Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Here's an early cycling Christmas "card" to wish you and yours very Happy Holidays! I find some of the details on this 1886/87 magazine cover fascinating.

I was surprised to see the abbreviation "Xmas" in the title and love the snow-capped, frozen font. Look at how the Os in Book have been turned into bicycle wheels. And, I think the red emblem in the center of the C in Cycledom is a chariot wheel, while the zeros that decorate the C likely represent mileage, since already cyclists took great pride in how far they rode each season and watch-quality striker-style cyclometers were popular.

Notice too that the fellow with the mustache is mounting his ordinary (also called a high bicycle, highwheel, penny farthing), which would have been the popular bicycle at the time. Below on that tranquil road is a tandem tricycle. Women riding highwheels was frowned upon so they often rode tricycles.

Then, depicting the future is a chap with what what I believe is a Rover, one of the "modern" designs that would lead to what we ride today. Finally, the winged wheel at the bottom is the icing on the cake.

Enjoy the holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

VIDEO: Tour de Speed

As a masters competitor (over 35 years old), I am at one end of the bicycle-racing spectrum. There are plenty of races and riders, and major events like state, national and even world championships. While it's all great fun, for cycling to grow and thrive we need kids to take it up. Our team Bicycle Trip has a large, well-organized and talented juniors team that we masters support, however, without support like that, it can be challenging to get into the sport.

So, I enjoyed seeing, and wanted to share this video of the Tour de Speed in Canada, an annual stage race (time trial and road race) for girls and boys age 10 to 16. It's put on by the Newmarket Eagles Cycling Club of Newmarket, Ontario as part of the Ontario Cycling Association's Ontario Youth Cup 6-race series. I wish there had been something like this when I started riding.

Tour Of Speed 2010 from Scott K. Douglas on Vimeo.

To view on Vimeo:

Friday, December 10, 2010

VIDEO from USA Cyclocross Nationals

My cyclocross-racing friend John Brown who owns Family Cycling Center here in Santa Cruz, let me know about this excellent video by Logan that captures the action of the Masters Women's 45-49 USA National Championship Cyclocross Race today in Bend, Oregon. Check out that stair run. Ouch!
To view on YouTube:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jim's Bicycle Gift Guide

Here are a few gift suggestions sure to please the cyclists on your list. Keep in mind that you can roll into any bicycle shop and find plenty of other cycling gifts from staples like socks and gloves, tools and spare tires and tubes, to complete bicycles.

Many shops offer valuable services they'll love, too, such as bike fits, bicycle tune-ups and overhauls or upgrade packages to turn her old bike into a thoroughbred. Plus, stores often have gift certificates and cards. Or, pick up one of my suggestions below.
Crud Catcher Roadracer Fenders

Crud Catcher Roadracer Fenders, $45

This is a super-cool and functional seasonal accessory for anyone who owns a full-on road racing bicycle - the racier, the better. These sleek machines typically have almost no clearance between the wheels and frame, so it’s difficult to impossible to find full fenders that fit - especially on sculpted carbon framesets.

Plus, even if they find fenders for it, they look all wrong on their two-wheel Ferrari. Enter Crud Catcher’s Roadrace fenders, incredibly minimal full fenders that weigh only 180 grams per pair, provide exceptional coverage to keep them and their bike dry and clean, and perhaps most amazingly, actually complement the elegant look of their dream bike.

Feedback Sports Stand
Feedback Sports Pro-Classic Repair Stand, $200

If they like to work on their own bicycles (and what cyclist doesn’t?), they’ll love getting Feedback Sports’ Pro-Classic Repair Stand. It has a sturdy tripod base, their simple-to-use and safe Slide-Lock clamp, an adjustable working height from 42 to 71 inches (short or tall they’ll wrench in comfort) and 360-degree bicycle rotation for easy access to all systems. It also folds small and weighs only 11 pounds so they can use it at home and on the road. I’ve been using an early version of this stand for over 10 years and it has been exceptional.

If you'd like to help equip them to actually get some work done on their new stand, consider gifting them a few key tool that every bicycle mechanic needs, and that most shops stock, such as a nice pedal wrench, an allen wrench set and a bicycle cable cutter (a special tool that cuts bicycle cables without fraying).

DeFeet Wool Gloves
DeFeet DuraGlove Charcoal Merino Wool Gloves and Woolie Boolie Charcoal Merino Wool Socks, $18.50 and $15

Give them the gift of comfort with DeFeet’s Merino wool gloves and socks. They insulate, breathe and wick moisture away from the skin to keep their fingers and toes warm and dry on all their winter rides. Plus, wool is unique in that it will keep them warm even when it's wet.

The gloves feature silicone grippers on the palms and fingers for excellent braking and shifting control. Both socks and gloves are machine washable for easy care and impressively durable for long life. They're quite popular for cyclocross racing and every bit as useful for everyday wear.

IMBA Mountain Biking Calendar
VeloPress Cycling Calendars, $14.95 each

Whether they're a professional road-racing fan, a mountain biker, a triathlete or just getting into the sport, VeloPress has calendars that'll remind them of you and inspire them all year long with beautiful action shots from the top photographers of some of the most famous races and racers in the world.

Choose from the VeloNews Road Racing Calendar, the IMBA Mountain Biking Calendar and the Inside Triathlon Calendar. Also on the VeloPress site is a wide assortment of cycling books they'd love to read on bike maintenance, nutrition, racing history and even cycling fiction.

Shimano Ultegra Wheelset WH-6700, $695

Shimano Ultegra Tubeless Wheelset
Every road rider will love a second set of wheels, and Shimano’s WH-6700s are no ordinary hoops. Even though they’re significantly less expensive, they boast most of the features of Shimano’s top-line Dura-Ace wheels and only weigh about 138 grams more. What’s most special about these wheels, and why your giftee will be thrilled to get them is that they accept tubeless tires (I recommend Hutchinson Fusion 3 tires).

This means they’ll enjoy noticeably smoother, more-efficient rides and suffer fewer flat tires too. Plus, they boast all of Shimano’s wheel-design wizardry, from the bladed, direct-pull stainless-steel spokes (20 rear, 16 front), to the ideal 24/23mm (F/R) aero rim profiles, to the reliable, easily serviced Ultegra hubs, to the 8-/9-/10-speed Shimano/SRAM cassette compatibility and the included Shimano quick releases and special tubeless valves. I've been riding on Shimano tubeless wheels since they were first introduced and I believe tubeless technology is one of the most significant improvements in ride quality available today. It's nice that you can now get it at a lower price point.

CatEye HL-EL135 Headlight, $20

CatEye HL-EL135 Headlight
When they said the best things come in small packages they could have been talking about CatEye’s miniature marvel, the HL-EL135. It’s only 3 ¼ x 1 ⅞ x ¾ inches (L x W x H) and takes up so little handlebar space that you’ll hardly know it’s there, and you’ll have room for other accessories too. Plus, CatEye’s simple tool-free FlexTight constricting-band mount lets you put it on any-diameter bar in seconds.

Best, it boasts 3 brilliant white LEDs powered by 2 standard AA batteries, steady and flashing modes and the beam is boosted by CatEye’s OptiCube reflector to ensure you’re seen. Note that this is a minimal light designed for safety, which is the kind of light I like to use on my bike. It's so small you can carry it in your pocket or backpack and always have it available.

If your cyclist needs a wide, powerful beam to illuminate roads and trails for hours on end, you'll want to consider that gift certificate at your bicycle shop I mentioned. With it they can visit and select their ideal torch. There are just too many features and price points to take a chance on gifting them the wrong light if they need that type.

