Sunday, June 29, 2008

Q&A: Flats, coaster brakes and getting into the bike biz

Q: I have a Specialized Roubaix with Mavic Kysrium wheels and all of a sudden I'm having problems with flats. I bought the bike last September and rode it all winter and didn't have any problems until it started getting hot. The flats occur from a cut at the base of the valve stem obviously from the rim. I called my local dealer and he said that it sounds to him it's from the way I air my tires. Since the tubes have the 60mm stems, he suggests that I drop down to the 32mm stem and possibly use a different floor pump. So I bought several short-valve tubes and a new Park floor pump. Yesterday I was about 7.5 miles from home and started to get a flat. When I got back home, there was a small cut at the rear tire valve, my favorite place. I changed the tube to the 32mm stem, and of course can hardly get the pump head on it, but I did and rode today without problems. The reason for the stem change: the bike shop indicated that I was damaging the valve when I filled it. I think I might try chamfering the edge of the valve hole in the rim so it can't cut into the valve. Think that would solve the problem?

Thanks for any input you can give me,

A: Sorry to hear about the flat hassles. You're on the right track with the idea to chamfer the edge of the valve hole in the rim. I would definitely closely inspect that area and make sure it's super smooth and can't bite into the base of the valve. I suspect that's the problem, not anything with the length of the valve or your pumping the tubes.

Another trick we used to have to use on certain rims is to take a piece of soft cloth and make a little hole in the center just large enough for the cloth to slip over the valve (a piece of cloth handlebar tape can work). This cloth piece needs to be just wide enough to fit inside the rim and protect the base of the valve on all sides. You slip it on the tube's valve and then install the tube and with a little luck your flats will cease. Believe it or not, at one time working at the bike shop I had to put these things on almost every rim to stop those recurring flats when I worked on all the French and British bikes back around 1973. Those rims were sharp back then ;-)

I think if you try these things you'll solve the problem. Simply chamfering the rims might do the trick. But I wanted to tell you the cloth trick since it works so nicely. Since other people with Kysriums aren't suffering constant valve cuts, I suspect you just got one that wasn't machined perfectly.

I should also ask if this recurring valve problem is happening on always the same brand and type of valve? If so, that might be a contributing factor - the design of the tube being not quite right for your wheel. But, it sounds like you've had the same problem with several different tubes which indicates it's the rim, not the tubes.

To flat-free rides!

Q: I have an AMG Roadmaster. On the side it says Skyrider Deluxe. We found it in an old shed but the brakes don't work. I'm just a girl so I don't know how to fix it but I can't afford another bike and this one was free. It's cute. It even has a headlight which doesn't work right now, but this cutie has been hidden for years. Can you help?
No Brakes in Ohio

A: Thanks for the question. That sounds like a fun bike. If it's a coaster-brake bike, there should be just one brake that's inside the hub on the rear wheel. To operate the brake you push backwards on the pedals. That's why it's sometimes called a "foot brake." If this is the type of brake you have on that bike, and it's not braking or slowing you down when you push back on the pedals, it's probably because moisture has gotten inside the hub and rusted or frozen the parts inside that make them work when you pedal backwards to stop the bike. If other parts on the bike are rusty, like the chain or handlebars or crank, that's an indication that the parts inside the hub may have rusted, too.

If you're lucky the rust might not be too bad and if you lay the bike on its side and spray a penetrating lubricant like WD-40 into the sides of the rear hub you'll be able to free up the parts inside. Try to get the lube inside the hub by spraying into cracks beneath the sprocket on the right and the dustcap on the left. Let the bike rest on its side for a few minutes to let gravity pull the lube in. Then do the same for the other side. After that, try pedaling the bike by hand and then operating the brake by hand. If you're lucky the lube will make its way inside the hub and will free up the frozen parts in there that let the brake do its job.

It might take a little while for the spray lube to loosen the parts, so be patient. Spray it a couple of times and let the bike lay on its side longer and with luck that might be all it takes to get it going again. Be sure to lube the chain if it's rusty, too.

If the lube doesn't work, the next step would be to bring the bike to a bike shop and have them take a look. The hub might need to be overhauled, which won't cost too much, assuming it hasn't been abused or damaged.

If you'd like to learn more about coaster brake hubs, this page on Sheldon Brown's bicycle website is very helpful:

Hope this helps!

