Friday, December 30, 2011

BIKE REPAIR: The Penny Trick

Hope you're all getting ready for a fun New Year's celebration,

Here's a bicycle repair trick that I wrote about last week in my Jim's Tech Talk column. In case you missed it, here it is with wishes it comes in handy sometime in 2012. It has sure saved me some frustration and skinned knuckles over the years.

I didn't mention this in my column because I didn't remember until the other day, but the trivia on this nifty tip is that one of Santa Cruz's cycling visionaries, Ross Shafer taught it to me. He's the bike guru that created the company Salsa that you're probably familiar with. Great guy with an amazing bicycle background you can read up on.

Remove/install that part the easy way
With no further detours, here's Ross' Penny Trick - or how to outsmart ill-fitting parts (rather than them outsmarting you!

This trick is a cool way to deal with annoying fits, like a seatpost binder (the binder is the clamp built into the frame and used for tightening the seatpost) that’s so tight you’re afraid you’re going to scratch your pristine seatpost inserting or adjusting it, or a modern 2-bolt Shimano crankarm that’s stuck on the bottom bracket axle, tempting you to break out the big hammer and teach it some respect.

Don’t do it. Use this elegant trick. It works on single-bolt stems that are so tight you can barely get the handlebars in, too.

The photo shows the basic setup you want to achieve. It’s not possible with every component, but often you can remove the bolt(s), reverse one of them (see tip below) and thread it into the other side of the part. Just thread it in partway.

Then take a penny (or a dime if a penny is too thick - washers will work, too) and place it beneath the bolt to give the bolt something to push against. Make sure the edge of the penny doesn’t protrude to the inside or it will get in the way when you install/remove the component.

Now, by tightening the bolt little by little, it pushes on the penny and that opens the crankarm, stem or seat binder wider making a formerly impossibly tight part into an easy slip-on!

Tip: This is a little difficult to explain and with different components you’ll have to look at them and figure out whether it will work and how to make it work. Please study the photo to understand the principle. If there are 2 bolts, as on the Shimano crankarms, be sure to fully loosen or remove both bolts and don't drop and lose the little plastic keeper that's held by the inside bolt!

UPDATE January, 2012: Since writing this tip about the penny trick for installing tight-fitting bicycle components, Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly (one of my favorite magazines) has posted an excellent article on the penny trick (he uses a quarter or dime) for installing handlebars into stems. Yes, it's a no-brainer to put handlebars into modern road and mountain stems with removable faceplates. But the penny trick is for one-piece stems that are sized exactly right for the handlebar and can't be taken apart.

Friday, December 23, 2011

COLLECTIBLES: My head badges in Bicycling Magazine

Here's a quick scan of the artistic photo of a nice selection of badges from my collection, that San Francisco photographer Kevin Twomey took for the Jan/Feb Bicycling Magazine. It's not easy to get good photos of head badges and he took a winner here that I thought you'd enjoy seeing (I only wish my scan was better. I've asked Kevin if I can have a photo so I can improve the quality of this online version). I am always looking for interesting and historic badges so if you run across any in your travels be sure to let me know.

Happy Holidays!
This photo is much larger so be sure to zoom it

Thursday, December 22, 2011

BIKE REPAIR: Bar Taping Continued

Thanks everyone for the great comments on handlebar taping. I had mentioned that there had to be a better way to finish the job than using boring, old electrical tape, and a reader going by camp6ell told me that bike guy Frank the Welder in Vermont had made some copper collars to put a custom finishing touch on one of his machines.

I contacted my friend Captain Dondo (Don Cuerdon) - another former Bicycling Magazine colleague. He lives in Vermont and hangs out at Frank's shop. And the result is that Frank sent me this photo showing his beautiful handiwork. Frank wrote: Here is a pic of the copper tape ferrules mentioned by Camp6ell. They are made of copper tubes drawn over progressive arbors to the final size. The tape is double cloth.