Crank Brothers Multi 17
Crank Brothers Multi 17 Mini-Tool, $27

Gift them a little insurance on all their rides with this invaluable stocking stuffer from Crank Brothers. The Multi 17 all-in-one provides all the tools they need to fix minor breakdowns on the road and trail from tightening a loose part, to truing a warped wheel, to fine-tuning the shifting, to fixing a broken chain, to just about anything else that could go wrong.

And this nifty ride-saver is a folding design so it's compact enough to always take along and all the tools are easily accessed and built to last. There's also nothing that can fall off and get lost, and it's available in grey and gold.

Giro Prolight Helmet, $200
Giro Prolight Helmet

If your favorite cyclist has been riding for years, the chances are good that he's using a helmet that's a few years old. Do him a huge favor and gift him Giro's new Prolight, a super-light (184 to 218 grams depending on size), ultra-comfortable lid that'll make him feel like he left his helmet home.

The best part is that it's so light it takes less effort to hold your head up so he'll feel great no matter how far he rides. And, this featherweight has impressive safety and comfort features, too, such as Giro's tough Inmold construction, 25 air-channeling vents to keep him dry, Giro's easily adjusted and secure Roc Loc SL fitting system and antimicrobial X-static helmet pads that feel great and eliminate odors.

Specialized S-Works Road Shoes
Specialized S-Works Road Shoes, $350

Okay, $350 is a lot, even for a pair of serious road shoes, but the S-Works are actually so advanced they'll probably make your cyclist feel like a new rider (that's what they did for me). What they'll notice right out of the box is the lightness (about 235 grams per pair in size 42), which means energy savings on every pedal stroke. It's courtesy of the Specialized FACT high-modulus, unidirectional carbon soles and the featherweight and breathable Micromatrix uppers.

The lightness is great but the stiffness of these shoes is off the charts, and it's an amazing feeling of more power when you hit the gas to flatten a hill or close a gap. They'll also love the dual Boa closures that allow them to dial in the perfect fit and the Specialized High Performance footbeds that offer excellent support and prevent hot spots. Yet, the most impressive feature may be Specialized's Body Geometry design, which helps align their feet with their knees so that they pedal more efficiently and comfortably, and remain injury free mile after glorious mile.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Q&A: Fixing Dented Deep-Dish Carbon Wheel & Lacing Spokes

Winter's a great time to get your equipment ready for next season and to work on your mechanical skills, like wheelbuilding. From this week's mailbag, here are two related Q and As with feedback and photos from the cyclists showing their handiwork.

This first question is from my Bicycle Trip/Symantec teammate Miles, who is one of our top 45+ masters racers.

Dented carbon rim
Q: Hope you can help me out, Jim. I wanted to make my race bike even faster with some deep-dish carbon sew-up (tubular) wheels. I did my research and decided to buy some made by Edge, which have a great reputation (FYI, they changed their name to Enve recently).

These are pricey wheels so I decided to search eBay and I found what looked to be the perfect pair at a sweet price.

I won the auction, but when the wheels arrived I was depressed to find a large dent in the front rim. Here's a photo. Did I get ripped off? Should I send the wheels back? They're very true and round and all the spokes are nice and tight. I can't see any other signs of damage but I hate this dent. What would you do?


A: You said the wheel is very true and round and all the spokes are nice and tight. That's good, Miles. As long as there's no other damage (did you check for cracks in the rim where the spokes enter it?) - the dent is probably only cosmetic damage not unlike when a shopping cart rolls into and dents your car. It's ugly and frustrating, but it won't affect the strength of the wheel.

Tall, deep-dish carbon rims like this are often pretty flimsy. You can squeeze them and make the sidewalls flex a lot so it's easy to see how someone running into the wheels in the race pack could have done this. Or maybe, just putting them in the back of a car and someone putting something on top of the wheel dented it. So, it pays to watch out for stuff like this.

Why don't you bring the wheel over to my home workshop and I'll check it out and see if it's fixable? I'm thinking we can pop it out similar to how you'd get a dent out of a car fender.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Video of Bicycle-Friendly Utrecht Netherlands

Take a relaxing break as we enter the busy holiday season with this refreshing almost bicycle-only morning "rush-hour" scene in the Netherlands. It's a long video at 10 minutes, but even if you only watch for 30 seconds I think you'll enjoy the calm and quiet that is pedal-powered traffic.

Watching it I assumed this intersection was always this way and was amazed when I clicked the link at the top and viewed part 2 where the author gives the history of this intersection in Utrecht and how the Dutch had to reclaim the land and make massive changes - even digging out a filled-in riverbed - to restore this city center to what it is today.

It gives me hope that we can keep making changes to our cities that result in more of them offering something like this someday. I would love to see our downtown Santa Cruz, where it's relatively flat and some bike paths already exist, become more bike/ped friendly with reduced and controlled cars and trucks and priority given to people rather than vehicles. Significantly reducing speed limits, downsizing car lane widths to create more bicycle space on the shoulder, not inconveniencing bikes/peds at lights with long delays, and making Pacific Avenue car-free would be a great start.

Have a happy Thanksgiving,
Here's a link to the video in case it doesn't display for you:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cycling Vacation Suggestion

It's never too early to start planning your vacation, everyone. This scenic video of Adventure Cycling's Rocky Mountain Great Divide Route has me dreaming of this epic off-road bicycling trip in Montana. I thought you'd enjoy it too.

You can also watch the video here.

Best cycling wishes,

Friday, November 12, 2010

Santa Cruz Cyclocross: A Look Back

Made in Santa Cruz: Rock Lobster cyclocross bike
For racing cyclists, it's the final season of the year and that means cyclocross! Also called cross or CX, bicycle cyclocross racing originated in Europe as a way for road racers to stay fit throughout the off season.

Here's a little background and kind of a funny story about my cross exploits. Be sure to check my cyclocross page on my website for a lot more about old-school Santa Cruz cross.

The challenge for racers in the winter was keeping in shape with high-intensity workouts while staying warm. So the idea was conceived to race on slightly modified road bikes around a mostly grass or dirt track on about a one-mile circuit course. On cyclocross bikes, the frames have additional clearance plus knobby road tires and powerful cantilever brakes are used - soon disc brakes. When I raced, cross frames were mostly steel and the components were aluminum. Today, the bikes are aluminum or carbon and the components get lighter and lighter, including carbon wheelsets and components. Lightness is good because you have to carry your bike.

To slow the riders and ensure they won't freeze, the courses have obstacles and often mud stretches to force racers to dismount, shoulder their bicycles and run for a stretch. How well you can handle your bike on sketchy terrain and how seamlessly you can go from saddle to dirt and back again often determines how well you do in the races.

Fortunately, races only last for from roughly 45 minutes to an hour plus a lap, however, it's one of the most intense hours you've probably spent on two wheels and no one will tell you cyclocross racing is a cake walk. But, it sure is fun and a fantastic way to stay in shape all season long.

My involvement in cross started here in Santa Cruz in the early 1980's because we had a great cyclocross series here (and still do). In high school I was a fair cross-country runner and I had always loved cycling. I figured the combination of cycling and running would be perfect for me.

From 1982 to 1984 I made every race. I rode a custom Oxford cross bike (Jim Oxford was a framebuilder in Bonny Doon), based on the geometry of Tom Cuthbertson's Hetchins cross rig that he purchased in England in the 1970's. At that time Tom helped bring the sport of cyclocross to Santa Cruz. He's best known as the author of Anybody's Bike Book, the first massive best selling bicycle repair book. Tom worked at the Bicycle Center on Mission Street (now known as Sprockets), and went on to write great owner's manuals for Apple computer users.

By the time of the 1984 NorCal District Championships and National Championships, which were held less than a mile from my house, on the University of California at Santa Cruz campus, I was competitive - not the highest level, but close. At the Districts, which were held in Tilden Park in Berkeley, the venue for the first National Championships back in 75, I finished 7th and ahead of two former national champs. But, the Nationals on my hometown course had a surprise in store for me.

