilet hassles and the fact that management there seems to bear me malice, two issues that seem to be related but are so obscure that a solution is far too effervescent to acquire resolution. I looked at a warehouse-type unit the other day that would be perfect except that they want money for it and I don't have any. I would be quite happy for now to rig up some kind of space here at the single wide at Whiskey Pines. I have considered this and it could work. Except that while Management is currently tolerant of my poverty and non-payment of rent, that fortuitous situation could change at any time.

I Need a Transfusion

Any way you cut it I need a cash transfusion and damned if I can see any help in sight. I had a brainstorm yesterday after reading about the sorry condition of foreclosed homes in the Morning Wood Subdivision, a huge development south of town that is suffering the effects of these troubled economic times. These properties are deteriorating rapidly as they sit in some kind of ownership limbo. As the grass grows higher and the vandalism gets worse the neighborhood property values, already strained by the economy, are being dragged down by these poor orphans in their midst. No one is sure who should be fixing these properties and doing yard maintenance and so forth but I sense that some one who figured out a way to sort this out could make a good piece of change,  so to speak.

I Know People In High Places

I know that my neighbor here in the ghetto, Bobby the Trailer Park Mayor, is doing “clean-outs” on foreclosed homes and has a nice collection of houseplants, yard ornaments, major appliances and so forth decorating his yard. It is this tasteful display of wealth that earned him the title of Mayor...that and the fact that he has the coolest trailer in the Park, situated on not one but two lots. This vast area has been transformed into a ritzy resort-like place with multiple bird baths, picnic tables, barbecue grills, lounge furniture and all the other accoutrements of the comfortable suburban home, and he has accented the display with strategically placed Christmas tree lights in multiple hues. It's really nice and his generosity is just as expansive as his lifestyle. Any neighbor in a tight spot can come by and select a refrigerator or washer from the collection and Bobby will help out with a deferred payment plan of some sort. And he garnered all of this wealth by doing these clean-outs of abandoned, foreclosed homes. Now, I know that it is wrong to covet thy neighbor's house-cleaning gig,  but I am, after all, only human. And Bobby didn't exactly figure this all out on his own, it had something to do with luck and the old “right place at the right time” thing. For instance, that's how he came to have two lots...pure good luck. When the trailer on Lot 13 burned down the second time, Management gave up and left the lot empty. Bobby, on the lot next door, gradually let his growing collection of stuff gently creep into number thirteen, until, after a couple days, he found himself the proud captain of all that he surveyed. He proudly flies the Flags of Two Nations over his domain, the good “Ol Stars and Stripes and of course, the Honorable Stars and Bars. They share a flagpole, and by The Laws of Our Nation, the U.S. Banner flies at the top, with the C.S.A. just below. But the Rebel Flag is bigger.

And so certainly, by this one splendid example alone, it can be seen that by doing honest salvage work that benefits many people, one humble man has built an empire. But it is not Empires that interest me. I want a Bike Shop. And the Mayor knows things that I do not.

But he gets really cagey when I ask how he got started and where does he get his jobs and so forth. Obviously proprietary information he is determined to protect.

Coffee and Gratitude

In my typical enthusiasm I have enjoyed visions of me sitting in the offices of various bank managers who ply me with coffee and gratitude as I explain how I will relieve them of these foreclosed property problems. In my favorite fantasy I am receiving a substantial small business loan to facilitate purchase of appropriate equipment, vehicles, a storage facility, etc. which I will then also use to buy a complete set of Park Tools,  set up shop, and get to work.

It Takes Gumption

This actually should not be a fantasy but a real business start-up. But it takes gumption or something or other and I will be checking the Internet today on my two-hour visit to the library for my daily (free) web-head fix. Part of my plan was to take extensive bicycle rides through Morning Wood Subdivision, writing down the addresses of properties that look like they may benefit from such a service and then look around the property to help me figure out a sales pitch for whomever I may find myself trying to convince. I think that the key to this would be to find out who exactly is the interested party and of course try to find out who exactly is going to pay for this service. I need to snoop out neighbor Bobby the Mayor a bit more better. Last week while doing a clean-out he stumbled across a fully stocked home bar someone had left behind. Yeah, I know. Unbelievable. So if I go over there to his resort and help him get lubed up on his free liquor maybe I can dig out the secret information I need to get such a business up and running. It seems to me it could develop into a quite satisfying source of income and certainly a viable path to my Bike Shop Dream . And it is, after all, free liquor...