I would like to know how Frank's ferrules work, whether they slip over the bars and then are slid sideways to cover/finish the tape, or if they have a tightening mechanism of some sort. I love how they look. It makes sense to me that if the handlebar tape companies go to the trouble to make handlebar plugs with their logos on them and sometimes even nicer decorations, that they could also make much nicer tape "finishers" than the simple tape strips they provide (that rarely stick for long anyway).

Frank's are beautiful. I could see some made of polished, hammered aluminum, like the Honjo fenders sold by Jtensha studios. Or even ones made of sterling silver! The trick will be how to tighten them and how to make them removable and reusable - that shouldn't be too difficult. I might experiment and see what I can come up with but it's been years since I did silversmithing in high school and college. If you make some or know of anything like Frank's please link us to it or send a photo.

Here's to custom tape jobs that set your bicycle apart like Frank's!

Frank the Welder's custom tape-finishing copper collars

Friday, December 16, 2011

BIKE REPAIR: Not Gift Wrapping - Bar Wrapping

Happy weekend pedalers,
Lately I've been thinking about wrapping handlebars (much easier than wrapping gifts I think), and it's among the most frequent and fun maintenance tasks on road bikes - so it's a good skill to work on and get good at. I taught myself how to do it and then learned the "proper" method working at a Schwinn shop in 1973. We sold 1,000 Varsity 10-speeds a year and taped every one the same way: top of the bars to the bottom of the bars.

Top-to-bottom or vise versa
To explain, when wrapping drop handlebars you have a choice. You can start at the top of the handlebars or you can start at the bottoms - the ends of the bars. Today, it's almost an absolute that you wrap bottom-to-top. Because this overlaps the tape like roof shingles.

And just like a proper shingle job keeps rain from getting under the shingles, wrapping handlebars bottom to top prevents the natural downward pressure of your hands from rolling and peeling your tape.

This photo is borrowed from the awesome BikeCult site
What's funny is that we didn't see many problems wrapping all those Schwinns the wrong way back in the day (the Varsity tape was a sticky vinyl unlike most tapes today and that helped).

Plus, taping that way results in a super-clean look since there's nothing on the bars except bar tape. The ends of the tape get neatly tucked into the handlebar end caps that press in when you finish the job (also called plugs).

Speaking of handlebar plugs, here are some cool ones in Speedplay's Museum. It's too bad that you don't find stylish ones like these anymore.

Electrical tape is for electricians not bicycles
When you wrap the "right" way, bottom to top, you have to do something to secure the ends of the tape at the top. Tape comes with finishing strips, two adhesive pieces designed to be used for this purpose. But, it doesn't usually work very well. So most mechanics finish a tape job with plain old, rather boring electrical tape, albeit sometimes in a fancy fashion wrapping several different colors to provide a custom look.

A quick aside: In the BikeCult fancy tape photo above, the master taper avoids the issue of peeling, unraveling tape, and also the issue of having to finish the tape at the top by criss-crossing/weaving the tape on. This creates that wonderfully whimsical tape job but it takes some patience and skill to pull off. Note that they used cloth tape (great-feeling stuff if you've never ridden with it). You can also do it with non-padded thin plastic tape. We used to do it with Benotto.

Another trick to avoid finishing at the top is to wrap from the bottom to the brake lever and from the top to the brake lever and then hide the tape ends at the brake lever beneath the hoods. But that one's hard to do too and I've never mastered it.

Make it stand out or hide it
The white finishing tape almost disappears
Like most mechanics I finish my bar taping jobs with electrical tape. To me it's important to finish with a single-width wrapped twice around the bar with the end hidden on the bottom.

Sometimes I will use a narrow strip on top of the first full strip in a contrasting color to add style points. But only if the tape job and bike call out for it. Often it looks best if the electrical tape is the same color as the handlebar tape and blends in when you're done.

Still, finishing with electrical tape bothers me. It's made for wiring, not bicycles, after all. You buy it in a hardware store not a bike shop. Now, you can alternatively glue the end of the tape to itself to finish a tape job, but it's hard to do it and have it look nice. And if the glue lets go, the tape comes loose and unravels when you're riding, which is a pain. That's the same issue when you use the provided finishing strips.