Besides being part cyclist, part runner, the other thing that suited me about cyclocross was the mechanical aspect. Cross is really tough on bikes and if you're not keeping up with mechanical issues, you'll breakdown and have to switch bikes or wheels during the race, which can ruin your chances of a top finish. While I witnessed broken seatposts and handlebars, endless flat tires, crunched wheels and bent forks at the races, in my three seasons of cross I didn't have so much as a flat tire.

Nationals: L-R: Steve Tilford, Laurence Malone, Roy Knickman
And, then came the Nationals, the biggest stage of my cycling life until then. Because I had finished top 10 in one of the toughest Districts races in the country, I was allowed to stand in the front row at the start. To my left was 5-time National Champ Laurence Malone. To my right was Roy Knickman, just a famous name to me.

I had raced with Laurence many times and even wrenched on his race bike. He was one of the first guys to give me racing, training and equipment advice. He told me to ride a harder gear than on the road so that I could take my weight off the saddle and float over the bumps. He taught me how to dismount to hit the ground in full stride. He helped me, sure, but, I never kept up with him in the races. And standing between him and Roy, I was so nervous and excited that I thought I would explode if they wouldn't hurry up and start the race.
Dan Nall, Dave McLaughlin, Greg Foy and me - somewhere way back

The start was at the base of UCSC, at the top of Bay Street. If you've been there, you know there's a plush lawn to the right. We started there, turned right, blasted up the road and then veered left onto the grass track around the campus course.

The worse obstacle was a log pile seemingly going up into the sky that we had to run up each lap. But I knew the course well and was ready to fly up the opening hill and stick with Laurence and Roy for as long as I could.

In my dreams. They started us and I hit the gas as hard as I ever have and snapped my right pedal clean off! Unbelievable. I only had one choice: shoulder my broken bike and run a half lap to the pits to retrieve my back-up from my mechanic Scott Terriberry. Somehow, I managed to get there, leaped onto my second bike - an old junker 10-speed I'd modified - all my money in my now-crippled custom cross machine. It was at least rideable and I was able to start racing. It took Scott 3 laps to borrow a pedal off a spectator's bike to get me back on my Oxford.

But I was far behind the leaders and in danger of being pulled. Every lap, I could hear the officials yanking riders just a little ways behind me and I battled to keep passing and moving up. My ugly start and the tough course helped me. As I got rolling, some of the guys in front started to tire and I moved further up in the field. In the end I finished 16th and only 25 guys finished the race. Steve Tilford won in dominating fashion lapping almost everyone in the race at least once. He's still racing and winning.

To keep the memories of those classic cross races back in the day alive, I've put a page about them up on my website with more photos and commentary. It was a different type of cross racing back then - more mud, more obstacles, lower-tech bicycles - but it was just as much fun as it is today. One of the biggest differences is that there are now cross racing series across the country and American riders are even successfully competing against the stars of cross in Europe. That's fantastic.

Have a great ride,

Friday, November 5, 2010

More Lights: Early Bicycle Lamps

To enlighten you a bit more, here are a few cool vintage bicycle light items from the early days. It's fun to think that even in the 1890's - years before automobiles were being mass produced, we wanted to ride at night and see and be seen. And, the vintage lights that illuminated the way via an elegant orange beam created by a burning wick, were as magnificent as the lovely bicycles that carried them.

Behold the 20th Century 1898 Model (note that they call it a "Driving Lamp," cyclists being the first drivers).
Next is the same model, but here they show an alluring nighttime riding scene depicting the powerful Model 1898, "splendid in its improvements," allowing the cyclist to make good use of the half of his cycling time that's dark.
These vintage lights were built to last and they're not that hard to find and quite collectible. Here's a Union Lamp Company William's Globe made around 1897 courtesy of Transport Collectors Auctions. The vents on the top let the heat escape, while the jewel-like glass reflectors provide some side visibility. For fast and easy on/off, the lights' sprung mounts slid over a simple bracket found on the front of most bicycles at the time. The lens is a heavy piece of glass and it's also the door opened to light the wick.

From the same auction site, here's a bedazzling Bridgeport Brass Search Light ornately decorated to be as delightful during daylight as it was brilliant in the moonlight.

And, to demonstrate that the genuine item is as splendid as the bicycle ad for it, here's the illustration for the light shown in the photo above:
Hope you enjoy these treasures from days gone by, and have fun on your nighttime rides!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Time: Lighten Up Your Bicycle!

1930's Colba light bicycle ad
Not that kind of lighten up your bicycle... I'm talking about lighten up, as in adding lights to your bike to be seen and stay safe now that the time's about to change and it's going to be dark earlier for a lot of us.

It's important because, unless you ride only on brightly lit city streets, you can be just about invisible to drivers if you're bicycling at night without lights. We're so narrow and small that they have a difficult time seeing us even when it's light out.

At night, if they're passing us from behind and we aren't using lights, they won't see us until the very last second - if we're lucky. And, they'll also pull out in front of us or turn across our path for the same reason. Both highly dangerous.

 If you ever get stuck biking home in the dark without lights remember that you can't be seen and do whatever you have to to stay safe. For example, riding on the sidewalk, if that's your only option and no one's using it. Cheap flashlights purchased at a convenience store and duct taped to your handlebars and seatpost will work in a pinch and be handy at home too.

Fortunately, with advances in bulb and battery technology, bike lights have improved in leaps and bounds since the cool Colba light in the ad here was state of the art. So there's no good reason not to equip your two-wheeler with lights. Any bicycle shop will have bright, easy-to-install headlight and taillight setups to keep you safe. In fact, most department stores carry them, too, though you won't get the guarantees, spare parts availability and installation help if you need it.

Planet Bike's Superflash taillight and Blaze headlight is a nice example I have on one of my bikes. Using bright and super long-lasting LEDs (light emitting diodes), standard batteries and easy mounting clips, these lights go on and off in a blink (so they won't get stolen if you lock your bike downtown) and are bright enough to be seen and see. (I especially like that the taillight comes with mounting clips for the seatpost and seatstay so you can always find a spot to install it.)

But there are loads of light makers and an endless variety of bicycle lighting systems at all price points, so shop around, ask friends you ride with what they use, but light your bike up soon so you can safely ride right through the season.

See you on the road,


Friday, October 29, 2010

The Skeleton Peloton Wishes All A Happy Halloween!

Fellow pedalers, from deep within my dusty, spiderweb-shrouded bicycle archive of relics, here are some spooky skeleton cyclists dying to wish you a happy and haunted Halloween.

Talk about low body fat, strength-to-weight ratio and the courage to bury yourself - this doomed peloton powers down the road - unaffected by the wind whistling through their bones, floats ghost-like over the steepest climbs and bombs the descents with death-defying speed.

The 1904 Dawis rider on the left, "Skully," is the team fastman. With his razor-sharp elbows and massive rib cage there's no beating him across the finish line.

And, though "Grinning Boy" on his permanent podium, appropriately painted yellow, appears stuck in cement, his workman beginnings in Oaxaca, Mexico sculpted him into a top domestique up to the toughest tests. His springy legs can close any gap, he can drive the pace at the front relentlessly and is also perfectly delighted to tote bottles all stage long.

Then, we come to our merry band of pranksters, The Politicians drawn by satirist Jose Guadelupe Posada in 1890. Sure to strike terror in the heart of any competitor, this ghoulish gang is ready to dominate with trick aero helmets, cutting-edge framesets and wheels and even wings!  Have a great Halloween everyone!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Q&A: More noisy bicycles, checking cassette wear, too clean

Happy Halloween everyone! In this season of ghostly apparitions and things going bump in the night, here are a few Q and A's on chasing away bicycle gremlins. And, remember to save any Snickers bars you get while trick or treatin' - great ride food!

