Old Tech
Friday March 26th 2010, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Advice & Tips,Observational Review

Throughout my time in the industry there’s been a few absolutes I’ve picked up from customers. You know things like, snapped chainrings occurring while “they’re just riding along.” Or “…but I just changed my chain last year!” The one I’m interested right now is the statement that they don’t use but three or four of their gears on their cassettes. This declaration is reinforced by the fact that their cassettes wear out quickly in only a few gears; usually those smallest few. I’m the same way when I ride. Only lately have I been making a conscious effort to use more of my cassette; and I’m not really sure why I am—I guess just to see what it’s like. Sometimes it just seems like an eternity dropping from 25 to 11, and that takes so little effort—forget about going the other way!

In all seriousness though, we’re up to eleven cogs on the rear wheel now, there’s electric shifting, and featherweight bikes. Seriously what’s next? (Hubless wheels? I hope not I’m still mad about loose ball bearing wheels going out of style). I don’t know what is next, but what I think would be cool to see are modern, lightweight 5, 6, or 7 speed drivetrains. Whoa, right? Let’s take it back for the enthusiast who doesn’t want all that futuristic complexity. It could be the hip thing to ride, not as simple as the fixie, but close enough. What if we returned to the days when there were only five or six cogs back there? Would we get a simpler system? Those dudes twenty, thirty years ago operated fine with that few gear choices, ever hear of a guy named Bernard Hinault? I wonder if a nice six speed cassette would still cost three hundred dollars? If it lasted as long as some of those old freewheels, I just might pay it. They could be built to last. Chains could be thicker again, and would therefore last longer too. There might not be as much waste and unnecessary “recycling” of materials.

Considering the rampant proliferation of new parts and components coming to market everyday, it likely wouldn’t be that difficult to fit this design into the current standards. (This, I’m stating, after giving the subject an entire thirty minutes of reflection). But really, what are the hurdles? The freehub body could be modified, i.e. shortened. New hubs would get widened to fit into the 130mm rear frame spacing. Bingo, a more simple, and likely stable rear wheel. I do sometimes miss using downtube shifters, but the integrated levers still amaze me at times. Not that we’d have to revert that far, someone could pretty easily produce some integrated lever with six clicks in it I’d think. Bigger ≠ better. More gears might not always be the answer.

This whole subject comes inspired—sort of—by my learning of SRAM’s new X7 2×10 mountain groupset coming out soon. Why is it called X7, I don’t know, but from what I’ve read it seems it’s a more economic version of their supremely well-designed XX groupset. XX is also pretty high-dollar gear. X7 is slated to be affordable. This concept I like. Essentially making a premium technology accessible to more people. They’re doing this with their road line-up too, they’re soon introducing their Apex road groupset. An economic offering of their premier groups of Red and Force. They might not be interested in appealing to a more economically conservative crowd, but Shimano may want to consider producing a reduced version of their new pie-in-the-sky Di2 electronic group if they want more people riding their gear. Elitism is that way by definition.

Frozen Solid
Thursday January 21st 2010, 9:14 pm
Filed under: Advice & Tips

Today I got to work on some wheels. Really just installing new—brass—nipples. I started the job yesterday, and was surprised and hindered by the lack of this tool at the shop; today I brought mine from home. It really makes the job of inserting nipples a breeze. This dude’s wheel was built with alloy spoke nipples and from all the corrosion or whatever, they were cracking and causing all sorts of havoc. So much so that when I was deflating the tire to start replacing them, another one snapped in half. Brass yo!

Anyway, I’ve not been working on—or building—many wheels lately, much to my dismay, so it felt good to sort of go through the process of lacing and building a wheel. The last time I really worked on a wheel like this I was investigating why my neighbor’s rear wheel wouldn’t stay tensioned. From what I could tell it didn’t look like any spoke prep or thread locker was used in the original build—difficult to determine to be sure, but for all intents and purposes the spokes wouldn’t stay tense. So unbuild and rebuild, just to be sure, I thought I’d apply a little spoke thread locker to each spoke.

I had a small bottle of DT Spoke Freeze on hand. The directions on the bottle indicates the following:

Instructions for use: after truing the wheel, apply to the nipple drop by drop

Seems simple enough, albeit vague. A little clarification would help, because using the bottle provided the act of dripping it “drop by drop” makes a huge mess all over your rim, and whether or not the liquid actually penetrates into the threads of the spoke/nipple interface is quite unclear. I’ve attempted to use the stuff a couple of times, never really coming to trust it.

