Saturday, March 29, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol.4 - Hubs

Went out for an afternoon ride today, temp 85 and the trails were deserted. There's a trail I've ridden before in the Preserve that climbs up to a point near the A&W house. Once I get there I saw a cactus flower on up the hill to the west. I hadn't been that way before, so up I went, carrying Mr. K up the steep and rocky trail. After getting this shot of the flower, I contimued up to the top of the trail where there was a stone bench. My first thought seeing the bench was, great, there must be a reasonable trail down the other side. Not so. I toted Mr. K up and over a ridge, traversed a steep sidehill, over another ridge, then down a steep rocky switchback descent that only a really stupid rider would actually attempt on a bike. I picked up a familiar trail after about a half mile and continued my pedaling. While carrying Mr. K, I had the opportunity to gaze upon his hubs and contemplate their purpose.

So, what is it that we ask of hubs? Not much. We want them to rotate around an axle and do it with as little friction as possible. We also want them to do it for a long, long time. Mr. K's hubs have been doing exactly that for as long as I've owned the bike. They are the originals. The front is a Trek System 2. Trek used to do this thing where components were sold as System 1, 2 or 3. I don't remember whether 1 or 3 was best, but I do know that 2 was not. Anyway, I tear it down about twice a year, clean, regrease and reassemble it, and it seams to be just fine. Glad I didn't spend extra to get the 1 or the 3.

The rear hub is a Shimano STX RC. I have no idea what that means, but I do know that, just like the front hub, the rear has held up since 1997 with a semi-annual cleaning, regreasing and reassembly. I really can't complain. There's no significant friction, it doesn't get sloppy after a few rides, and has never needed adjustments between maintenance sessions. Back in the last century when I was a regular bike commuter, I used to go through a set of hubs about every 2 years. That rate destruction included both steel hubs, which were total crap, as well as alloy hubs, which were better, but still didn't have much of a life span.

I wasn't going to discuss other components in this session, but I can't help it. I've been through several rims in my life and, other than the major preference for aliminum over steel, any well constructed rim is fine for me. So I bought my current set of rims from Nashbar because they were double wall and pretty cheap. The thing I like best about them is that they are Sun "MACH IV"!!! Keeping in mind that I am old fat & slow, what in the hell am I doing with rims that say "MACH IV" on them? I estimate that the fasted I have ever ridden this bike is Mach 0.0267, or about 20 mph, 32 kph for the rest of the world. Isn't Mach I something like 750 mph at sea level. If that's true, these rims ought to be good for 3000 mph. Aparently I still have a lot of conditioning to do before I am able to squeeze the maximum performance out of these rims. I could be like Anthony Hopkins in "The World's Fastest Indian."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 3 - Brakes

Subtitled, "Oh my god, how do I stop this thing?"

When it comes to stopping a bike, I am a bit of a luddite. I have ridden two bikes with disc brakes, one was a Jamis Dakar, borrowed from Dr. Michele for a coupe rides in Phoenix, and the other was a Salsa El Mariachi, belonging to my son, Sean, which I rode about 100 yards. I've used center and side pull road brakes, cantelever brakes and a few kinds of V brakes. The absolute worst were center pull road brakes on steel rims in the rain. Commuting rain or shine in Portland, okay rain or cloudy, I had a morning descent down a hill on Portland's Interstate hill. With that setup, the only way to stop when wet was to begin braking at the top of the hill, keep full pressure all the way down, then drag feet at the bottom, ala Fred Flintstone. The alternative was to say a few Hail Mary's and hope to god the light would be green at the bottom. It was an experience designed to maintain high blood pressure for the rest of the day.

Everything beyond that brake setup was an improvement. I eventually evolved to V brakes and even put a Shimano XTR brake on the front of Mr K. I used the XTR for a couple of years, but never got rid of squeal or a nasty scraping sound that told me I was chewing through the front rim. Somewhere along the way, I read something that said the XTR pads were designed for ceramic coated rims. Knowing that ceramics are used for plates and bowls, I couldn't imagine riding around on a dinner plate. So I backslid and put the original STX brake back on the Mr. K. It squealed no matter how I adjusted it, so I used that noise as my bike bell. Coming up behind a pedestrian? Hit the brake, EERRRCH. Enough noise to scare anyone.

A few months ago, I bought some brake pads at a mini-mall bike shop at 67th Ave and Deer Valley in Glendale AZ. At $7 a pair, I thought they were pretty reasonable. They turned out to be the best pads I've ever had. They never squeal and they have great stopping power and modulation. I need to go buy a bunch of them, 'cause with my luck, they'll be discontinued just before I need another set.