Q: Hi Jim,
Bike noises can be such puzzlers, so I was happy to find your webpage on them. I could relate to many of the noises. Here's one that had me stumped (still does, insofar as the exact mechanism goes).

I have a Gary Fisher HiFi-Plus mountain bike. I ride a lot and stay on top of general cleanup, as Boise's summer trails are dusty. After a couple of years, it developed a slight "click" or "tick" on most crank revolutions. Came from the bottom bracket/crank area. You could hear it but not feel it. I kept riding. With time, the single click grew to a couple of clicks - again, fairly regular with revolutions. With more time, these clicks merged into a close-spaced series that I would call a "c-r-r-r-reak". Almost the sound of something flexing. Usually took 10-15 minutes of riding to really develop. Of course, such stuff resonates through the whole frame and is annoying no end.

As this developed over a month's time, I suspected and tried everything - pedals, cranks, chainrings, chain, bearing bracket, frame cracks, etc. Check, tighten, clean, lube. Nothing helped. Other mechanic friends suggested everything I had already tried. Having admitted defeat, I dropped by the shop I bought the bike from, recounted the history, told them I wasn't going to give them the bike to puzzle over (I was going to fix this myself!), but had they ever run into this on this bike?

Almost without hesitation, the mechanic told me to to just disassemble the bottom bracket, clean it up, and put it back together. I protested, saying that I knew it was in/torqued to specs, etc. He said, "Trust me." I did.

Complete tear-down, wipe-down, lube and reassemble. Voila - no creak. Not for 2 years now. My explanation: somehow fine grit or something works its way into those fine threads, or the metal-to-metal/metal-to-plastic contact of bearing/bracket parts (or something) gets to where parts move against each other ever so slightly, generating the sound in the flexing or twisting.  What do you think?


Teflon tape can silence BB clicks and ticks
A: I’m glad your mechanic was able to give you such a sure fix, Eric. In a lot of cases I’ve seen, it is the BB – not always – but so frequently, that it never hurts to take out and reinstall the BB. On most cranksets these days it’s relatively simple to do this if you have a few basic tools, like Park Tool's BBT-9 cup tool for Shimano BBs. It used to be a much bigger job to do it right, but then BBs didn’t used to make noise so often either. Maybe it’s a trade off we all have to make to enjoy cartridge bearing, oversize, external cup BBs?

The bike I ride the most is a Litespeed Vortex road bike. It has an aluminum BB in a titanium frame. This combination tends to eventually creak, click, etc. A trick that works is wrapping plumber's Teflon tape around the BB cup threads during installation. This adds a layer of plastic in there and seems to give you several years before any noise returns. In fact, Jeff Pierce, the 3rd American to win a Tour de France stage (on his Litespeed Vortex), told me the mechanics used plumber's tape on the team bikes.

And, I think you’re right, that the parts in the BB are slightly loosening and that dirt/grit is getting in there and causing the noise. You might experiment with plumbers tape or a thicker lube, maybe an anti seize, or a Locktite even, to see if you could get a longer lasting seal that prevents the noise almost permanently.

It’s fun figuring this stuff out – if the noise doesn’t drive you crazy first!

Q: Hi Jim,
I saw that you ride a Cervelo Soloist just like me, so I thought you'd be a good person to ask. This seems like it should be a simple question but... I've been asking around about how to tell if a 12-25 cassette should be replaced?

I need to replace my chain. If I don't replace the cassette at the same time, and it's bad, I run the risk of ruining the chain prematurely. If I replace the cassette and it's not bad, I'm just throwing out a good cassette (which happens to be a Shimano Ultegra model).

So, if I can know the signs of a bad cassette, I'm golden. Problem is, every bike shop I talk with tells me there is no way to really tell, and that I'm better off replacing the cassette. That's OK if you have deep pockets. I thought of comparing a new cassette directly with the old one, but is this really the only way?

Any suggestions you offer up will be greatly appreciated,


A: What the shops are telling you is pretty accurate, Bruce, but there actually is a cassette-cog checking tool made by the German chain/hub company Rohloff, but I’ve never had a chance to try it – or even seen it anywhere. You can learn more about its use on their pdf instructions page and check out the illustration on the right. Here’s the page on it on their site.

It might be an interesting and helpful tool. I’m not sure having never used it, but I'll try to purchase one and give it a try.

Unfortunately, you can’t know if a cassette is worn out without checking it somehow. The changes to the cogs over time are so slight that you can't see the wear the way you can with the chainrings, which are made of aluminum and change shape more distinctly. But, it’s foolish to pay for a new cassette if your old one isn’t worn out. Also, unless it’s truly worn out, a cassette won’t hurt the new chain.

The standard way to check for cassette cog wear is to install the new chain (when the old one needs replacing), and then go for a test ride. While riding, you shift onto each cog, one at a time. On each cog, you stand up and push hard to feel if the chain runs smoothly and more importantly if it skips. Skipping makes a loud popping noise and you’ll almost crash if you’re not careful as the chain actually rides up and off the cog and skips forward. If you experience this, you know that the cog(s) that skip are worn out and the cassette needs to be replaced.

In the days of freewheels we could replace one cog at a time. Typically, you’d replace only the cogs that skipped and they’d usually be the smallest cogs. So, you’d put on a new 12 and 13 and the cassette would be good to go. Here's a photo of a classic Regina freewheel cog case that we used to use to build and repair Regina freewheels in the 70's and 80's.

With the advent of cassettes, though, you now have to buy the whole thing, which is a shame because you never wear out all the cogs at the same rate so you’re paying for everything when you only probably need one new cog.

You can keep a cassette lasting longer by changing the chain more frequently, but you end up paying for the chains, so you have to do the math for yourself and decide what makes the most sense. If you prefer expensive chains, you probably want to get your money's worth out of them.

Most of us just ride the chain until it’s showing signs of wear and then we replace it. Usually the cassette won’t be worn out yet. But, after you’ve replaced 2 chains, you may need a new cassette. It depends a lot of how and where you ride. So, if you’re in the rain and climbing hills all the time, you will wear things out faster than a flatlander in dry conditions.

If you decide to buy the Rohloff tool, I’d enjoy hearing how you like it and if it’s useful. I didn’t study the instructions sheet, but maybe you could even make your own version somehow as a do-it-yourself project? Though it may be easier to just test ride your bike with the new chain to see if the cassette is worn out yet.

Q: Hello from Bucharest, Romania, Jim!

I found you by searching on Internet about bicycle noises, read it with great interest. Thank you for posting that info!

I just want to tell you about a strange noise which comes from my bike and drives me nuts. Maybe you met that before and I would be happy if sharing some info.

Shortly, while riding in sitting position with every pedal revolution I hear a noise coming from the upper tube of the frame. Sounds like metal crack. And the weird thing: when I loosened and then tightened the seat binder bolt the noise disappears for a while (let's say like 10-15 km of riding) and then reappears.

I already spray lubed it, installed it back, and it did nothing. The noise also appears if staying only in sitting position and moving back and forth without pedaling, but when I lean forward my upper body it starts to disappears. It seems to me like a sort of tension is creating over time between seat post and frame.

I'll let you know in case I found a solution and maybe you'll find it useful to put it on your website.
I'll be glad to help out other cyclists.

In case you have any suggestion please let me know, I would highly appreciate!


A: Nice to hear from you, Lucian, but sorry to hear about the noise on your Scott Scale 50 bicycle. Have you tried using a semi-permanent grease on the surface of the seatpost, inside the clamp around the frame and on the bolt too? There’s something called anti-seize. It’s a kind of lubricant designed to not evaporate or wear off. The kind I have is silver. If you get it on your hands, it’s hard to get off because it’s sticks so well.