Working on my neighbor’s wheel, deciding to use some liquid resistance, I looked in my toolbox to discover no options except the aforementioned DT product. Well, I thought, I’ll unwind the wheel to it’s extreme lowest tension and drip the Spoke Freeze into the head of the nipple with one of the hypodermic needles I use for lubricating. Seemed like a clean and straight-forward idea. Pretty quick process too.

Not quick enough however. By the time I finished dripping, drop by drop, and began spinning the wrench to add tension to the spokes, the liquid in the nipples had gelled almost completely solid preventing the spokes to turn any further into the nipples. Wow, lesson learned. What would have been a half hour job at most just became a two hour job of incrementally chipping out  the solid red cement and slowly tensioning the spokes a quarter turn at a time. My sturdy dental pick won the tool of the day award for that job. Tediously, the wheel was eventually brought up to proper tension, true and round. My intention through the process was to just leave some as much residual thread locker as would prevent unwinding spokes but still allow tensioning. It worked, and last I checked, the wheel is still straight and tight.

Moral of the story: follow the directions, if you don’t understand them, follow them anyway. Kidding—maybe look up the instructions online for more in-depth instruction (PDF). To clarify, DT makes great spokes, tools, hubs and rims, I’m a big fan; their Spoke Freeze WORKS, but from here on out, I’m using straight up Loctite or at the least Wheelsmith’s Spoke Prep; I don’t have much experience using linseed oil, or without any thread prep. What’s been your experience with these types of de-tensioning fluids?

Tubulars & Sew-ups
Friday October 16th 2009, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Advice & Tips

Tell me, why does the term tubular persist? Especially with the introduction to the bike world of tubeless wheels?

There’s tubular wheels, which are different from clincher wheels, which are mildly different from tubeless wheels. Right? Tubulars gets the glue, clinchers get the tube, and tubeless just gets what they all get: air. So. Am I the only one who’s bothered (not irrate by any means, nor even annoyed really) by the easily misspoken and too similar terms of tubular and tubeless? Clincher is different enough, easy to distinguish. And by all means, this distinguishment—to me—is easy enough visually and mechanically. But conversationally, it’s easy to misspeak and use the term tubeless when you mean tubular and tubular when you mean tubeless. (The latter is probably more common, but that’s splitting hairs.)

Again. So. Why isn’t the easy to distinguish clarifier not more commonly spoken. Instead of calling tubulars tubulars, why not call tubulars sew-ups? So far I’ve attempted to begin changing this nomenclature in the shop I’m now at and am finding that the term tubular is so ingrained in the discussions that it’s difficult even for myself to use “sew-up”. I’m trying though to turn the tide.




“Which sew-ups should I get for my new ‘cross wheels?” Tufo or Challenge? Vittoria of DuGast?

“Why can’t I get Racing Ralph sew-ups right now?” (Because they’re unavailable, Schwalbe has put them in re-development.)

“Why does everyone seem to think these Grifo sew-ups are the cat’s pajamas? Aren’t they just another sew-up?” (Actually, I didn’t know that about the Clement history, so that’s cool. Secondly, that’s a decently convincing review.)

“Why are sew-ups so expensive?” (They’re typically hand-made, that’s one reason why.)

Back to my point. (Maybe there’s something I’m unaware of, but from what I know these two terms are 100% interchangeable, so why don’t we use the less easily confused term to make conversation clearer? Wasn’t that interchange above easy to follow?)

The Pea
Wednesday August 19th 2009, 8:23 am
Filed under: Advice & Tips

As in the Princess and the Pea.

Ever have a customer who required excessive bike sizing attention? Who just needed that saddle adjusted one more time again, already after the previous four adjustments. It can be frustrating. It can be time consuming. As simple as the process is, there’s still the matter of selecting the bikes (sometimes a variety of sizes and models), there is the explanation involved (difference of components, frame shapes, materials), then the actual sizing (standing over, adjusting seat height, position, and angle, etc). It’s part of the job. But when a customer is overtly worried and emphatic about the size and fit of the bike, and admits to not know anything themselves, wouldn’t trusting—just a little—the advice and guidance of an individual in the industry be understandable?

The process by which I size someone on a bike isn’t a professional “bike fit” by any means, while it is a professional mechanic doing it, it isn’t a “bike fit” but merely “bike sizing”. There is a difference, right? The cost of a pro bike fit  taken into consideration, a shop mechanic’s guidance and advice should be valued to some degree as well. At least to the degree of following it somewhat?

