Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TECH TIPS: Hands-Only Tire Installation contin.

I received some fun feedback on yesterday's post on installing and removing bicycle tires by hand only - no tire levers needed. A common theme though was doubt - people like the idea but doubt it's possible with their tire or wheel. So, I thought I'd elaborate a little and provide a few more tips to help people get past that.

Actually, when I got my first real bike shop job at Andy's Bike Shop, I didn't think I could pop tires on and off by hand either. But, my boss Bruce Anderson showed me how and made it very clear that I had to fix flat tires as quickly as possible. So I had to master the hands-only technique. Once I knew the secret of the rim well (illustration, right), it wasn't that hard. Plus, the other mechanics in the shop would have ridiculed the new guy had I cheated and used tire levers and I sure didn't want that.

There are things that make the job much harder: it's important to put a little air in the tube to keep it from getting trapped beneath the tires during installation. But, once you've got one side of the tire on and the tube inside the tire and up on the rim all the way around, the air in the tube makes it harder to put the other side of the tire on. So, be sure to let it all out. That'll make popping the tire on by hand easier (but be sure not to let the tube get beneath the edge of tire). Likewise, when removing the tire, be sure you go around and squeeze it and press the valve tip and get every bit of air out.

When I was the service manager at the Bicycle Center in Santa Cruz, one of my mechanics used to say to the other guys when they were getting frustrated trying to fix something, "Now, Fred, remember, you've got to be smarter than that front derailleur" (or whatever bike part they were annoyed at). I always liked that, and it holds true for bicycle tire installation and removal too. If you come at it with confidence and focus and use the mechanical principle of the rim well, you will succeed. If you get frustrated and turn it into a wrestling match you probably won't.

Another thing that makes it much harder: If the tube is too wide for the tire and has to be stuffed in there and doesn't want to stay, switch to one that's narrower than the tire. That helps a lot. Thornproof tubes, which have thick rubber on top, make it much harder too, and I'd ditch them, unless you really need them because without them you'd have flats all the time. Another item that can make it more difficult is a thick rim strip - that rubber or cloth liner covering the holes inside the rim. Ideally it will be made of a material only 1 or 2mm thick, like a Jantex or Velox cloth rim strip. Or you can use tough filament packing tape if you don't want to buy an actual bicycle rim strip.

Hope these additional tire taming tricks help you master this fun, impressive and professional technique! As a bonus, here's a little flat tire humor.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

TECH TIPS: Hands-Only Bike Tire Installation & Removal

When I "work" at cycling camps like Lon Haldeman's PacTours, one of the most popular things I teach is easy bicycle flat tire repair. The "easy" part is taking the tire off and putting it back on using your hands only; no tire levers. It's the easiest, fastest and most fun way to install and remove bicycle tires, and it's the way they were made to be put on and taken off.

It's easy for me to show you how to do this in person, but it's not so easy to explain it - even with a video. So I asked my friend, cyclist and illustrator Karl Edwards to draw what I described to him and I can now show you this great illustration that depicts the hand positions and how you get the tire on and off the rim using the mechanical principle built into all bicycle tires and rims.

I also put together a fun webpage explaining it in detail with tips and another key illustration.

Watch out, though: once you master the technique and demonstrate your speedy, effortless, flat-tire mastery on rides with friends, you may become the designated tire-changer and have to fix everybody's flats!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Q&A: Brake hoods, if it ain't busted, broken spokes, pain x 2

Eeew, gummi bear hoodsQ: Thought this might be a good question for your blog, Jim. I’m sure you’ve come across this plenty over the years. I just picked up a nice barn-fresh Miyata 210 that I have put back into commuter service. Bike needed nothing but air in the tires and a little bit of lube here and there to get it back on the road, and it of course still needs a bath… my question is about the gum hoods on the brake levers – they’ve melted and bubbled up over the years, and now have the consistency of gummi bears. What is the best method of removing the old gum so I can get some shiny new ones on there?