If you can find this stuff, and apply it to those parts, it might make the noise go away forever. I would also take the time to disassemble the seat clamp at the top of the seatpost – the part that clamps the seat. Then lube those parts and put it back together. That’s an area where these noises come from too, and if the seatpost was not lubed already, they may have forgotten to lube the seatpost clamp/seat interface too.

These steps should quiet your bicycle!

Q: Hello Jim,

Shimano Nexus Inter 7 Roller Brake Hub 36H 7 Speed SilverHere I am again with a problem facing to. I took apart my Shimano Nexus internal-gear hub, because it started to have some sandy noise from it (suspected that some dirt penetrated under the sealing). Took off the whole gear set from the hub as one, washed in petrol, put some grease on it and installed back.

Even though it seems everything in the right place, in gears 3-7 and when using the pedal brake, it has an awful cracking noise. Any hints what did I do wrong? I used white vaseline from the pharmacy as grease, can it be the mistake?


A: Hi Béla,
I suspect that when you washed it with petrol you removed all the lubrication. Petrol is too harsh for cleaning bicycle parts like hub gears. It's so powerful it cuts through and ruins any lubricants inside and you end up with a part that's dry and no longer lubricated. This puts metal parts that touch each other and need to mesh correctly in jeopardy because they are now running metal on metal with no film of lube between them.

Lubing it with Vaseline wouldn't likely solve the problem. The petrol gets inside the parts and washes out all the lube. The Vaseline - even if you spread it and push it - will have a hard time getting between parts and lubricating them adequately.

What I would try is taking it apart again and lubricating it with a thick oil, like automobile motor oil. You need to get this inside the parts. Be sure not to get it on any parts in the brake that are required to provide friction for stopping. But, get it inside the moving parts that mesh for shifting/gearing. One approach would be to soak the parts in an oil bath for a while so the oil really penetrates. Then, you'd want to let it drain out and wipe the outside of the part clean. Oil will leak out in use later, but you can use a rag to wipe it off. And, you know the part is lubed inside.

In the future for cleaning you can use a thin oil. This will wash out dirt while keeping the lube intact inside the parts. You never want to remove all the lube because it's hard to get it back in there. That's why it's a problem to clean parts with petrol or engine-cleaner solvents.

You should us a good bicycle grease on any hub bearings. Vaseline is too thin to last long enough.

I hope this helps get the hub running nicely again,

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Q&A: Making a Bolt-On Front Wheel Into a Quick-Release

With so many people converting classic old 10-speeds into city bikes, and it being an excellent fall bicycle project, I thought this question was a great one for an extra-long answer.

Q: Hi Jim,
I saw your website and like it. I was trying to learn how to install a quick-release skewer on the front wheel of my bicycle so I can take the wheel on and off without needing tools. I bought just the quick-release skewer at the bike shop because I thought that’s what I needed.

When I got home, I unscrewed the nuts on my wheel and removed it from the bike frame, but I couldn’t figure out how to attach the quick release. I thought it took the place of the big bolt running through the wheel that the nuts were screwed onto. But, I can’t see any way to attach the skewer to it. And, I can’t get the bolt out of the wheel. Can you please explain what I need to do?


Click to enlarge!
A: That’s an excellent question, Carol. It's a bit complicated to explain, but I'm sure it'll help a lot of cyclists, for example someone upgrading an old ten-speed to a fixie.  Because, changing a bolt-on front wheel into a quick-release wheel lets you remove the wheel without tools and that makes flat-tire repairs easier, lets you remove the wheel so you can place it next to the rear wheel for locking your bicycle with a U-lock, and it makes it easier to remove the wheel for putting it in a car for travel too. Removing the front wheel is required for putting a bike in some car racks too.

To explain how to switch to a quick-release axle, let’s start with some bicycle part definitions. You have a bolt-on wheel. A wheel that is held onto your bicycle with nuts. That threaded part that the nuts you removed were screwed onto is called the axle. The part of the wheel the axle passes through is called the hub. Your axle type is called a bolt-on or solid axle because it’s basically a threaded steel rod.

What you want to do is turn your wheel into a quick-release wheel. In order to do this, you need to remove that solid, bolt-on axle and the parts on it, and replace them with a quick-release compatible axle and parts (called a quick-release axle set).

This new quick-release axle set will have a hollow axle (it will have a hole right down the middle). It will also have a shorter axle that does not protrude past the frame on either side. The quick-release axle set gets installed in the wheel. When that’s done, the quick-release skewer gets installed into the hollow QR axle and then your wheel will be a quick-release wheel. Here’s an animated explanation of how to operate a quick release skewer in case they’re new to you.

What's Needed
In order to change the axles in your front wheel, you need to get the right quick-release axle set for the hub on your wheel. Since hubs vary a lot, the best way to do this is to visit a bicycle shop with your wheel and tell them what you want to do. They can look at your wheel and the axle set it has and check their selection of quick-release compatible axle sets to find the one that will fit your wheel. You should probably call first to make sure they have axle sets in stock and don’t need to order one for you.

To switch the axle sets, you need cone wrenches to remove the parts on your current axle so that you can take it out of the hub. Then you can install the new quick release-compatible axle set. Cone wrenches aren’t expensive, but it may be cheaper/easier to have the shop change the axle versus the cost of the tools, parts and labor. Once the QR axle set is in there, your wheel will be a QR wheel.

The photo shows the differences between the axles sets. Note that the quick release includes the lever (on the left), the skewer (the rod that passes through the hollow axle), 2 springs (that keep the quick release ends away from the axle so they’re not in the way when you put your wheel on), and the quick-release cap, the part on the far right that closes on the right side of the fork to lock the wheel on when you close the quick-release lever.

You can also see an example of cone wrenches. Shown are my vintage Campagnolo cone wrenches, among my favorite tools. The ones you get will look different but have the same thin jaws. They’re thin enough to fit in between the outside nut on the axle and the cone. You hold the cone with the cone wrench that fits, and turn the outside nut counterclockwise to loosen it. Then you can take both off the axle and pull the axle out of the hub.

The cone wrench has to fit the cone and they come in different sizes, so if you want to buy the wrench, you need to either buy several sizes and hope you get the right one, or measure the flats on your cone on your axle and order the wrench that’s the right size. You'll probably need a 13, 14 or 15mm cone wrench. Some shops sell cone wrenches too and they could tell you which one to buy if you brought your wheel in for them to look at.

Check The Hub Bearings Too
When you remove the bolt-on axle, look inside the hub at the bearings. There should be nice, shiny steel ball bearings inside with a film of grease on them that’s clear or white. If instead you see black grime or red rust, you’ll want to purchase new bearings and replace your old ones with them. Be sure to clean the inside of the hub thoroughly and put new, clean bicycle grease in before installing the new ball bearings and axle set.

Adjusting The Hub Bearings
Use your cone wrench(es) to fine-tune the bearing adjustment. The new axle set should feel super smooth when you turn it with your fingers, and there should only be the tiniest trace of play when you pull up and down on the axle. Also, be sure to lock the adjustment by tightening the locknut against the cone. Check both sides, too. When you adjustment is right, the slight play in the axle will go away when you clamp the wheel in your bicycle.

Troubleshooting Tips
Here are few issues you may run into when switching axles, and workarounds for dealing with them.

The new cones are larger in diameter than the old ones and they don’t fit through the dustcaps on the hubs.