Whispering Pines Trailer Court and Bicycle Emporium

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Support Your Local Shaman

       This Is Back Story, So Stay With Me...

Here in East Central Florida we define the seasons by what is happening Up North, or “Back in the States” as some of the Old Timers here in the Whiskey Pines like to say. When cattle are freezing to death on the Plains, we put on long sleeve shirts. When national news agencies show images of World Record Icicles in Buffalo, New York, we start thinking about Christmas shopping and wear a sweater on the Morning Ride.
Be that as it may, I sit here just now in pretty cold weather waiting for the sun to rise a little higher and get it's ass to work so that I can move about outdoors with less pain in the muscles and bones and brain pan, although the brain pan part ain't actually weather-related, except that those shots of Schnapps are pretty much a seasonal thing...

A Perfect Record

The New Old Bicycle Shop failed miserably, failed by default. After growing tired of waiting I finally rode over there to see what was happening with the wheel. Had they removed the offending freewheel or not? No. It was sitting in the same spot by the cash register where the young mechanic had placed it when I first dropped it off. I asked him for the wheel. I watched him look around aimlessly until I finally said to him, “it's right here.” He picked it up, handed it to me and said, “I'm sorry, but the other mechanic had the tool for that and he was afraid to break it.” I didn't know if the lad meant that the Other Guy was afraid to break the tool, the wheel, his hand, or the unbroken streak of not giving me what I wanted at this infernal so-called bicycle shop.

Sometimes You Gotta Listen To The Voice

OK then. I pedaled on back to my own little storage unit- drinking hideout-bike shop and laid the wheel on my bench. I stared at it hard. I grabbed a beer. I drank some of the beer and reached for those really big channel locks I had purchased many years ago for god knows what. I took another drink from the beer and glared at the wheel. I raised the channel locks over my head, but was stopped by a little voice that said, “step away from the bicycle.”   I told The Voice to shut up because the bicycle was over there and this was that damned accursed wheel that I had to destroy to repair and then The Voice said “Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Better get a hammer.” Well, now, me in my perniciousness was not going to do what The Voice said this time. I wasn't even sure who The Voice was, or why he had a Brooklyn accent. So I put the giant channel locks down on the bench, opened another beer and stared a little harder at the wheel. I took a big slug of beer and got right down there and stared at that damn wheel really hard and tried to turn on my x-ray vision and see what the hell I was going to have to do to get those gears off and replace that spoke and get those gears back on and get a little riding time in on this old Schwinn 12 speed that I wasn't even sure I liked all that much anyway. And as I stared The Voice came back and this time it was the good old affable midwestern voice of calm maturity and wisdom that I almost never listen to but I am always glad I did when I finally do and this time the voice said, “Maybe if you go slow you can do a limited destruction.”

Limited Destruction Is Not Very Satisfying

Limited destruction is not very satisfying but I knew The Voice was right and so I got out the big pipe wrench I had used as a chain whip the previous year when I did the Mongoose single speed conversion. I clamped it on the gears. I got the giant channel locks and got a precarious grip on what I was assuming was the lock ring holding the gears in place. I gave a turn. Nothing. I bent over and summoned some huge inner strength I keep stored away somewhere and REALLY gave those channel locks a turn. They slipped off the ring and slammed closed with all that inner strength I had just summoned and slammed my fingers together and hurt like hell, hurt so much that I actually yelled “Ow” and then yelled some more words I won't mention here. But I knew I was on to something so I hunkered down on those channel locks and gave it such a manly twist that something was going to have to give, and it did: those damned channel locks slipped again and slammed my fingers together again and man, it REALLY hurt this time! Argh! Total destruction of the wheel was looking better and better and I stormed around the shop cussing and kicking things and squeezing my hurt fingers with my other hand and just waiting for The Voice to open his big mouth so I could shut it for him. But The Voice Is Wise and at the moment was wisely not around. I went back to the bench and stared at the wheel some more and tried to come up with a new idea but then I noticed something, an infinitesimal shine around the base of the ring I had been trying to turn. Had I moved it? No, wait! What I was seeing was the beginning of separation of two rings that I had thought were one ring. WTF? I got out some smaller, more normal sized channel locks and fitted them to this new ring. I got a manly and pretty nervous grip on the wrenches and gave a powerful (for me) but controlled turn and the damned thing turned a full turn! It turned and moved and I would have danced a jig if I knew how, I turned the wrench a few more times and there it was. I pulled the ring(s) free and about three hundred tiny little BB like ball bearings came out and bounced all over the shop floor.