As I understand it, a “bike fit” is a process that is typically paid for and a customer’s physiological dimensions are measured and applied to dimensions on a bike in order to reach the optimum in comfort and riding performance. (See Serotta, Fit Kit, etc.) This isn’t the same thing when a shop sizes you up on a bike, this process is far simpler and acts more accurately as a guideline alone. Stand over the top tube, got an inch? Good. Sit on the saddle, got some bend in the knee? Good. All other sizes and adjustments can generally be taken care of with saddle position, stem length, and at worst, crank length.

At the end of it all, isn’t it up to the customer to decide for themselves what the most comfortable bike to choose is? We’re bike mechanics, we don’t hold guns to people’s heads.

Back-seat Drivers
Tuesday August 18th 2009, 11:02 am
Filed under: Advice & Tips

Yeah, I want you standing over my shoulder–commentary, suggestions, and all–and you’re in a rush, so you want it quick. So, if it’s a flat fix, and it’s a rush, don’t request a hub adjustment on top of it.

You know how to work on bikes but don’t have tools. What do you think this shop is a co-op? It’s not, get on the other side of the counter and wait if you want the work done. Otherwise, invest in your own tools and do it yourself.

Here’s a suggestion: Don’t stress out the mechanic if you want service.

Preventable Danger
Saturday June 06th 2009, 6:49 am
Filed under: Advice & Tips

What is it called when you send a customer out the door with their “new” Technium single speed conversion that not only has the freewheel threaded on the fixed side of the flip flop hub, but also has 10×1 axle nuts on it’s 3/8×26 axle? Hmmmm.

Bad mechanics, a liability, and most likely a disaster waiting to happen. Not too safe a combination, especially when the brake housing is old and cracked as well.

I think I can safely say that a bike described as such would never leave my shop.

The other day a dude came in with his bike, insisting he needed new tubes and tires—on an old Nishiki—which he did, but more importantly he desparately needed new brake cables. His had only a couple strands left remaining, not to mention the pads were about an inch below his rim. Just wanting to ride fresh rubber, he adamantly refused and denied any further work. Were it my shop, I probably would have refused to work on it, but given the situation, all I could do was strongly advise he not ride the bike at all. And I explained this thoroughly on his work ticket and receipt.

People who know little about the mechanisms of a bicycle depend on us to not only make their bike fun and rideable, but also to make their bike safe when it isn’t. I think this must be some basic tenet of what a bike shop is; whether that shop be solely sales, boutique, repair, co-op, or whatever. We are responsible for, at the least, informing our customers of basic safety issues with their bike.

Hung, Hunged, Hanged
Wednesday May 27th 2009, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Advice & Tips

The bicycle hook is a common device seen in bike shops everywhere around the world probably. Especially in the repair area one can find a line of bikes hanging from a wall or ceiling, this is the holding cell for repairs yet to be started and repairs waiting to be picked up. At the shop I’m at, somehow we’ve got several sections of hooks devoted to new bicycle back-stock in addition to repair hooks; I call that the fleet (but that’s a story for another time though). One valuable thing I learned from UBI was numbering the hooks, this is for easy organization of finding a repair bike quickly. (This post isn’t exactly about that though either).

It’s the repair hooks that has the most action though, and therefore, different people remove and replace bikes from the hooks. The replacing, or act of hanging the bike has always been a point of contemplation for some reason. For visual purposes: this is a line of hooks, each of which supplies a location to store a bike, vertically suspended from the wall, or ceiling, by one of the bicycle’s two wheels. The contemplative questions: Which wheel do you typically choose to hang the bike from? What is natural? What makes more sense?


I’m no fanatic about this, but yes, I do have an opinion on this subject: the rear wheel. Hanging a bike—just about any bike—by the rear wheel makes most sense to me, it provides ease of hanging and removal, and if done properly and consistently, provides uniformity to the storage area. I’ll break this down: the rear wheel’s axle in many bikes sits in dropouts (horizontal or vertical), hanging a bike whose quick release might be open or damaged by the rear wheel will not easily result in a fall—the weight of the bike will rest on the axle in the dropout, or the chain in certain situations. Hanging by the rear wheel in this case provides a couple stages of redundancy against a falling bike. 

The action of lifting and rotating a bike to hang by the rear wheel is easier as well, once the bike is lifted off the ground with the rear wheel higher than the front, the handlebars and front wheel point automatically straight down. Whereas, hoisting by the front wheel, one has to manage a heavier weight swinging from the handlebars. Every time I try it this way I feel like I’m wrestling with the bike; I say, let the weight of the bike work for you, not against. 