I thought about going to discs once, and started to add up what it would take; in addition to the brake sets, new hubs, new fork with attachment points, new frame with attachment points... Wait a minute, that sounds like a whole new bike! Maybe when Mr. K gives up the ghost.

An intriguing feature of the brake levers on Mr. K are the little stickers that say Servo-Action and the little bolt that fits in 3 positions, kind of like a pair of channel lock pliers. Having been around the block a few times, I know what a Servo is, and I understand the concept of Action as oposed to stasis, so I experimented with the positions and absolutely could not tell a difference between them. Being a middle of the road kind of guy, I set the bolt in the middle position and there it stays. Servo-Action. Damn marketing geeks can't leave anything alone!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 2 - Forks

No, this isn’t a discussion of Forks Washington, a logging community in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Remember, this is a biking blog. We’re talking suspension forks. My experience with them consists of 2 forks in the last 15 years. The first was an original Rock Shox air sprung fork that fit a 1 inch threaded headset. A friend in Spokane gave it to my son, Sean, but it didn’t fit his bike. We stuck it on my first mtn bike, eliminating the original rigid fork. Having ridden motorcycles in the early days, I kind of understood the value of suspension, but didn’t really think it would make much difference on a bicycle. Willing to give it a try, and knowing the cost was $0, what I found out was a revelation. Forks are worth the fiddling and the cost, at least they used to be until they got to be more expensive than the bike itself. I rode on that fork for about 7 years, until it blew a seal. Rebuild kit on a 7 year old fork? Forget it!

My second fork is the one pictured. It’s a Rock Shox Indy XC, and came with my Klein Hardtail. I haven’t pulled it apart since a few days after I bought the bike, but if I remember correctly, it has a metal spring and some neoprene spacers. The first thing I noticed was that the sag with me on the bike took up about half the travel, which was only about 80mm, if that. I started checking around to see if there was some kind of spring kit or spacers that could compensate for my weight. The fork was about 3 years old by then. Kits for a 3 year old fork? Forget it!

This called for a trip to the basement. I found a wooden dowel with a diameter that fit well into the shock tube. I cut two pieces about 1 inch long and dropped one in each tube, then reassembled the fork. Yeah, it reduced overall travel, but it reduced sag to less than ¼ of the overall travel and still seemed to work ok.

One thing to worry about with suspension forks is cracks and breakage. Losing a fork during some hairy descent result in a pretty ugly situation, and being ugly enough already, I don’t need to add to the image. I inspect the fork regularly, especially around the steerer tube, saddle, and fork tube tops. So far, there is no bending, cracking or wear that would warn me of potential failure. So far so good.

I got together with some guys for a full moon ride last night in the preserve. We made up a group of 7, me being the geezer, 4 guys in their early 40s and two who were 9 or 10. The two little guys dropped out after about 45 minutes and their dads escorted them home, joining us a short time later for another hour of riding. It never got bright enough to kill the lights, but it was a beautiful, warm evening with some guys who turned out to be a lot of fun. It was definitely my kind of ride, intermediate difficulty with a bunch of guys who weren’t out to impress anyone. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 1

As promised, product review #1 looks at a 1997 Klein Pulse RACE. Back in the days before Klein got busted for an EPA violation, closed up shop and sold out, they made some pretty cool bikes. Of course, their price tags were not something that a cheapskate family guy like me could choke down. Even so, Klein was the holy grail of mountain bikes. As Klein tried to increase market share, they did an Elliot Spitzer and hopped in bed with Trek. (Spitzer is Governor of NY. Check your current events)

The progeny of this unholy alliance was the Pulse, and Pulse Race. It's really kind of like the deal Porsche made with VW in introducing the 914 to an unsuspecting American public. OK, I owned one of those too, a long time ago.

In spite of this inbreeding, the red-framed step child Pulse Race is a pretty good bike. It consists of an incredibly stiff aluminum frame with the fattest chainstays I've ever seen on a hardtail. They're so fat... How fat are they?... It also has a wheel in front, a wheel in back, a Shimano STX gruppo (note the Italian?) with a bunch of gears, a Rock Shox Indy XC fork and a seat I came up with somewhere else because I didn't like the seat that came with it. Mr. K weighs about 24 lbs, let's see, standing on the scale with the bike 236. Without the bike 212. 6-2=4, 3-1=2, 2-2=0, yep 24 lbs. Did I say this bike is stiff? I'll tell you, this bike is stiffer than a fundamentalist preacher in a house of ill repute. In the rocky terrain of Phoenix, it allows every rock, whether pebble or boulder, full opportunity for expression. This bike teaches its victim, er rider to adopt a butt off the seat, hands loose on the bars riding style. It's more fidgety than a 2nd grader in singing class.

