Thursday, May 24, 2018

Better Late Than Never: Critical Bike Maintenance

For the past few months I've had a couple ongoing - and probably unrelated - issues with the drivetrain on my 1980 Peugeot Course. The first issue was a clicking sound that was consistently happening at the same point through my pedal stroke. Visual inspection didn't reveal any observable problems with the crankset, so I figured the problem was with either the bottom bracket or one of the pedal spindles/bearings.

The second issue was more worrisome. Under very hard pedaling, such as when accelerating from a stop, the chain would occasionally 'slip.' This would usually happen when I was mashing down particularly hard and standing on the pedals, so to have the chain suddenly slip forward would sometimes cause my feet to lose traction with the pedals. I nearly ate shit several times trying to power through busy intersections. Not good. This problem appeared to originate from the rear derailleur, as the freewheel seemed to be in good shape and was relatively new. Replicating this problem on the repair stand was difficult, though, so I was never able to observe it very clearly.

Fixing the first issue was pretty straightforward. The problem could have only originated from the bottom bracket or pedal bearings, so I just replaced both. I didn't necessarily expect to replace my pedals, but when I went into my LBS for a new bottom bracket, I spotted a beautiful pair of gold MKS touring pedals. I had not been overly happy with my All-City track pedals for commuting and was feeling like something with a wider platform/cage and more grippy surface would be better on the Peugeot. So I took the opportunity to swap them out for something a little better suited to my needs.

The second issue was a little more tricky. I replaced the rear derailleur with a cheap used Suntour GT that I picked up on eBay, but the problem continued - and in fact got worse. So I found a newer derailleur that more closely matched the vintage of the bike, and also matched the front derailleur: a Suntour AR. For good measure, I swapped out the freewheel with another unit that I happened to have on hand. Unfortunately, it was a bit wider than my old freewheel, and the wider freewheel was rubbing against the frame of the bike. I moved some hub spacers around to get the freewheel away from the frame, but now my rim is out of dish. Not a big deal...I just haven't had the time and motivation to re-dish it. Probably something I'll get around to later this Spring.

I set out to fix a couple maintenance issues. In so doing, I ended up making some unexpectedly significant changes to the look and function of my bike. I'm pretty happy with the matching derailleur set - something this bike has never had, at least not since I took possession of it in early 2012. And the MKS touring pedals are pretty great...grippy and functional with a sleek, classic look. I'm probably a little behind on some other regularly scheduled maintenance - repacking hubs, in particular. But for now, the old Peugeot is running well enough.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Spring Cleaning in the Tinkery

For the past 6 months, I've been working on a series of home improvement projects around the house. Not only have they left me with little time to tinker on bikes (and write about it here), but they've also completely occupied the shop with lumber, woodworking tools, and a big ass mess that's made it impossible to use the garage for much of anything else. A couple weeks ago, I decided that needed to change.

I started by clearing everything out of the garage and giving it a decent cleaning. Then I added some additional shelving for the tools and gear that had been lying on the floor or stuffed into the lower shelf of my workbench. Tools and bike parts were sorted and organized. I also replaced the overhead lighting in the shop - a single screw-in bulb fixture - with a couple LED strip lights.

Now that the shop is cleaned up and organized, I'm ready to start working through a backlog of bike maintenance and repairs that I've been putting off for the past few months. That includes getting started on restoring the '83 Trek 850 that I picked up last fall.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Little Piece of History In My Garage

It's been a long time since I've had a new project to work on. Maintaining the bikes we already have in our garage keeps me pretty busy, regardless of whether or not they're ridden often. But I've continued to keep my eye out for a good donor bike. I've been interested in maybe doing a heavy-duty resto-mod, turning an old road or mountain bike into a bomb-proof modern commuter. I just haven't been able to find the right platform for such an undertaking (I'll know it when I see it). Then earlier this week, I came across a local listing on Craigslist that I couldn't pass up: a 1983 Trek 850.

To look at it, the old Trek 850 isn't anything to write home about. The frame looks a lot like an old touring frame, complete with cantilever posts, curved fork with a steep rake, lugged frame, and high bottom bracket. The handlebars are a mile wide and it's got a really wonky V-shaped stem. The frame has a fair amount of surface rust, the whole thing is faded and dusty, and some of the componentry is non-original. The whole rig is pretty rough shape and has clearly been neglected for quite some time.

However, this particular model of bicycle is the first mountain bike produced by Trek. That's right...THE first Trek mountain bike. And once you understand the historical significance of this beat-up old specimen, it starts to look a lot more tantalizing. It begins to become less wonky (though it's still definitely wonky), and instead becomes a lot more special. It's a part of cycling history. And for mountain bike aficionados, the transition from home-built klunkers to mass-produced mountain machines like the Trek 850 was a really big deal. It's cool to get my hands on such an iconic bike.