Q: My name is Bud and I have been looking for an easier way to make a living. I have been a mechanic for many years and worked on pretty much anything from lawn mowers to semi trucks and held most auto ace certifications. I was talking to a friend last week who got me interested in getting a bike and getting back in shape. So I went to a local bike shop several times over the last couple of weeks and was impressed with the way I was treated and the way people working together got along. This got me thinking that maybe I would like to be part of this happy family. My question is - and I am open to any suggestions - how much money can a bike mechanic make and what types of certifications are available? Are there any training programs to get me up to speed as far as bike repair is concerned?

A: Nice to hear from you, Bud, and yes, there are schools you can attend to learn bicycle mechanics. One is and the other one is Those are the 2 best known ones. Some shops teach basic maintenance classes, too, and some community colleges often have programs teaching bike repair so people can take care of their own bikes. You can learn a lot with hands-on experience like this, and as an accomplished mechanic already you should pick up bike repair very quickly. I think you'll enjoy it, too.

As far as how much money you can make, it really depends on where you are and what skill level you're at and how much responsibility you have in the shop you work at. If you're the head mechanic you might be able to make $14 an hour or a little more if you're west of the Rockies where the cost of living and the pay is higher. If you're the Service Manager, writing up repairs, handling customers and running the entire shop in a major store with a high gross, you might bump that to $16 - $20 an hour or a little higher. But, that would be in a major shop. The smaller shops don't take in enough money to compensate employees like that. Generally speaking they will try to compensate you with things like wholesale on bike and component purchases, sometimes insurance (though that's not that common these days) and letting you attend bike events as possible.

Most of the people working in the bike industry are doing it because they love bikes. Not too many are making a fortune but they look forward to going to work everyday and enjoy being around bicycles, bike people and cycling. I've been in the industry since I was 18 and have enjoyed it immensely. I won't ever get rich, but I've been happy and relatively stress-free and healthy all these years. I was a mechanic for 17 years and loved helping people and the challenge of figuring out each new bike problem that people brought my way.

You might want to visit, which the National Bicycle Dealers Association website where you can read more about the bike industry and find out more about shops and how they work and where you might fit in. Most shops are looking for experience but if you show genuine desire to work and an interest in the work a good shop seeking quality help will pick up on that and give you a chance to learn the job. You may have to keep trying for a bit. It took me a while to get my foot in the door but once I found someone who would give me a try and not blow me off with 'but you don't have any experience,' I was able to demonstrate how much I loved bikes, how quick I could learn and what an asset I could be for their company.

You should go into the shop with that attitude and be friendly and confident and with a little luck you'll land a job and be able to learn under an experienced mechanic who can fill in any gaps in your bike repair knowledge. You're going to have skills from your other mechanics positions that you can share with them, too, so don't forget that. Sometimes bike shops only know bikes and it can be invaluable to have someone who knows about other higher-tech repair tasks. Don't hold it over their heads, but don't be shy about things you know that could save time, make repairs easier and make the shop more profitable.

Hope some of these ideas help and I wish you luck if you decide to enter the industry. Let me know if you need more help or have other questions.

Yours in cycling,

NEWSWIRE: Steepest Streets List

I found this webpage of steepest streets pretty interesting and fun and wanted to share it (be sure to check out the comments, videos and shots of cyclists and runners challenging the climbs). Here in Santa Cruz County, California, I'd say Bayona or Escalona, on the westside of town, and Rampart Road over in Watsonville, are among our steepest streets. On Rampart it's fun to ride down it to record your highest maximum speed on your computer. Without even pedaling at the top you will hit about 63 mph on a road-racing bike!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Q&A: Remove Crankarm, space-age gearing, chains & cogs

Q: I purchased a 70's vintage Puch mostly to tinker and learn some bike repair. The Puch has a crankset with a square-spindle on the bottom bracket. The arm is not attached by a bolt but by a nut which is threaded onto the end of the spindle. The threading protrudes to the extent that the crankarm removal tool I have will not allow me to thread it into the crankarm. Do you know where I might get a tool that will do the job? Other advice?

A: It sounds like you need a different crankarm remover, Mike, one where you can remove the threaded plunger that pushes on the end of the bottom bracket spindle. Most bicycle shops should have these tools for sale or you could try But, in the meantime, the easy way to get your crankarm off is to remove the nut and simply ride around your neighborhood. Don't go any farther than you want to walk home - and pedal gently. You want to loosen the arm, not have it fall off. If it gets too loose and you keep riding on it, you can damage the soft aluminum inside the crankarm because the bottom bracket spindle is steel and it will cut into the aluminum under strong pedal pressure.