Over the years, I've worn out a few chains, a couple of cassettes, shifters, pedals, and brake pads, but the core bike just keeps on going.

Mr. K meets by criterion for quality, just like a car or truck, you don't really know about its true quality until its passed well beyond 100,000 miles, a bike's quality reveals itself as it enters its second decade.

I bought the bike from Midwest Cyclery in Kansas City MO in 2000. It had suffered through an ignominious existance as a rental bike until I took it home. In fact, I was the last person to rent it. My daughter's then boyfriend (last name Klein) was going to join Sean and me at the local fat tire festival at Landahl Park but had no bike. Sean Flew in from Spokane sans bike, so I rented a carbon fiber Gary Fisher and the Klein. Klein rode the Klein and Sean rode the GF. After the first lap, Klein gave up, so I took the Klein and did a second lap. I liked the responsiveness and handling, and decided that the Klein must be mine. Fortunately, Klein and my daughter broke up and she found a great guy who is way too smart to go mountain biking with Sean and me. I ended up with the Klein a couple months later after haggling with Bob at Midwest Cyclery. It might have been my imagination, but I was sure I saw a tear in his eye as I wheeled the Klein out the door.

Notice how in this picture, Mr. K looks like a Sixty-Niner?

And in this shot it seems to be a Ninety-Sixer?

Talk about versatility!

Gear Reviews, Everyone's doing it, so Why Not?

Since everyone’s doing it, I might as well jump on the bandwagon and start writing product reviews. There is a caveat; I have a philosophy about biking that probably doesn’t match that of those who build and sell bikes and accessories. In fact, it probably doesn’t match with most people who are at all serious about cycling. Here it is; Cycling should be FUN and CHEAP. You want expensive, go buy something with lots of horsepower. I started riding bikes when I was about 4 or 5 years old, and lapsed only for things like the Vietnam War and a tower construction job that had me travelling through the western states.

When I started grade school, the 10 mile barefoot walk uphill both ways through ten feet of snow was actually 4 blocks and took me past Weir’s Cycle and Hobby Shop in Portland. Ken Weir ran the shop and his dad, who I think founded it in the ‘20s, still worked there. They had bikes, models, RC airplanes, slot cars, and all kinds of stuff that excited the imagination. On top of that, they had the patience of Job (biblical reference) with kids like me, who would stop in, gawk, ask questions, test ride bikes and be a general nuisance. Only occasionally did I have enough money to actually buy something. Over the years, I eventually bought a half dozen bikes and various parts from Weir’s, and I still think they epitomized what a bike shop should be.

Anyway, in keeping to my philosophy of FUN and CHEAP, I’m going to start reviewing products I have experience with. Don’t expect to see reviews of the latest Specialized S-Works 16 inch travel 69r or Chris King headsets, XTR components (with one exception), or the hottest high end Fox doo-dah racing fork. I am, by nature, a skinflint. I think it comes from a heritage that includes Norwegian and Scottish, along with various other Anglo-Saxon ancestors. In the 15 years or so that I commuted by bike in Portland, rain or shine, I generally kept track of the cost, which worked out to $5 a month, including the 3 bikes I went through, rain suits, tires, etc. Certainly cheaper than the bus and faster too!

Nowadays, I can afford to splurge a bit more, but FUN and CHEAP still prevails. CHEAP should really be in a larger font, more like CHEAP. I ride a Fuji Finest steel road bike from about 1999 and a Klein Pulse Race from 1997, bought used in ‘99 or ’00. I still consider both bikes as major splurges. I think I paid $650 for the brand new Fuji and $700 for the used Klein. The thought of paying more than a thou for something without a motor just doesn’t seem right. Next Post – Review #1 Klein Pulse RACE.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A little stiff

Woke up a little stiff this morning after my T100 mini-epic. I met up with a family friend for lunch and then drove to the airport from Scottsdale. She was in town for a conference and didn't know I was here until she talked to Sarah on Saturday. Her folks are old friends from Spokane and it was great to catch up.

Later in the afternoon, after the old bones had loosened up a bit, I took off on the road bike, explored the neighborhood a bit, then caught the bike path from 32nd at the 51 and rode it down to the canal. Followed the canal back to 7th St, up 7th to Cave Creek, to Thunderbird and back to the apartment. In all, about 15 miles. It was not at all strenuous, and it sure helped loosen things up.