A: That Miyata is a nice find, Campbell. I’m glad it’s found an owner who’s going to breathe new life into it and use it. Miyatas are sweet bikes that ride great. I sold a lot of those in the eighties. On your hoods, you might be able to slice a cut in one side and then peel them off carefully in one piece. If they fall apart and pieces remain stuck all over the lever bodies, try a benign solvent like isopropyl alcohol. If you wet the hoods being sure to get it beneath as much as possible - and wait a little bit, they should loosen letting you pick them off piece by piece.

You could also try WD-40 which has solvent in it. You’ll just want to clean the levers afterward so the new hoods don’t slip around. You could also get the hood bits off with a wire brush. The levers are aluminum so you’ll scratch them with the wire bristles but it won’t hurt them and you won’t see it when the new hoods are on.

For new hoods, you need to find a shop that has them in stock or you’ll need to ask them to order them. It may be tricky to impossible to find an exact fit, but the distributor named QBP has part #BR1181, which is a pair of Dia-Compe Cane Creek Standard Non-Aero Hoods in Brown and they look right for your levers. They should sell for about $10 per pair. Since this distributor has them, you might search online to see if someone sells them online. Or you might be able to call Cane Creek and ask them for a local shop that has them in stock.

They also come in black, and the black ones sometimes last longer than the brown (gum) ones, and may never get as bad as these did.

Note that for modern hoods, replacements are usually readily available. And, a tip to make new hood installation easy is to soak them in warm water for a few minutes so they'll be more compliant and slip right up and over the lever and onto the brake lever hood. If you can't find the hoods you need or want something unusual like a custom color, try Hudz hoods.

Enjoy that nice Miyata,

Q: Hi Jim,
I follow you on roadbikerider.com and appreciate all your information for roadies. I am 55 years old and put 2,000 miles on in the summer here in eastern Wisconsin. In 2007 I bought a custom made ID8 from Seven with Shimano Dura-Ace components. I have 4,000 miles on the bike. When I spin the crank, front and back wheels, the smooth sound is just like when I bought it. I am meticulous when it come to cleaning the chain and such. Should I have the bearings and crank in for routine maintenance even though the bearings run smooth? If it isn't broke should I fix it?


A: It's hard for me to know whether anything is worn out or not from what you wrote, Rick, but after 4,000 miles and 3 years of use, it would be smart to at least check things. A bike shop mechanic would probably be happy to take a look and let you know. It'll only take about 5 minutes and estimates like this are usually free if you don't choose or need to have any work done.

After 3 years of use and 4,000 miles you'd expect that you might need new tires, brake pads, perhaps a cable and maybe a chain and cassette. But, if someone really is meticulous and keeps the parts super clean and doesn't abuse the bike or ride in the rain, these parts can last a long time and may not need to be replaced yet.

Measuring chain wearYou didn't say whether you had replaced the chain. But, if you're still on the original chain, one quick way you can gauge wear and tear is to measure the chain. If it's in good shape you'll be able to measure exactly 12 inches between 2 pins. If you do this and get 1 1/8 inches or longer, it tells you that you've worn out the chain and that's a sign that you might need other parts equally worn replaced.

Note that the sealed bottom bracket bearing assembly can last a long time. If the crankset still spins smoothly with a slight hydraulic resistance it's probably still fine. One more thing - if you are in the flat part of Wisconsin and don't climb steep hills much, that reduces the wear and tear on a bicycle too.

Hope these tips are helpful and thanks for your kind words about my writing on RBR. I appreciate it,


Q: Jim - I ride a Fuji Absolute 4.0, Jim, and am constantly breaking spokes and retruing wheels, especially the rear. I have taken it to two different shops and they both said there are no mechanical defects. I am very careful about bumps, terrain, RR tracks, etc. I have heard that certain rims are rated to handle specific loads but the shops do not agree. I am 6'2"/225lbs. The rims are Alex ID 19.

Any ideas on why the spokes are breaking and the best fix?

A: Hi Kent,
Yes. When you break spokes, the issue is almost always bad spokes. I would recommend having the spokes replaced with quality spokes. My favorite are DT 14-gauge stainless steel spokes. You’ll want to find a shop that has a good wheelbuilder and just have him rebuild your wheel with these spokes. Phil Wood and Wheelsmith also make quality stainless steel spokes, but go with one of these types, and I prefer DT (from Switzerland) just because I've been using them the longest.