If you have a grinder or a drill press, it’s easy to machine the cones to a smaller diameter to fit through the dust caps. To do it on the grinder, leave the cone loose on the axle. Then hold the axle and rest a finger on the cone as you touch the cone to the grinder. This lets the cone move along the axle while you apply just enough pressure to remove enough material off the cone, letting the cone turn beneath your finger, which acts as a brake to control how long each part of the cones gets ground by the grinder.

On the drill press, you can put the axle in the drill-press chuck and turn on the drill press and simply hold sandpaper or a file against the cone to machine it to a smaller diameter.

The quick-release axle set went into the wheel fine, but now the wheel doesn’t fit into the bicycle because the fork is too narrow.

You need to spread the fork blades to be wide enough apart to accept the new, wider axle spacing. This is a little scary, but the forks that you’ll experience this with are usually made of relatively soft steel. If you stand in front of the bicycle and grip one fork leg in each hand and pull outward evenly and simultaneously with both hands, there’s an excellent chance you’ll be able to add the 2 or 3mm you need on each side for the new axle to fit. If you get it right, the wheel will slip right in and be centered when you tighten the quick release. If you get it wrong, you’ll need to move one side of the fork a little until the wheel fits and is centered.

The quick-release axle set went into the wheel fine, and the wheel fits in the bicycle fine, but when you close the quick release it doesn’t clamp down on the frame - the wheel remains loose - it won’t tighten.

This issue is caused by basic stamped-steel dropouts (the parts at the end of the fork that the quick release clamps against), that are thinner than the higher-quality dropouts quick releases were designed around. The problem is that the quick-release axle is too long for these narrow dropouts. So, when you try to close it and tighten the wheel, the QR bumps into the end of the axle instead of clamping on the fork dropouts. The fix is filing material off the ends of the axle until they no longer interfere with the quick release.

There you go! Now, enjoy the convenience and fun of having a quick-release front wheel!

Friday, September 17, 2010

BIKE BOOKS: Around The World On A Bicycle

I heard a while ago that Google was scanning books and making them available online, but I never expected to be able to read Around The World On A Bicycle by Thomas Stevens on a computer. Stevens was the first cyclist to bike around the world, leaving the west coast in 1884 and returning to America 13,000 miles and two years later.

He did the entire trip on a highwheel bicycle, also known as an ordinary or penny farthing. It was quite an accomplishment when you consider that approximately 1,000 people died from falls off these bicycles in the 10 years they ruled the roads. It's cool also to think that highwheels were the first tall bicycles and among the first fixies too, so Stevens was way ahead of his time.

Stevens financed his adventure by filing reports from the road that were published by Harper's and Outing magazines. Perhaps this explains how his story became a 2-volume, roughly 1,000-page epic. The actual books are highly collectible and can fetch as much as $500 per volume. You can also find them in some libraries, though they typically won't let you bring them home to read.

It's nice that we can all now read it and enjoy the great illustrations whenever and however we want. To get you started I've embedded Volume 1 - From San Francisco to Teheran. Here's the link to the book on Google in case the embed doesn't offer full functionality. Incidentally, the furthest I've ridden in a day on my 1886 Victor Light Roadster highwheel is 100 miles in Scotland in 1990.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Q&A: Straightening Bent Chainrings & Finessing Your Shifting

Q: Hi Jim,.
I have a Raleigh road bike, and I've been told I need a new front chainring (the largest one), because it has been bent due to “hard shifting.” I would prefer not to have to buy a new chainring and I noticed your recommendation that shifting not be done with much force.

What shifting strategy is used when you are dealing with coasting into dips on a pathway that has a very sudden and maybe longer rise (the kind you may find in city bike paths that have valleys, rivers nearby, and the like)? Does one enter the dip with the highest gear (highest speed), then very quickly and successively downshift with the rear gears as one is traveling upward again? Do you leave the front shifting alone?

Sometimes this causes the “crunching” noise of the chain as one travels out of the dip, indicating too much force is being used, or that the chain may also be skipping sprockets during the shift, and ultimately bending the chainring?

I’m reluctant to continue an enjoyable non-stop trip on these paths as it’s expensive to replace the chainring. On the other hand, not having to stop and walk the little way out of each dip is the goal of a good ride.

Look forward to your advice,

A: Sorry to hear about your bent chainring, Karl. I'll talk about your options there first and then talk about the shifting issue.

Truing/Straightening Bent Chainrings (also called "chainwheels")
The first thing I’d ask is how badly the chainring is bent? I ask because in most cases you can bend them straight again. Not if they’re bent so badly they will break if you try to bend them back, but as long as the metal is only bent a little out of true or a few teeth got knocked out of alignment, you can almost always bend them straight again and just keep riding them. Steel is easier to bend back but aluminum isn’t too hard either. I’ve fixed many bent chainrings and rarely have to replace them.

Before trying to straighten a bent ring, check that the chainring bolts are tight because loose bolts will let a ring flex and it can appear bent when it's only the loose bolts causing the issue. Also, check that there's no play in the bottom bracket bearings, which an also create the illusion of wobbly rings.

To straighten chainrings try using an adjustable wrench with the jaws adjusted to just slip over the chainring. With the chainring bend between the jaws you can use the wrench handle to flex and bend the chainring back into shape. There is also a tool made just for this by Bicycle Research (photo).

To gauge your progress, spin the crankset by hand and sight the ring where it passes the front derailleur cage to see if it's nice and round and true with no side-to-side wobble.

Another way to do it is to strike it with a rubber mallet, or a hammer and a screwdriver. The mallet is easy to use, just striking the ring on whichever side needs moving over. To use the screwdriver, which is good for reaching hard-to-reach places, hold the tip of the screwdriver on the bend and strike the handle of the screwdriver with a hammer.

To get the hang of straightening with the hammer or hammer/screwdriver technique, tap gently at first and then increase the impact as you learn how hard to strike it to true the chainring. You can then fine-tune it until it is using your adjustable wrench or screwdriver and hammer. You can also use a screwdriver as a prying tool to true rings and the adjustable to bend the spider of the right crankarm (what the chainrings are bolted to), which is sometimes the part that gets bent.

Notes: Someone might tell you that bending or hitting the chainring will effect/impact the crankset bearings, but they can handle anything you can do with your tools and it's nothing to worry about. Also, in my experience if a mechanic doesn’t know that you can bend them back (because he hasn’t had a lot of experience or because he taught himself how to fix bikes), he may say you have to replace bent chainrings – and that’s not true except for seriously bent/damaged ones – as I mentioned).

And for some chainring fun, be sure to visit Bike Cult's amazing Chainring Archive and the incredible Chainring Tattoo Project.

Learning to Shift With Light Pedal Pressure
Next, on the shifting, you can actually make any shift you want at almost any time if you can just remember to ease the pressure off the pedals when you’re doing it. The chain needs to be flexible sideways in order for the derailleurs to be able to push it sideways onto another gear or chainring. Also, it has to be flexible so it can release from the teeth and move sideways. When there’s pressure on the pedals the chain becomes a solid bar of steel and it will not want to move sideways and that causes all the problems.

What you might do is practice shifting over and over and over in a traffic-free parking lot until you get really good at shifting while soft pedaling with no pressure at all on the pedals. You only turn the pedals to complete the shift - you put not pressure on them. Then you’d have the technique down and you could shift anytime you want.

Or, you could just limit your shifting and choose your gears before you need them. This is like driving a underpowered standard-shift car. You see a hill in the distance and you know your car can’t make it up the hill in 4th gear, so you shift well before the hill rather than stalling out trying to shift halfway up the hill when the car doesn’t have the gearing/power to make it up any further.

On your bike, you would shift before the dip (on the downhill) and then shift back once you got up to the top again and could take the pressure off the pedals.