Well, after thirty minutes spent scrambling and crawling around with an empty spray paint lid looking for those damn little balls I stood up, placed my cup o' balls on the bench and reached down to proudly pull the gears free of the wheel.

Remember, Archimedes Never Heard Of Bicycles

But they didn't come off. Then I remembered that it was necessary to spin the gears off, this was a thread-on free-wheel hub, old school as hell. And this presented a dilemma. I had broken, stripped the recently purchased removal tool back at the beginning of this wheel ordeal. And the gears were still in place. And while I had convinced myself that I had done everything correctly, there was a nagging doubt I could not shake. This was a bicycle, after all, and not everything on a bicycle adheres to the old Archimedean Law of “Righty-Tighty, Lefty-Loosy.” So I wasn't sure that I had turned that removal tool in the right direction. My new policy of limited destruction was working out pretty good. I was fairly certain that I had failed to find all those little BB sized ball bearings, but that seemed fixable enough. And the wheel was still intact. So it looked like the only solution was to clamp the gears in my trusty bench vice and give that wheel a mighty yank to finally break free those recalcitrant cogs. But I couldn't decide which way that mighty yank must be directed. These bicycle parts, even these old-school bicycle parts, are made of highly malleable alloys. This would be the final yank, an irreversible yank that would decide the success or failure of this project.

Everybody Deserves A Second Chance: Plan C

I needed expert advise. But where? I wasn't going back out to the motor sports bike shop by the Interstate. The other closest bike shop was an hour's bike ride away...BUT... what about the Homeless Janitor Bike Guy? THAT LBS was right around the corner and after all, the guy had been right about the destruction thing. I was still a little nervous about the mysterious Closed-at-Noon situation and whatever those girls had been doing in the shop...but dammit man! I had to get this wheel fixed and everybody deserves a second chance so off I went to try again.

When I got to the shop I dutifully tried to enter through the front doors but once again, they were locked. But this time I looked at the business hours posted there and sure enough, they said “Business Hours 10-12/1-5:30”. So this was one of those crazy businesses that closes every day for lunch. I checked my watch and saw that it was 11:30. Of course it was.

OK. So I went around to the back. The garage doors of the repair area were open and the Homeless Janitor Repair Guy was inside, doing something to a weird-looking Wal-Mart bike in the work stand.

     “Uh, Hello?” I said. “I know you guys are closed for lunch, at least in front...does that go for you too?”
     “Oh, I don't know,” he said. “What have you got there?”
     “Well, this is that wheel I brought over awhile back. You said I would have to destroy it to get the gears off, and so I took it back to my shop and messed around with it. I got a couple rings off and some bearings fell out, but now here I am. I'm not sure what to do next.” I held the wheel up like a nervous parent offering a child to a priest for baptism. In fact, there was something of the holy man, (or at least the shaman), in his demeanor as he bent over the wheel and peered through his half-glasses at my offering.
     “Oh yeah,” he said, “I don't remember that. But here, let me see what I can do.” He put down the tools he was holding and took the wheel from me. He flipped it over gear side down and headed for the bench vise on his work bench. Here we go, I thought. He clamped the gears in the vise and gave a hard turn counter clockwise. Lefty-Loosey! I hoped he had it right. He did. He spun those damn gears the rest of the way off with a casual twist of the wrist. He turned to me and showed me the free hub. “This thing's no good anymore. We'll have to order a new one.” This was worrisome. How much was a new one going to cost?
     “How much is a new one going to cost”, I asked.
     “I don't know”, he said. “Let's look in the book.” We went over to a table and he picked up a worn catalog. He thumbed through the pages and found what he was looking for. He took a stubby pencil from somewhere and wrote down the part number. “It's $12.95,” he said. My relief was palpable. He could have said a hundred dollars. That's what the motor sports bike shop out by the freeway would have said, I was pretty certain.
     “Oh, that's fine,” I said, “Do you need me to pay now, or make a deposit?” He looked at me with a kind of unfathomable expression. At least unfathomable to me.
     “No, that's alright,” he said. “Why would you pay now?” Why indeed. Then it hit me. Standing there in my less than snappy wardrobe, holding a wheel off an old crappy ten speed, fifty-something and worrying about how much this simple little part would cost...he thought that it was me that was homeless. Oh delicious irony!
     “How did you get into this line of work,” I asked. “I mean bicycle repair.”
     “I was an airplane mechanic for forty years,” he said. “I retired a couple years ago and found myself sitting around bored so when they started this bike business I said I would run the repair shop.”
     “The Wright Brothers were bike mechanics before they got into airplanes,” I said. I'm always telling people that. I don't know why.
     “Well, I guess that means I've come full circle,” he said.
     “How much do I owe you for labor?” I asked.
     “Nothing”, he said. “Stop trying to give me money. Come by Friday. That freewheel should be here by then.”