The other way to deal with broken spokes is to fix the spokes one at a time as they break, replacing them one by one with the DT stainless spokes. That will work too, but it will mean that you keep breaking spokes. So, you will keep having to bring the bike in, or learn to fix the spokes yourself and carry some spokes on longer rides so you can fix one if it breaks. It’s pretty easy to do it if you have the tools to remove the cassette so that you can put in the new spoke.

Here's a tip that makes it so easy you can almost do it blindfolded: Once you have the broken spoke out and the new spoke in, to true and tension the wheel, just tighten the spoke nipple and pluck the spoke to listen to the sound it makes. When it makes the same pitch of ping when you pluck it as the spokes next to it make (on the same side of the wheel), the rim will be reasonably true and tensioned and the wheel ready to ride on.

Happy wheel truing,

Q: My name is Kraig and having started riding 3 1/2 years ago I am having some mid-upper back problems after cycling. I found your website through a friend and saw your email address and thought I'd drop a line to see if you had any suggestions. I am riding a Specialized Tarmac that was fit by my LBS (Specialized dealer). I experience no discomfort while riding but usually later in the day or more often the next day I notice my mid-upper back is stiff and my rear right calf has discomfort. I have seen a sports med Dr and he said the calf issue is related to the back. Without having fit me do you have any suggestions?


A: Nice to E-meet you, Kraig. Why don’t you start by taking a look at these two articles on my site. They are designed to make it relatively easy for anyone to fit themselves on a bike or find basic fit problems:

This article is a step-by-step bike fit. By reading the steps you should get a feel for whether you got a good fit or some steps might have been missed. This article is more basic. It’s problems and solutions for bike fitting.

In my experience, mid back issues after cycling can be because the distance between your seat and your handlebars is too close. This will cause you to crunch, or bend too much, sort of putting a kink in your back. Ideally when cycling you will have a nice, straight, relaxed back, no curvature except what’s natural for your back.

So, the fix might be as simple as getting a longer stem that lets you stretch your back out to its natural position.

One no-cost way to test this theory is to put your bike on a trainer and then ride with your hands way out on the brake hoods as if they were the handlebars. If this feels more comfortable it’s an indication that your bars may be too close because of too short a stem.

That’s just one idea, but it is a common cause of middle/top-of-the-back pain. Check out my bike fit articles and think about this and let me know what you find and I’m happy to suggest other things as needed.

Hope this helps get you riding pain-free!

Q: Hello Jim,
I ride a Specialized Roubaix road bike and have a problem. No matter how I adjust my saddle, fore/aft, height, tilt, I always seem to get skin irritations in the perineum area after about 20 miles. Even when I change saddles (Fizik Aliante, Selle Italia Prolink Gel Flow) I still have the same problem. However, the redness and discomfort spots are only on the left side of my body.

I recently had my chiropractor measure my legs and found my left is 1/8-inch shorter than the right. Would saddle rotation from center correct the problem and if so which direction should I turn the saddle nose and how much?

I don't use a chamois cream but have thought about Bag Balm but am afraid that it won't wash out of the chamois with machine washing. Do you have any other suggestions to correct the problem? I'd prefer to fit on the bike correctly rather than use a cream to cover up an existing problem. I have been professionally fitted, explained the problem, but never received advice that corrected it.


A: Since it’s the one thing you haven’t tried, Richard, I would recommend trying the chamois lubes like Chamois Butt'r. Many road riders swear by it and apply it before every ride. Many won’t ride an inch without it, too. And, I’m talking about regular century riders and even pro racers. It washes out of the chamois, but it’s antibacterial and usually made to soften and preserve the chamois, not harm it in any way.

I would try that and see if it solves your problem. You are riding a really nice bike, and nice seats, so I don’t think the problem is equipment based. Sometimes the shorts are the culprit but I assume you’ve tried quality shorts and had the same issue. If not, try a premier brand like Capo. They’re way expensive, but it’s like sitting on a cloud.