So what comes next? One thing's for sure - there's no way I can bring myself to make major modifications to this bike. It's going to be restored back to its original glory...sort of. The machine is in rough enough condition that it'll never be quite as gleaming and blemish-free as it was in the summer of '83. Some of the patina is here to stay. But I'd say that's appropriate for a nearly 35-year-old bicycle. After all, this bike and I are the same age; and I've definitely got a few battle scars too.

It's going to be a really fun project. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Adding to the Ranks of Bike Commuters

Ever since we removed his training wheels, our son has renounced riding his bike. For the past two years, he's eschewed getting on his bicycle at all. We've managed to occasionally use leverage to coerce him into riding up and down the street. But even then, we would only manage a few laps before he would refuse to continue. It's been a bummer that Ginger and I, both die-hard bicycling advocates, haven't been able to convince our son of the joys of cycling.

All that changed last weekend. Ginger talked our son into riding with her to his school, which is a trip of a little over a mile. When they left, the boy was looking a bit apprehensive, but he gathered his courage and set off with his mom. When they returned from their ride a short while later, he was absolutely elated. It went so well, we easily talked him into riding again the next day. So we loaded up his sister into the baby carrier and the whole family made the same trip. Again, he had a blast and was clearly becoming more confident handling his bike. That evening, he asked if he could ride his bike to summer day camp the next morning. And just like that - he was a bicycle commuter.

So far this week my son has ridden his bike to day camp at the YMCA every day. He wakes up stoked to ride...even wears his helmet around the house after he gets home. Ginger and I can't believe how quickly he turned around, from hating riding his bike to loving it. We hope it sticks and becomes a life-long love of cycling. But in the meantime, we're just ecstatic that our 7-year-old is now a bike commuter.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Evolution of Bike Share Technology

When it comes to your standard, tech-forward, membership-based bike share system, there are generally two primary models for the way the bicycles interface with the stations. The difference between these two models mostly comes down to where the computer systems are located that allow a user to checkout a bike. Around the virtual halls of Springfield Bike Share, we call these two types of systems 'Smart Dock/Dumb Bike' and 'Smart Bike/Dumb Dock.'

The Smart Dock/Dumb Bike model of bike share represents the more traditional type of system. You have a fleet of bikes that have integrated technology like GPS and hub power generation (usually for front and rear lights), but otherwise the bikes themselves are nothing more than fancy-looking step-through cruisers. The stations, on the other hand, are packed with technology. The station is often powered via a built-in solar panel or an underground electrical line and is connected to the internet via a hard line or wireless technology like 4G. The station consists of a computer, often with a touch screen, that acts as an on-site kiosk for users to check out bicycles. And the kiosk is connected with the individual bicycle docks, creating an integrated network of sensors, actuators, communications, and other technology working in concert to manage the checkout and return of bike share bicycles.

The Smart Bike/Dumb Dock model of bike share technology is the opposite of this more traditional approach. In this model, the station is nothing more than a brightly colored bike rack. And sometimes not even that. There is often no integrated technology in the rack itself. In fact, some bike share equipment providers allow any location to be considered a 'station' using the location of the bicycle, allowing municipal bike racks and other points of interest to be transformed into ad hoc bike share stations. Since there's no technology integrated into the station, all of the hardware is instead built into the bicycle itself. Normally this includes a small computer console on the back of the bike, which allows members to check out the bike. Once checked out, the bike essentially 'unlocks itself' from the dock. Power is provided by an on-board solar panel with an accompanying battery pack and the bicycle is networked via wireless technology - again, like 4G. Other than the small computer on the rear of the bike, the bicycle looks much the same as any other bike share bike, often with a GPS system and a hub generator to power the lights.

Years ago when bike share was in its infancy, a Smart Bike system would've been unthinkable. The cost to outfit each and every bike with a user interface and, even worse, to network each bicycle using cellular technology would've been unbelievably expensive. But as the cost of wireless connections continues to drop and powerful computers are made to fit into our pockets, integrating this technology onto tens, hundreds, or even thousands of bicycles is not only achievable, but quickly becoming the norm for bike share programs across the US. Just think of the flexibility a Smart Bike system provides over traditional systems. If you need to move a Smart Dock station, you have to disconnect it from the power line and/or network, remove it, then painstakingly transport it to the new location and reconnect it to power and the network. On the other hand, a Smart Bike station can simply be unbolted, trucked to the new location, and bolted down. And as I mentioned before, nearly any location can be transformed into a station to checkout or return a bicycle simply using that location's GPS coordinates in tandem with the integrated GPS system on the bike. While such a system may be cost-prohibitive for a bike share system with many hundreds or thousands of bicycles, for smaller communities it represents a very attractive and affordable option to implement a functional bike share program.

We're still many months from a launching bike share in Springfield, but I can say with confidence that our system will be a Smart Bike system. When it comes to flexibility, functionality, and cost, the Smart Bike model is hard to beat for a small community like ours.