Usually, a little riding will make crankarms loosen up quickly. If not, you could speed the process by spraying a penetrating lube like WD-40 in between the crankarm and the bottom bracket axle. That should do it!

Q: Jim - I was wondering why bike manufacturers haven't produced a rear cog (gears) that expands and contracts as opposed to one that shifts from small cogs to large cogs. It seems such a design would save a lot of weight since there'd only be one cog and maybe even allow for greater acceleration since the chain would always be in contact with the same cog.

Just a thought,

Q: Thanks for the question, Dan. Actually, drivetrains like you describe have been invented over the years. The most recent design like this that I know about is on a bike made by Ellsworth. The ingenious drivetrain is called NuVinci. Here's a link where you can read all about the technology behind the drivetrain: Note that they use balls instead of a cog but the principle is similar. I've ridden one of their bikes and it's a unique experience and very fun. This design adds a lot of weight which is often a problem with these designs, but it's sure cool, and it works nicely.

Q: Enjoy your site, Jim. I have a quick question. I've read that every time you change your chain, due to stretch, that you should also change out the cassette. Is this true or could I make the cassette last longer by changing out the chain more often (1/16" stretch vice 1/8").

A: Thanks for the question, Robert,
The cassette will definitely last longer if you replace your chain more frequently, in effect, well before it wears enough to wear the cassette too much. What happens is as the chain wears it also wears the cassette, and the more the chain is worn, the worse the wear is on the cassette cogs. So, if you install a new chain every 1,500 miles or so, you'll get more mileage out of your cassette.

I'll let you do the math, though. The decision is whether to simply ride the chain and cassette out together and replace both at the same time paying for the chain and cassette; or whether to install several chains before replacing the cassette. With the price of certain chains you may decide you'd rather just buy one chain and cassette as needed rather than going through lots of chains to extend the life of your cassette. Keeping the chain and cassette nice and clean and lubed will help a lot, too.

Some argue that the shifting is better and the chain is stronger and less likely to break if you keep it new and that may be true depending on how hard you ride or race. On my training bike I generally ride the cassette and chain out together and don't worry much about it. On my race bike where I want every possible advantage and where I run an expensive Dura-Ace cassette, I change the chain earlier to try to get a few more miles out of that way-expensive cassette. On my training bike I go with the much cheaper 105 10-sp cassette so I'm not that worried about it.

So, I agree with both schools of thought but exercise them according to which bike we're talking about.

Also, I don't agree with the blanket statement that every time you change a chain you need to change the cassette. It all depends on how worn the cassette is. Assuming the chain and cassette are both worn, then yes, you may need both. But, if you have a bike with a worn chain but a cassette that's not that worn, you can sometimes get away with a new chain. And, if you put a new cassette on a bike with a worn chain that will work, too. Not perfectly, but often good enough that you wouldn't know the difference. I just mention that because I don't like it when mechanics insist that you have to buy more than you really have to.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Q&A: Beating High Gas Costs by Bike

Q: With the gas being so expensive now I've decided to try bicycling instead of driving on some days. The problem is I don't have the money to buy a new bike but I do have an old ten-speed bike from back when I was in college. It's a Peugeot that's been sitting in my basement for many years. My question is if there's any hope to fix this old bike up and use it for riding around town and beating the high costs of gas? I noticed the tires are cracked and I see that they're 27-inch tires. Do they even make these anymore?

A: Great question, Ronald. In most cases old 10-speeds like yours can be tuned-up fairly inexpensively and will ride just as nicely as they did when they were new. I actually had a few Peugeots and would guess that you probably have a Peugeot AO-8 or UO-8, which were very popular bikes in the 1970s. I found a photo and catalog page of the first UO-8 so you can get an idea how it looked when new. It's from 1963, but the bikes didn't change too much.

1963 Peugeot UO-8 10-speed
The easiest thing might be to bring your bicycle into your local bicycle shop and have them tune it up. They should have the 27-inch tires if you need new ones (actually, these are pretty widely sold, even at some hardware and department stores), and they'll have brakes shoes, cables, new handlebar tape and the skills to lubricate the drivetrain, brake and derailleur pivots, true the wheels and fine-tune the shifting and braking.