Whispering Pines Trailer Court and Bicycle Emporium

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Oh Mama, I Got Them LBS Blues Again

Four Days Later

OK it is four days later and I have my shiny new Park FR2 hub removal tool locked into the vice, the wheel with the broken spoke attached and I Am Ready. The instructional video on the 'net had said it would take a lot of torque, and I should not be surprised to hear a loud snap as the rig broke loose. “OK”, I reviewed, “Torque, snap, here we go!” I applied torque. Nothing happened. Okey dokey, let's try that again, only with feeling. “Hunh!” I exclaimed, torquing with everything I had. SNAP! Alright! Hell yeah! That sure went better than last year. Now let's take this thing apart and get that spoke replaced! I got training rides to do!. I gleefully loosened the vice and lifted the wheel. I undid the quick release skewer that was holding the trusty Park tool to the axle. I confidently gave the hub a spin with my hand, the way the guy in the video had done. Except that in the video the hub had spun off eagerly into the mechanic's hand and he had held the shining part towards the camera with a triumphant grin. He was a pretty young guy. In my case the hub spun easily, but the wheel spun with it. I gripped the rim and tried to turn the hub, but it would not give. OK, I thought I'll just put the removal tool back on and get out that big pipe wrench. I picked up the tool and as I was starting to re-attach it to the wheel a glint of shiny metal caught my eye. I looked closer. Huh? The damn two contact points on the tool were sheared clean off! I looked at the hub more closely. The notches on the axle meant to receive the prongs on the tool were rounded, stripped. Eff You See Kay!

Evolution or Divine Plan?

`Now what? I stood there, holding the Park FR2 removal tool in my left hand and the pipe wrench in my right hand, staring intently from one to the other, waiting for divine inspiration. I must have looked like an ape holding a stick and a rock. Well, uh, OK then...Step Away From the Bike.

Always Leave An Avenue Of Retreat: Plan B

Well, the truth is, that speed-lab witch's coven homeless janitor bike shop ain't the only game in town. No, indeed. Many years ago on the main street of our village there was a very nice old bike shop that in those days was in fact the only game in town, bike-wise. It was owned and operated by a very large genial gentleman named Harvey who possessed apparently magical powers of bicycle prognosis and repair and was gifted with an hilarious raconteur style and was always wearing a leather work apron and a big smile topped off with a huge handlebar mustache. Walking into his shop you felt like you had wandered onto the set of a period movie and you were the star of the movie who had just decided to purchase a bicycle built for two for with to woo your heart's true love...but that was then.
Harvey at some point decided to retire and pursue his other favorite pastime which was deep water fishing in the fertile waters off our Atlantic coast. He sold the shop to a recently immigrated Australian refugee, bought a Big Boat and was never seen again, at least not by me. The Australian, glad as hell to be a New Capitalist in the Land of Promise, moved the Old Time Bicycle Shop off Main Street to a much better location out by the Interstate. He added a line of motor scooters, then another line of those four wheel drive things that crash around out in the woods, installed a bunch of clothing racks for very high priced insulated camouflage pants and jackets and so on...even though where we live here in Florida it seldom gets cold enough for more than a light sweater and windbreaker. He was trying like hell to market to what (as best I could tell) was that particular crowd who find it necessary to be constantly prepared for annihilation and the ensuing eternal nuclear winter. They would need that insulated crap and those four wheel drive things when it became necessary to cruise around in the cold armed to the teeth and looking to kill their food and each other while on the way to Wal-Mart or Seven-Eleven....
I had visited this shop once before looking for some minor repair work and was enthralled by the big new interstate glitzy-ness of the place. When I walked in I was instantly surrounded by enthusiastic and shiny young salespeople eager to help me,  but upon finding out I wasn't there for camo or motor sports vehicles they rapidly lost interest and wandered off in search of more lucrative prey. I managed to find the bicycle repair area, hidden off in a far corner of the building. I forget what I went there for back then, but I didn't get it and I didn't go back after that and I was never seen again, at least not by them.