I should also note that some people like having the electrical tape as finishing tape because they feel it gives them something to fix things with if they have a mechanical while out riding. It could be used to patch a tire cut or to tape a broken spoke so it doesn't thrash your bike as you wobble home and so on.

The Rivendell way
But I am still thinking about a better way. Along that vein, watch this nice video to check out how Rivendell's wrenches finish the cloth tape jobs on their sweet rides. (The video won't display if you're reading this in your email, so please click the link to my blog to watch it.)

I might experiment with this technique on my bar tape with a colored nylon or plastic thread/string. Another thought is to make small carbon (?) collars that you would slip over the bars and tighten. Maybe I'll pitch that idea to a bar tape maker someday - a nice logo'd clamp like that would be a touch of class and they could make nicer bar ends to go with it while they're at it!

In closing, if any of you are using Lizard Skins DSP tape in a light color and have figured out how to clean it, I would love to know your secret. I have tried everything from water to acetone, from degreaser to bleach, and I can't clean mine. It's nice tape with a unique sticky grip and decent cushioning but not being able to clean it is a problem when you have a thing for yellow and white tape like I do. To see a pro mechanic wrap Lizard Skins tape really fast, watch this video.

Have fun with your bike this weekend,

Sunday, December 11, 2011

COOL BIKE TOOLS: Campagnolo Bicycle Stand

Good morning,
Today's bicycle eye candy is courtesy of Dale Brown of Cycles de Oro Bike Shop and the vintage road-bike online community Classic Rendezvous. Dale posted some excellent photos of Campy's rare Bicycle Assembly Stand, part #1102.

The only one I've ever seen is in their Catalogue n.17 and I've even heard people say they weren't sure Campy ever sold the stand to the general public. It's really nice to finally see one up close and personal and admire the details of the design and workmanship. There've been plenty of bottom-bracket style workstands, but something about the proportions of this one seem perfect. And I love that it has the identical finish to all of Campy's other fine tools and has their name on it, too.

If you spot one of these rare workstands in your travels and don't want it for yourself, do let me know about it as it's the proper complement to my Campagnolo Complete Tool Case.

Good luck with your bike projects today,

Saturday, December 10, 2011

VIDEO: Inventions: The SkyRide!

I've offered a lot of basic holiday cycling gift ideas, but here's a video of a truly unique one if you've got a large backyard and a kingly budget - the SkyRide!

Kind of like those water tanks that let you swim in place, it lets you ride around a track in the sky (or row). It also has practical applications should the infrastructure ever get built. It seems to me that it may make more sense as a personal than public device - and it looks like fun.

Here's a link to the video:

And, here's kind of a similar invention, the 1892 Mount Holly and Smithfield Bicycle Railroad - proving once again that when it comes to bicycles it's hard to come up with something that hasn't been dreamed up in some form before.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My New Old Bicycle: A Rex Classique 3-speed from 1971

My new old 1971 Rex Classique 3-speed (click to zoom)
I hope you're all getting ready for the holiday festivities and fitting your fun bike projects and rides in. It's been windy and cold here - at least by Santa Cruz standards.

This week I posted a couple of quick photos of my new old bike on Facebook, Google and Twitter and so many people liked them that I thought I'd do it up a little better here.

There's an interesting story behind this bike that I think you'll like, and a few more photos so you can see the details on this cool survivor from when Nixon was in the White House.

Five years ago
I lucked into finding the bicycle, a 1971 Rex Classique 3-speed - new and still in a box, albeit a water-damaged and torn container showing its age. But marked with Flying Scot labels so I knew who had manufactured the bikes (well, not really because there was this Flying Scot but I don't see any bikes like mine).