Or, if you want to do the job yourself, you might find that if you simply pump up the tires, lightly lubricate the brake and derailleur pivots and the chain, the bike will be rideable. As long as it hasn't been stored in direct sunlight or in a damp place, it's possible that the tires, though tired looking, might have some life left in them. And, the tubes, which are protected by the tires should be fine, too. If the bike's been sitting that long the air will have leaked out but if you pump up the tires you might get lucky and find they hold air. Then you can test ride the bike gently and see what other repairs it needs. If it's anything you can't handle you can visit the shop and have a pro help you.

Keep in mind that you'll want a safe bike for riding to work around cars so be sure the brakes are working well. Often on an older bike the rubber brake pads harden. They may look fine but over the years they get too hard to grip the rims and offer much stopping power. It's usually a good idea to replace them. You'll also want reliable shifting so you can get up the hills and don't drop the chain. Shifting it on an easy ride around the neighborhood should tell you whether adjustments are needed, or not. If you're not sure, head to your local shop or follow these derailleur instructions on my site.

A few other tips: unless you can bring you bicycle into work with you, be sure to get a good lock, carry it with you and use it to protect your bike. Just because it's old doesn't mean it won't get stolen. Locks come with brackets that make it easy to carry it on your bike. Another helpful accessory for cycling commuters is a rear rack that you can attach a bag to to carry your lunch, a change of clothes, a laptop, etc. Or, you might choose to carry these essentials in a backpack or messenger's bag. The rack and bag make more sense if you're riding long distances. Carrying your gear works fine for shorter rides. But, as you ride further you can get sweaty and even a sore back if you're carrying enough stuff. When it's on the bike you hardly notice it. Lastly, ride safe. For example, a lot of people don't realize that when you ride on the road you should always ride with traffic never against and always obey the traffic laws so that you don't get hit. Most of the time you can find parallel routes to the busy ones that are more peaceful and fun to ride on, too. Here again your local bike shop should be able to recommend great routes for avoiding traffic choked roads.

Hope these tips help and you save a lot on gas costs. I bet you enjoy biking to work so much you do it more than you think,

Saturday, June 7, 2008

NEWSWIRE: Shimano/Campy 09; gift for dad

This week there was big news, official and unofficial respectively, from the two titans of componentry, Shimano and Campagnolo about their top parts groups for 09. The Campagnolo news, though more rumor than fact right now, is pretty interesting. They're said to be ready to introduce a new Super Record group with an 11-speed drivetrain. This may make you wonder where the race to have the most cogs will end, but if you think about the possibilities it seems like it could be a good thing. For example, maybe now climbers could have a 12-27 cassette that ends with better climbing gears as in a 21, 23, 25, 27 versus the current 21, 24, 27. That would be nice if it happens. You can read other tidbits about Campy's newest (details are sketchy) at Apparently the new group is going to be Super in another way... super expensive so it won't be for everyone.

Speaking of easier gearing for the hills, Shimano's new Dura-Ace group will now accept a 28-tooth cog. Also helping on the climbs, they've shaved grams from every component, now offer a Dura-Ace compact crankset, and have a new chain with dedicated sideplates designed specifically for smoother, faster shifting. This chain also includes a connecting link. No more tricky pins. Yay!

Equally pleasing, they've hidden the shift cables, too, and added carbon to the rear derailleur pulley cage for that high-tech look. Carbon is now used for the Dual Control levers, as well, so you get the nice warm feel of plastic when you handle them not the cold feel of aluminum, but you'll want to be a bit more careful how you lay your bike down. And, showing their engineering muscle, Shimano's new D-A cranksets feature a wild-looking hollow outer chainring now, plus their new bottom bracket is said to have improved seals, which hopefully means less friction than current models. A thorough report about the new group is here.Finally, just for fun, and since we're talking about new high-tech gadgets, maybe you'll get a kick out of Swiss Army's Swisschamp, a $425 pocketknife, the perfect gift for any geek dad for Father's Day. It includes a dizzying array of blades, tools and gizmos, like a pharmaceutical spatula, watch opener, thermometer, altimeter and even a hacksaw and chisel! Read all about it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Jean-Jacques Sempé illustration

fun A wonderful Jean-Jacques Sempé cycling illustration.
For a few more from my collection, click here.