I Return To OZ

But now...well, a desperate man will do desperate things and so I found myself once again crossing the threshold of the New Old Bike Shop. They had now added a line of motorcycles, at least they looked like motorcycles, although I find the modern motorcycle to resemble some kind of huge insect not fully formed but dangerous just the same. Plus there were some of those water motorcycles that also resemble large insects not fully formed but waterborne and just as dangerous. There were maybe twenty bicycles for sale in the shop and all of them were those “comfort” bikes or hybrids, I think they are called. But there in the corner was the repair area. I humbly held out the wheel to the young sir behind the counter who said “we're swamped” but I'll have it Monday.” Are you sure, I said, you can get those sprockets off? No problem just call Monday. OK.
Well it's Wednesday. I called yesterday and no one seemed to know what I was talking about. Uh oh. But the third person to come on the line said here it back tomorrow. So....tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow... more later...

Whispering Pines Trailer Court and Bicycle Emporium

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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Coyote Brings Me A New Bicycle...Project

     Beware Coyotes Bearing Gifts

The weather here in Florida changed a few days ago as though someone had flipped a switch. An overnight North wind brought down some much-needed cool air and just like that, it was beautiful outside. Perfect bike riding weather and last week Coyote came by with a pretty dilapidated 1981 Schwinn Super Le Tour twelve speed. Some kid who had just moved into the trailer court was looking to sell it for twenty five dollars. The gumwall tires were in such rotten condition that a test ride on the thing was highly questionable. But as I looked her over I noticed how clean the drive train was. The cassette showed very little wear (actually no wear at all) and the chain had zero rust. The white frame had some kind of black over-spray on it, as though someone had leaned a different bike against it and sprayed away. It was covered overall with that aged and sticky grime that indicates long unattended storage. But most importantly it was a large frame, very large in fact and looked to be about my size. I offered Coyote twenty bucks which he immediately accepted (causing me to wonder about the provenance of this relic) and then tipped him a finder's fee of a freshly purchased half pint of Morgan's rum (after first taking a ceremonial slug.) Coyote then rapidly departed for the on-going birthday party on the other side of the trailer court, the one I had been invited not to attend. I heard there was free beer there. I took my new old bike inside to look her over more carefully. I looked up the Le Tour on the web and measured her specs. All in all it would seem I had made one of the better deals of late.

Time For Rehab (The Bike)

She sits here now a week later looking pretty good, if I do say so myself. I wiped down her dingy chrome with some solvent and sanded off the aged and peeling decals with some 220 grit sandpaper. I went ahead and sanded down all the minor rust areas and then applied three coats of primer and then several coats of satin white paint, followed by a couple coats of clear. This bike had the look of the proverbial “barn car”, as though after minimal use when new, she had spent the last thirty years sitting in a basement or shed, being moved only when she was in the way of storing the lawnmower or such. I really enjoyed the cleaning and stripping process, spending two six hour days sanding and painting and polishing. At the end of the second day I mounted two 27x1/14 Bell Streetster tires purchased at K-Mart and rode her home. Fast! Right away I noticed how much faster the narrow, larger tires were and what a difference the gearing made, compared to my single speed '95 Mongoose Alta. I also noticed that the rear tire had a very noticeable wobble, so much so that after the short ride home from the shop to the trailer, I parked her for the evening.

But Then...