As far as I've been able to figure out, for at least 30 years, the bike had been living less than a mile from my house stuffed in the back of a garage with about 20 more just like it. I found out about it because in September of 2006, the homeowner asked my friend Elisabeth if she knew anyone who knew anything about bikes who would be willing to empty her garage and help her "do something" with the bike stuff that was in there.
Rider's view

Digging for treasure
I didn't realize what I was getting into when I agreed to help. Hoping to find a garage filled with bicycles, I arrived only to see an open two-car garage packed to the door tracks with household boxes, not a bike frame, wheel or cycling component in sight.

But the homeowner's two sons were there and they told me the bicycle story as we spent the next four hours moving the small boxes, drawn by the promise of two-wheel treasure.

From a NY bike shop to a Santa Cruz garage
They related that their dad and uncle had owned a small bicycle store in New York in the sixties and seventies and had closed it, packed everything up, driven west, settled in Santa Cruz and stashed their entire inventory into the garage when they first moved into the house.

Since then, their dad had passed away and the stash had pretty much been forgotten and buried deeper and deeper as the garage got more packed.

Matching metal fenders, chainguard and pump
When we finally removed the last row of regular boxes and reached the bike-shop portion of the garage, my heart sank. There was a pristine 1970 or so Peugeot AO-8 ladies bicycle, a decent Raleigh Super Course from the same era, many cardboard and small tin boxes full of Sturmey-Archer small parts, a few hubs and some Wrights leather saddles too.

But most of all there was bike junk - forks with missing blades, pretzeled wheels comprised of lousy parts, seats with broken rails, rusty department store accessories, worn-out pedals and other useless odds and ends.

The brothers surmised that their dad had saved everything because he was a child of the great depression and the thinking of that generation that didn't have anything, was to save everything. That sounded right to me. It was about the only explanation that made sense.

Bike boxes!
About then we saw the Rex bicycle boxes hiding in the shadows and standing on end - the wrong way to store bike boxes. I saw that there'd been a leak in the roof and water had been dripping on the boxes for years. Many had holes in them and you could see the bikes inside and some obvious serious rust damage.

Premium seating and plenty of carrying capacity
As we moved the bike boxes outside we discovered that some of the bicycles had been used as parts bikes and had been robbed of key components. Still, a complete inventory showed there were about 20 Rex Classique bicycles I thought would be buildable.

I'm still not sure about the brand Rex, but my best guess is that their bike shop had been unable to land a major brand like Raleigh.

During the bike boom of the early seventies only established shops would have been allowed to carry famous brands like Raleigh. This caused a lot of small shops to seek out bicycles however and wherever they could get them. I worked for a shop that had a copy of a Peugeot made in fact, and sold it under a made-up name.

Spec'd and ordered from England direct?
So, it's possible that these Rex Classiques may have been ordered direct from the Flying Scot factory and built to the NY bike shop's specifications. That would account for the 27-inch wheels (the standard wheel size used on 3-speed bicycles at the time in America was 26-inch).

It would also explain the two-tone paint, matching fenders, chainguard, quality seats and included bag, bell and pump - over-the-top spec for 3-speeds at the time.

Take them away, Jim!
Wing nuts and whitewalls
The brothers were so happy we had cleaned out the garage that they said that if I would help them pick out the two best bicycles for them and help get them running, they would just let me take whatever else I thought I could salvage and do with it whatever I thought was best.

I was happy to do that and within a few hours my backyard was the new home of the Santa Cruz Rex bike showroom.

Wanting to pass along my good fortune ASAP I posted an ad on craigslist offering the still-in-box bikes for sale in as-is condition, cash and carry only - and within a couple of weeks they had been passed along to 3-speed fans across California. The thought of these bikes that had waited all those years to see the light of day finally being ridden made, and still makes me happy.

My Rex
The bicycle shown here is one of the last complete ones. I still have four or five 25 inch-frame models but they are missing certain key parts. They would make a fun project and if you'd like one, just let me know and I'll give you the details and make you a nice deal.

Love that reflector
Mine was a long project because I wasn't in any rush to build the one I had put aside for me. It was almost as nice hanging onto it in the box in its original as-found condition and I didn't feel any need to put it together until I was good and ready. Recently I started thinking about how much fun it would be to build it, ride it and show it around.