To smooth shifting and chainrings that stay straight,
Jim Langley

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Q&A: Loose Water-Bottle Insert, Seat For 300-Pounder, New Yorker Bicycle Covers

Hope you're enjoying some wonderful summer cycling. Here are a few recent conversations of interest.

Q: Greetings Jim,
I’ve got this problem with a water bottle cage screw that won’t unscrew itself, because the insert that goes in my Giant aluminum frame wall (the down tube to be exact) has come loose so both the screw and the insert are turning. I tried in vain with a long-nose pliers to hold the insert's ridge or ring preventing it turning, and with an Allen wrench to unscrew the screw, but the insert ridge is so thin that the long nose pliers keep slipping.

I just can’t get a good grip on it. So I’m thinking of sawing off the head of the screw, and by applying maximum pressure downwards with a screwdriver or a pointier tool on the ridge of the insert holding it down, I’ll be able to unscrew the screw. What do you think?

Thanks in advance,

A: Hi Simon,
What I would try is wedging something between the rivnut (the insert) and the frame to jam the insert in place. Most of them are just rivets, so to tighten them, you squeeze them tight against the frame again. Since you can’t do that until the cage is removed, you can try putting a shim in there, which is essentially the same thing as tightening the insert.

Maybe make a little wedge-shaped shim and slide it under. Maybe make it with a V notch so as you tap it, it goes under both sides of the insert. If you can tap a shim like this under the insert, that should help hold it, but in order to get the screw out, you’ll need to hold it with a ViseGrip or some tool like that (locking pliers) so that you can pull up as you turn the screw (angling it sideways can help, too).

Another idea is to try heating the screw first and letting it cool. If you could get some heat to travel down the screw and perhaps expand the screw, when it cools, it won’t be gripping the insert so tightly. Don’t burn your paint, though.

Bike shops should have a tool for tightening the insert back in the frame – or removing yours and putting in a new one. But, you might need to go to a Giant dealer, since it’s a Giant frame. They might have a way to get the screw out too. You could call your local Giant dealer and ask.

Be sure to also check out Park Tool's webpage on dealing with loose bottle-cage rivnuts and getting screws out. It even has a cool tip for using a quick-release skewer and hub to make your own rivnut tightening tool!

Hope this helps you fix this problem,

Q: I stumbled across your www, Jim. I have a bike where the handlebars are above the saddle I purchased it to start exercising. I am 22 stone (308 pounds) and am finding it hard to get a comfortable saddle. I read your extensive articles about bicycle seats. What do you think would be a good one for me? I have a wide cushion at the moment.


A: Hi Steve,
The best way to find a seat you like is to visit a bicycle shop that has a good selection and then actually sit on them on a bike to see how they feel. Most good shops will let you bring a seat back if it doesn’t work for you. So, you could try out what they recommend, and what feels good in the store, and then if it didn’t work, you’d be able to return it and try another one.

When you ride in an upright position you typically need a wide seat since more of your weight is directly on it. It might be that the seat you have doesn’t fit you quite right since everyone’s body is a little different. That’s why it’s so important to try seats. If you brought your seat into the bike shop with you, you could compare it to the seats they offer and try something slightly different.

You can also think about what shape might feel better by thinking about what parts of the seat you have now bother you. You want the seat to support your sit bones and not interfere with your legs when pedaling. You also don’t want pressure on sensitive areas. Since seats all have different shapes it can take some experimentation to find the right one. But, if the bike shop has experience in seats, they should be able to see what you have now, listen to what’s bothering you about it, and then be able to suggest a replacement that will solve these problems.

I hope this is helpful and you find a nice, comfortable seat. There are a great many to choose from so keep trying,

Yours in cycling,
Q: Hi Jim,

Here is my situation. I live in Philadelphia and just met this really great guy about two weeks ago. He is a cycling enthusiast and works at a bike shop. It is his birthday in a few days and I thought a nice gift would be a copy of the August 1, 1983 issue of the New Yorker magazine (bike shop scene on cover) featured on your site. I have checked eBay and the internet with no luck. Any suggestions on how to get my hands on a copy of this? Or if not, any other suggestions for a 31 year old bike enthusiast on his birthday?

Thanks for any suggestions!


A: That’s one of the most popular covers in my collection, Olivia, and one of my favorites, too. It’s what started me on collecting The New Yorker covers in the first place, and I'm sure your cyclists friend will love it as a gift.

To get a copy, the first option is to simply print that cover from my site. I've gotten feedback from people who've done this with good printers and they say it looks great in a frame over their desk.

The next option would be to visit the New Yorker site and print it from there, where it's even larger. You can also purchase a reprint of the cover. Visit this website and you should be able to find it and purchase it.

Best birthday wishes to your friend. Hope he loves the cover.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Q&A: Broken-Spoke Fix, MTB to Road Rings, Cleats & Slipping Gears

Happy Tour de France season everyone. Hope your cycling summer is in full spin. Here are some recent technical questions and answers I think you'll like.

Q: Hi Jim,
I have a pair of Rolf Prima Elan Aero wheels and am about to change a dinged spoke. I am a competent mechanic and have successfully built standard wheels before but have never delved into the ultralight, high-tension, paired-spoke designs. I am looking for any guidance you might offer, but my specific concern is the effect of removing the single spoke without detensioning the whole wheel (something I don't really want to do). The spoke in question is just slightly dinged (and I don't trust it to ride on) but the wheel is completely true. Do you see a problem with just swapping out the spoke?

Thanks for any help... keep up the great work,

A: Great question, Tracey,Hold the rim in place with a toe strap
On the spoke - if it just has a tiny nick, it’ll probably hang in there indefinitely. I’m riding on 8 spokes like that right now and just haven’t got around to fixing them. A stick jammed in my rear derailleur and that brought it into the wheel, munching the spokes.

Mine are DT Swiss spokes, which are very strong so I’m betting they won’t break even though they’re all gouged pretty good – but I do have 32 spokes in this wheel, which is a lot and that helps.

So, to be 100% safe, you would replace your spoke. As long as you don’t cut the bad spoke out you shouldn’t do any damage to the wheel removing it. Just unscrew the nipple slowly and surely and remove the bad spoke. Then, install the new one. Be sure to lubricate inside the nipple and the outside of the nipple so it turns nicely on the spoke threads and on the rim, too. Also, press the hub end of the spoke down so it seats on the hub in case there’s any extra bend.

Next just gradually bring that spoke back to tension. Do this by ear. Pluck the spokes on the same side and listen to their pitch. Then tighten that new spoke until it makes the same pitch when plucked. In most cases, when the pitch is the same, the wheel will be nice and true as before. You probably won’t have to do any final truing - or just a tiny bit.

If you are really worried about stressing the rim removing one spoke, you could do this (photo): put the wheel back in the frame and turn it so that the bad spoke is right next to the seatstay. Then, wrap a toe strap (or tie) around the rim and stay on the same side as the bad spoke, and snug the toe strap. The toe strap will keep the rim from moving when you remove the spoke.

This will prevent any possibility of damage to the wheel at all and make it even easier to install and retension the new spoke,

Truely yours,

Q: Hey Jim, I have a Trek mountain bike. I have slick road tires on it because I do road riding; no trails. I can get up to 20 mph at around 90 revs per minute. I would like to go from the 3 stock chainrings to two road-bike chainrings. What 3 chainrings - not brand, but how many teeth on the small one and how many teeth on the large one should I use? I live in Jacksonvile, Florida: Flatsville.

Thanks for your help!

A: This is a little tricky to answer because I’m not sure what model front derailleur you have on your bicycle or what chainring sizes you have now or what chain length you have, either. You might be able to just change the 2 larger chainrings on your bike to larger ones and simply raise your front derailleur higher on the frame to get it to clear the new, larger rings. But, usually if you go to significantly larger chainrings, you will need to add links to the chain too.