I wouldn’t worry about leg-length discrepancy unless it was a lot more than 1/8 inch. Your body can easily adapt for small differences and 1/8 inch is nothing to worry about in my experience. If you were an inch off, it might make sense to experiment. One very quick check is to look and see if your seat is wearing away on one side and like new on the other. That’s a classic sign of one leg reaching while the other leg is bending. But, I’ll be surprised if you have this issue with one leg just slightly different. I’ve been told that almost everyone has some discrepancy.

Here, also, is a link to a page on the website roadbikerider.com, for which I also write. This page has a bunch of proven solutions for saddle sores that might help you too:

I hope the lube solves the problem,

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

NEWS - Matt Langley's Lawn-Mowing Trike

Ted Wojcik on the pedal powered lawn mower made for my brother Matt
I couldn't attend the Shimano North American Handmade Bicycle Show this year because it was held across the country in Richmond, Virginia. But, I followed the online coverage and found a nice surprise on the cool cyclelicious site: photos of my brother Matt's pedal-powered recumbent tricycle lawn mower (I had only seen prototypes up until now - and heard from Matt that they worked great)!

So that I could share the news about Matt's clever invention, Cyclelicious was kind enough to let me use their story here. The nice pics are by photographer Ed Ip who covered the show for cyclelicious. Here's their story...

"Ted Wojcik of Ted Wojcik Custom Bicycles talked with us on the first day of the 2010 Shimano North American Handmade Bicycle Show about a unique trike he brought to the show.

Cyclelicious - You’re sitting on a pedal-powered lawn mower. Can you tell me about it?

Ted Wojcik - It was made for Matt Langley of Portsmouth, NH [editor's note: Matt actually lives in Eliot, Maine]. His brother is Jim Langley, the chief Technical Editor of Bicycling Magazine from 1989 to 1999.

Matt says he has the world’s greatest talent for blowing up gasoline-powered lawn mowers. Matt had been dragging this reel mower behind a mountain bike. The reel mower part of this is marketed and sold to be pulled behind a wheel chair. We forget that people in wheelchairs need to mow their lawn too.

Jim said to Matt, “hey there’s a guy up by you who makes bicycles, go see him and see what he can do.” My son Cody is a recent graduate from Worcester Polytech. He’s a Mechanical Engineer. It was interesting working with my son and seeing what $200,000 worth of education gets you.

He did the whole thing, with my input, in SolidWorks and it was functioning in animation in SolidWorks before we cut a piece of metal. So, this was a very contemporary design and engineering project that an old Yankee like me got drawn into. This is the result. I’m very proud of Cody. I was a little bit pessimistic, but we put it together at the shop and took it outside. It’s been mowing grass since August.

C - Do you think that the process you used on this pedal powered mower will influence how you design bikes in the future?

TW - I’ve actually been using a simple CAD program for making bikes since 1990. One of my customers gave me a very simple CAD program and I used it to document all of my bike designs and categorize them. One bike transitions to another which transitions to another. So the computer part of it I was very open to. But I’m an old dog and new tricks are hard. It was easier to have my son use SolidWorks; he’s very competent with the software. It was neat to witness it.

This is the first public showing. Although whenever we had it outside of the shop, cars pulled in off the street to see it. You can also take the mower off it if and ride it for fun, though that’s not really the intention.

Now you can have fun mowing the lawnWe’re getting reading to make the second version of it which will be a little different. We’re going to make it a little shorter so it turns tighter. It has a multi-speed rear hub with a coaster brake, but we’re going to put a fixed gear ini it so you can back up. It really doesn’t need brakes. If you stop pedaling, it stops. With fixed gear, you can hold it back with the pedals.

We’re going to go ahead and make some. We’ve had so much interest in it here at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, we’re optimistic it will work out well for us.

This was very expensive to make. We’re shooting for between $3,500 and $5,000 for it. Hopefully it’ll work out. We paid $500 for the seat. By the time you add everything up, it was a lot of money to build this bike. Buying parts in quantity will help lower the cost.

We have some Wooster Polytech mechanical engineer students who are interested in interning. We’ll set up a production facility and try to make a couple of them a day. We’ll separate it from the bike business, but they’ll be associated. This will be a start up that we’ll go ahead with."