After six years on hold, I took my time and enjoyed cleaning, regreasing, fine-tuning and dialing in everything just so. At the second bike shop I worked at, down in the basement where my work station was, my first task was assembling Raleigh 3-speeds. And working on this Rex took me back to those days even though the Rex is two years older than the Raleighs I built.

These British bicycles aren't like modern bikes are to build. You need British Standard wrenches to even properly tighten the nuts; you need to understand how to setup and adjust a Sturmey 3-speed drivetrain (and on a bike this old and forgotten, how to free up a hub frozen from lack of use).

You have to be able to correctly tension stamped-steel sidepull brakes so they center correctly and actually stop well (some people think they can't stop well, but it's all in the adjusting); you need to fuss around getting the sweet painted metal fenders and chainguard installed and rattle-free; and you've got to know how to regrease loose ball-bearing components, which is actually a lot of fun. (I'm happy to explain any/all of these things if you need help with your nice old 3-speed.)

Hitting the road
I set the handlebars low and sporty
The payoff is the wonderful ride of an all-steel English racer as they were called back when I was a boy and riding a funky Phillips fairly long distances across Massachusetts.

The 27-inch wheels and Michelin tires that would have been a deluxe feature back in this bike's time help smooth rough pavement for nice comfort. I decided to invert the handlebars from the usual upright position for a sportier look that also fits the reach of my long arms and large hands.

The previously locked-up Sturmey-Archer hub now shifts smoothly whether you're stopped at a light in traffic or spinning along some backroad, and the Wrights leather saddle is as supportive and comfortable as it looks and will get even better with age.

Along with other ride essentials, I'll keep a baggie in the huge Carradice saddlebag so that I can cover the seat should it rain. It's protected with leather treatment, but you don't want to take any chances with classic saddles like these.

Now we just need some tweed rides in Santa Cruz so I have some 3-speed friends to ride with!

Great rides!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Even More Holiday Cycling Gift Ideas

Happy another-shopping-weekend everyone,
Knowing how hard it is to find that special cycling something for that important pedal person in your life, I'm still hunting for unique and wonderful bike-theme gift ideas and I have a few more for you.

The first item that caught my fancy, the Kinekt Design Gear Ring - something I wish I had so I could distract everyone with it during our next Bike Committee meeting, can only be appreciated in action:

If you're receiving this blog post in email, you'll need to go here to watch the YouTube video to see the Kinekt Design Gear Ring do its thing.

The next idea comes via a comment to my last blog post. It's a custom top cap for a threadless headset from the company These caps are maybe the most noticeable part on the front of your bicycle.

I really like this idea because you see the owner's name on the caps of fine vintage French bicycles and I think it's a touch of class (actually a law in France - or at least at one time it was).

According to Kustom Caps, "Your message, your graphics, your design... anything goes with our Fully Kustom Cap." They laser etch it into the style and color cap you think your buddy will love and their two-wheeler just got a lot cooler.

And speaking of fine French bicycles, here's a related list of gift ideas they might like.

Another company left a comment mentioning their gift selection at The most interesting gift I found on their catalog is something I've actually tried, their Blip Seat, which is comprised of recycled mountain bike tires.

At the Interbike show this year they had these all over the place. They're sort of a bike fanatic's bean-bag chair, compressible and comfy and easy to roll around. They also have some other knick knacks worth checking out.

Lastly, I wanted to mention one more time Andrew Ritchie's greatly updated and thoroughly engaging bike history book Major Taylor, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World. Sooner or later someone is going to make a proper movie out of Andrew's book and it's going to take the world by storm, both everyday viewers and bike nuts like us.

Until that happens it's a must-read story of arguably America's first superstar athlete. I've read Andrew's first book and this update and the additional photos and information in the second book make it read almost like an entirely new story. I can't recommend it enough and think anyone will be spellbound following Taylor's life. Highly recommended. You might want to get one for yourself. The books are currently on sale, too.
Good rides this weekend!