For example, a common mountain-bike triple-chainring combination is 22/32/44. Standards for the road are 39/53 and 34/50 (called "compact" chainrings). First you need to see if you can find road chainrings that will fit your MTB crankset (bolt patterns differ). And, then you need to make sure that you can raise your front derailleur enough to not bump into the largest chainring. Sometimes they can be raised easily and sometimes they can't.

Another option would be to change to a true road double crankset. For this, you would probably need to install a new road bottom bracket to go with it. That’s the bearing assembly in the frame that the crankset attaches to. That’s usually required because the double crankset sits closer to the frame than the triple.

You’ll also need a new front derailleur that works with the road double crankset since you have a derailleur made for triple cranksets now. And, you might need a new left/front shift lever to get the shifting to work right.

So, the easiest thing to get higher gearing will probably be to figure out what the largest chainrings you can put on your bike are that won’t require a new front derailleur. You will still have 3 chainrings, but 2 will be bigger and give you the higher/faster gearing you want. A good bike shop should be able to look at your bike and help you find the right rings so that this upgrade doesn’t cost you too much.

Another way of looking at this is that if you mainly ride on the road and don’t plan to ride off road, instead of making any more changes (spending any more money) to your mountain bike, you could reinstall the stock knobby tires and sell it as a nice, used mountain bike. Then you could take that money and purchase a nice road bike that was ready to go for real road riding.

That makes sense because no matter how many changes you make to your mountain bike, it will always be designed mainly for off-road use. Lots of people turn mountain bikes into pseudo road bikes, but, while they work fine, they won’t match the performance of a true road bike. So,if you really want to ride the road a road bike makes the most sense in most cases.

Have fun dialing in your bike,

Q: Hi Jim,
I am looking at replacing my worn out Diadora road cycling shoe with a pair of new Sidi’s. I have had the Diadoras for a while, having had them professionally fitted in a bike store using a bike-fit platform, where they marked the ball of my foot and corrected the orientation of the cleat to the shoe.

I was wondering if there was a way I can achieve the same result myself without having to consult the bike store again?

As a racing cyclist I have used the fit and adjust method over the years. That is, I have fitted the cleats where I think they should sit on the shoe, fixed them tight then ridden for a while, making slight adjustments each time. Obviously this method is far more time consuming than having them professionally fitted.

Appreciate your feedback.

A: Nice to hear from you, Tony, and sure, you can fit your cleats yourself to your new Sidi shoes. All the new space-age fitting methods are pretty cool and very helpful for people who need them, but people have been fitting cleats to bike shoes for a hundred years without them and doing just fine, so they’re not essential.

There are only 2 steps: 1) get them in the right position so the ball of your foot is over the pedal axle; and 2) make sure they are at the right angle so that the pedaling feels neutral (no pain or discomfort in your knee).

I have a cycling shoe cleat adjustment page on my website with more detailed step-by-step instructions you can follow here

Hope this helps and let me know if you have any questions!

Q: Hello, Jim. I really enjoy your website and have referred it to others like myself who are just getting into riding. I like to ride but can't get used to all the shifting so I always stand when climbing a steep grade. And all the slipping, etc. makes me uncomfortable. I'm 57 and too old to change my ways. There are bikes I've seen sold with rear hub gears. But with only 7 or 8 speeds that these drivetrains have, will I be able to adapt to the selected ratios given, compared to a 21- or 27-speed road bike? How much difference in the gearing is there?


A: I’m not sure how to answer your question, Tracey, because you said you can’t get used to shifting your bike, but then you said it’s always slipping. A bicycle’s gears shouldn’t slip. That suggests that they’re not adjusted correctly. And, any gears, if they’re not adjusted correctly (even bikes with hub gears) will give you problems.

So, the correct solution is probably not to spend a bunch of money buying a new bike to get a different gearing system that can also slip, but to have your bicycle checked out to adjust it and stop it from slipping.

So, that’s one option. But, when you said “slipping” you might have meant that you just don’t like the way derailleur gears work. They work by moving the chain across the different gears. This can feel funny if you’re not used to it, or if you don’t know how to shift correctly. The key thing to remember is that you need to keep the pedals moving in order to shift, but you NEVER put any pressure on the pedals during the shifting. You aren’t pedaling to move the bike down the road. You’re just pedaling super easily to move the chain so it can climb onto the next gear. You wait for the chain to find the gear and seat on it, and then you can apply pressure to the pedals again.

If you try to shift when you’re halfway up a hill and you have pressure on the pedals to climb the hill, the chain could slip or make noise. The key is to shift BEFORE that steep part so that you can take the pressure off during the shift, let the chain find the next gear and then you can apply pressure again.

The more modern the drivetrain the smoother the shifting. But, it has to be adjusted right too. Bikes sold by bicycle shops will be adjusted right. Bikes sold by department stores will not be adjusted right (they don’t employ bicycle mechanics).

If you don’t like the feel of a derailleur drivetrain, with the chain moving all the time, or don’t like having to shift right and left levers, a hub gearing system can be a nice alternative. These have been around forever and they work great. But you’re right that they generally provide fewer gears. Typically you have one lever on the right side and 3 to 8 gears available from the rear hub. You simply click the lever and with each click one way it gets easier to pedal, and harder with each click when you move the lever the other way.

Hub gearing typically comes on bicycles that weigh more than the same bike with derailleur gears and more weight means more effort to pedal the bike. So, it really depends on where and how you ride your bike in determining whether hub gears make sense or not.

They’re pretty ideal for shorter, flatter rides and utility cycling where you ride into town and back or around town. They’re not so good on hilly terrain or long rolling rides where you need to shift a lot and use a wider range of gearing. Note that hub gearing comes close to having the same low and high gear as a derailleur drivetrain but there are less choices in between that high and low since you only have 8 gears, or so.

If you told me how you plan to use this bike, I would be able to better answer if hub gears make sense for you. But, the other thing you could do is visit a bike shop with these bikes and take a test ride to see how you like it on one of your rides. I think you’ll really enjoy the shifting since it’s much simpler than derailleur shifting. I just don’t know if it will provide the gearing you need for the typical riding that you do.

My hub-gear bikes are my city bikes. I wouldn’t take them on a 30-mile hilly ride, but they’re great for getting around town, to the beach and all over the neighborhood.

To smooth shifting,

Q: Hello Jim,
I've started commuting again on my bike after a layoff of a few years. So I'm doing my tune-up today in the sunshine. Your website is very helpful, I'm really learning a lot.

I have one problem. I cannot adjust my rear brake cable at all. I think this is because when I got the bike a decade ago, I had the drop handlebar fitted from my previous bike, with the safety levers (which I do like). But the rear brake caliper wasn't changed, so I have no adjuster on the lever and no adjuster on the caliper.

So how can I tighten the rear cable? Any suggestions? Strangely, there is an adjuster on the front cable, above the caliper, with a lever to loosen it.

Hope you can help,

A: Hi Jon,
Congrats on commuting by bicycle again. Good for you! Here are some tips on your brake:

If a brake has no adjuster, the way to adjust it is with the cable. So, what you do is keep trying different cable adjustments until you get the brake operating the way you like it. You do this by loosening the cable anchor bolt on the brake and pulling the cable through to remove slack, or letting a little cable slide through to create slack so you have more room between the brake pads and rim.

One adjustment trick that may help you is to make shims or spacers – 2 pieces of cardboard work nicely. Take these shims and put them beneath both brake pads. Now, hold the brake closed, pull on the cable to remove all slack and tighten the cable anchor bolt. Next remove your cardboard shims. That should give you a nicely adjusted brake where the pads clear the rim and still offer nice, powerful stopping power too.

Hope this gets those stoppers working great!
Jim Langley