The next morning I rode her the mile and a half back to the shop. I put her back on the makeshift work stand I had rigged up and set about truing the rear wheel. I had never tried this before, thinking that I needed an expensive wheel truing stand or at least I would have to make one myself before trying anything as advanced as wheel tuning. But Ken Kifer wrote on his website about truing wheels at roadside and my buddy Bryan King had mentioned doing the same,,,so I decided to give it a try. As I began I realized that this wheel was seriously crooked. It was impossible to center it between the dropouts and then, as I was over-tightening a drive-side spoke, I heard a loud hiss. I had punctured the tube. This did nothing to increase my confidence in my wheel truing ability. I stripped off the tire and remounted the bare wheel. The more I tweaked and swore and failed, becoming more and more frustrated, I started to think maybe I had bought a ruined bike, that it was obvious that the frame was bent and I had thrown away a perfectly good twenty dollar bill and fifteen dollars worth of solvent and paint, and thirty dollars worth of new cheap tires and two days of labor...and a perfectly good half pint of rum. It was getting hot there in the shed and the radio kept playing songs I didn't like. Sitting there staring at the frame, squinting first my good right eye then my not-so-good left eye, lining up frame angles like I was sighting down a pool cue, I searched for the slightest indication of warp or weave or twist or whatever the hell was wrong with this so-called bicycle that made that damn wheel so crooked. After the third beer I decided to get a 2 x 4 and try to straighten out this sorry piece of Japanese Chicago crap using some good old American know-how and brute force.

Just then my stomach gave a growl and I realized I was hungry. Had I eaten today? No, said my stomach. Then I remembered something I had read on the bike forums about “stepping away from the bicycle.” OK, I said. I'll go home for a late lunch then come back and see what's what. I think the little Schwinn shuddered with relief. I mounted up on my old single speed Mongoose Alta mountain bike and peddled home.

Enter The Voice

That lunch was a fine idea. After two big chili dogs and some iced tea and a bag of Cheetos (remember, I am in training for a long bike tour), I rode back to the shop. Opening the big overhead door I was immediately struck by how nice the old bike looked with her new paint, and how graceful the lugged steel frame was, and how the chrome accent on the forks made her look strikingly similar to a Rivendell original. After all, these old Schwinns have a history directly linked to Waterford, do they not? So I sat down in my wheel truing chair and thought things through. From somewhere in the ether a voice said “put the wheel in backwards, with the cassette on the left side.” Huh? I asked. “Just do it”, The Voice said. “Maybe you will get a new perspective.” Indeed.

A Wheelsmith Is Born

After removing the rim strip off the bare wheel, exposing the top of the spoke nipples, I noticed that I could tighten the spokes with a screwdriver instead of the vice grips I had been using on the spokes. With the wheel in backwards, for whatever reason, I actually did get a new perspective. Hmmm...if I turn this spoke one half turn this way it pulls the rim just that much more in line. But won't that make the opposite spoke too tight? Well, not if I loosen that spoke one half turn. AHA! I immediately proceeded around the rim, setting each nipple so that the screw slot was aligned parallel to the rim. Incredibly, things were looking better already. Excited about the possibility of success and even more elated about not having to take the wheel to the LBS for the usual round of subtle ridicule (Vice grips? Really?) (not to mention the expense), I pulled the wheel out of the dropouts and reversed it, re-mounting it with the cassette on the right side. It looked worse, but I didn't care. I was a master wheel builder now. After applying one drop of 3-in-1 oil on each nipple (on the wheel, of course), I started working my way around the rim, turning each spoke one half turn only, pulling on each one as I turned it to compare the tension to the adjacent spokes, making a careful half turn on each, always keeping the screw slot on the spoke nipple aligned parallel to the rim. I noticed that the drive-side spokes were tighter than the left side. This worried me at first but as I proceeded it became apparent that this was appropriate. (Later perusal of Peter White's excellent (albeit somewhat curmudgeonly) web site proved this to be correct.)
My breathing had become steady and a gentle breeze wafted through the shop. The radio was playing Stairway To Heaven as I paused for a beer and sat there spinning the wheel. It was still wobbling a little, but it was centered and not hitting the brake pads at all. Wow! This was wheel-tuning Zen! (Not to be confused with Budweiser Zen, which came later.) That wheel was still wobbling, but I didn't care. I could do this all day!
But I didn't have to do it all day. In fact about an hour later I had that wheel centered and spinning as straight as it ever would. I put on a new tube, remounted the tire and rolled off for a test ride. YES!

Whispering Pines Trailer Court
Late Fall 2010