This is only the 3rd time I've been on the road bike since moving to Phoenix last August. After all the mountain biking, it is really kind of surprising how much easier it is to maintain reasonable speed on hills. Certainly not fast by any definition, but I'm comparing it to the 4.5 years in Kansas, where you figure out which way the wind is blowing, ride against it for an hour, or until boredom sets in, then turn around and pray that the wind doesn't shift 180 degrees before you get home. Kansas isn't completely flat, but if you stand on a beer can, you can see Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma as you spin around (until the can crushes). Riding in Kansas is more of a chore than a fun activity. Around Wichita and Clearwater, where we lived, mountain biking consists of riding the dirt/gravel roads between the wheat fields. Road biking consists of riding the paved roads between the wheat fields. Although that's not entirely true, there are also fields of corn, milo, soy, cotton, and occasionally sunflowers.

There are actually some good trails around Topeka and Lawrence, Perry lake comes to mind, but good riding in Kansas is a long drive from Clearwater. I much prefer the 1 mile commute to the 32nd St trailhead.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

T100 mini-epic

In spite of my OTB excursion on Thursday and getting in no other riding in a week, I went ahead with my plan to do T100 from 32nd St to 7th Ave to Tatum and back to 32nd. I figured a little over 5 hours should do it. Left the apartment at 10:15 and was on the trail by 10:20. I thought I did pretty well, clearing everything except a couple of hike-a-bikes between Dreamy Draw Park and Cave Creek. I made it to 7th Ave and back to the North Mtn Visitor's center by 12:15. Rested a bit and talked to my sweetie for a few minutes, then back on the trail. Got another call from a neighbor from my last apartment, just east of Cave Creek. She was excited and out to tell the world that she got an internship in Belgium for the summer.

Made it to Dreamy Draw, and was starting to drag a bit. Just at the top of the steep section of Dreamy Draw, I got another call, this time from my neighbor's dad, telling me that she got an internship in Belgium. Having just cleared the steep section, I was panting like a dehydrated puppy dog and could hardly talk. Told him I'd call back after my ride.

By the time I reached Tatum, I was really dragging. Sat around for a few minutes, drank some water and hit the trail back to the west. Made it back to the apartment at 2:50. The whole ride took 4 hours and 40 minutes. I'm sure there are few riders out there who can make that trip slower than me.

Fortunately for me, the apartment complex has a hot tub, which felt very good. Even after the hot tub though, my legs feel a lot like the weeks of daily doubles of high school football. Might take it easy tomorrow and go play roadie for a few miles.

For those who don't know, T100 is a trail through the Phoenix Mountain Preserves. Its generally an easy trail with a few tough sections and a lot of rocky areas. Makes for a good old fart riding trail.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Over the Bars

So, last night, with the telephone network operating properly, I escaped from the office by 5:30 and was on the trails by 6:00, lights ready, battery charged and looking for a good 2 hour ride. I worked my way up to the high point on trail 1A and headed east after a stop to look at the evening view. As I was picking my way through a rocky spot, I got a little too far forward on the bike and allowed the front wheel to land in one of those nicely formed spots that pretty closely match the circumference of the wheel. Naturally, the wheel stopped just as the laws of physics intended. The rest of the and I attempted to continue on. Since the front wheel was still attached to the rest of the bike, the rear wheel chose the path of least resistance, which of course was up and over the front wheel. That decision by the rear wheel left me with only 1 decision, how to make contact with the surrounding terrain in a manner that would allow me to get back up somewhat intact. Fortunately for me, the tumble didn't damage any of the local flora, nor did the local flora have the opportunity to damage me. The bike remained intact. The only damage was to a bracket that holds the headlight to the handlebars. The light still works, but without a way to hold the light in place, it was time to head home. The two hour ride turned out to be about 50 minutes. Now the trick is finding a new bracket for the light, although I am pretty good with a roll of duct tape.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Riding Plans Gone Awry

My plan for the weekend was to ridw T100 end to end to end. That didn't happen. I joined up with a group ride that began at Dreamy Draw and spanned about 17-18 miles of the Phx Mtn Preserve. We were an older group (youngest age 45), so we stopped often, chatted and had a generally good time. We spent about 4 hours riding. Great weather, great fun.

Since I didn't do my planned ride on Saturday, I figured I'd do it on Sunday. As it turned out, I spent the day working on telephone network problems up north of Lake Pleasant. I've spent 3 days now driving back and forth on the back roads trying to fix a pretty intractible trouble. Hopefully, we'll figure it out tomorrow and things will get back to their normally hectic pace. With any luck, I'll do my T100 mini-epic ride next weekend.

One great thing about my job is that I get out of the office fairly often and there is some beautiful scenery where I work. I took these shots along the way on Sunday.