I’m a fan of consistency, if all the bikes in a line are hanging the same way, it looks cleaner and more organized. When done otherwise, I see more bikes hanging at cock-eyed angles; I see this furthermore, when there are two bikes hanging by their front wheels next to each other.

All this reminds me of the conversation I had with a co-worker one day on this subject. At the time I was debating the similarity of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to the question of randomness of incidentally selecting the section of rim with the valve when hanging a bike. I’m still uncertain how applicable quantum physics is to hooking the rim at the valve, not to mention introducing spoke reflectors to the equation. Oh well, such is life in a bike shop.

Undercut Online
Wednesday April 29th 2009, 7:35 am
Filed under: Advice & Tips

Ever go into a shop and check out bikes only to find they’re out of your price range? Well, if you’re an insensitive ass, there’s a place for you online. I say “insensitive” because I’m being nice. I say “insensitive” because those places online are murdering local businesses, murdering those who want to provide good service and product and want to feed their families.

I’ve heard of it many times, but for some reason I’ve always neglected to visit the site. I will admit, I am pretty shocked at how inexpensive bikes are at bikesdirect.com. What am I missing? How are they able to sell these bikes so cheap? There’s an Ultegra equipped titanium cyclocross bike for 1700 dollars. Isn’t that insane? Do these bikes fall apart or something in a few week’s time? How is this possible?

Photo courtesy of bikesdirect.com

Two things. This bike is ridiculously priced. I’m almost tempted to buy one it’s so cheap—it almost beats any discount I get at the shop. But I won’t, because I want to support the shop I work for, I want to support the local economy and help feed the families around me. I’d rather support those around me who at least care about bikes in ways other than in a money making capacity. And here’s the second part: look at those levers on the handlebars. Is that just perspective, or are they really wholly misaligned? I’m a stickler for details because I think the multitude of minor details in any system contribute entirely to it’s successful operation—no matter the subject. To me, those levers are a major oversight that shatters any confidence that these people know what they’re doing. What else is wrong with the bike I can’t see in this picture? To photograph a product you’re selling, publish it, but not have the sense to make sure the product is correct speaks to me as pure apathy for your product. And that is something else I just can’t support.


* If you want to visit that site, feel free, but you’re going to have to type the URL in yourself.

Experiment Zero
Thursday April 23rd 2009, 7:13 pm
Filed under: Advice & Tips

I guess I’ve asked for it. Admittedly though, I’ve been calling it an experiment per se. Today I got a flat. First one in well over two years. That’s a pretty long track record I think. The pisser about it is I was towing the trailer. Full of groceries.

I had just inflated the tires the day before. This is where the “experiment” comes into the conversation. Inflating tires on this bike is a big deal to me I guess. I don’t do it very often. Yesterday’s starting psi (pounds/square inch) was a mere twenty. That’s 90 pounds shy of where it should be. I’m always amazed and vocal about it whenever I discover how low pressure I run my tires. It’s not for performance, I know that it rides slow when they’re low, but I get lazy. It’s the “cobbler’s shoes” all over again. Yes, I’ve been neglectful, this time with consequences. 

Well even still, on my way to the grocery store I had the sensation of the tire rolling. At the moment I thought it was probably frame flex with the trailer, but later the truth was evident. Rolling down the street with groceries in tow a different sensation was not only sensible but also audible. And this is where the other part of the experiment is introduced. That rear wheel has been missing a spoke and has been suffering from being out of round and true for the greater part of that two or more years. Riding it with a dead flat sure makes that flat spot more pronounced.

If only any of my distributors would carry 25’s I’d be set. I still swear by those tires. Schwalbe Marathon Plus, when you absolutely don’t want a flat. Or as they say on their site: 

Punctures become obsolete with the MARATHON PLUS!

Just think, I wonder how long I’d have those tires had I been taking care of them. The overall experiment has been more in line with how much neglect and abuse this bike can take. I’d say things are going as expected at this rate. I’ll tow the bike into the shop tomorrow and see what I can do about that wheel; I have a feeling it might be the end of the road for that. 


I'll have to reverse these two bikes for the tow tomorrow.


* The title of this post has very little to do with it’s content, just what popped in the mind when the word experiment was conjured. Experiment Zero is the title of one of my favorite albums by Man or Astro-Man? More information than I ever knew about them here and here.

Sunday April 19th 2009, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Advice & Tips

ValuMarket on Bardstown Road, just picking up a few items for dinner. Not my usually my favorite grocery store, and it didn’t fail to disappoint today at the register.

It wasn’t the expected question of “paper or plastic,” but rather this mildly insulting dialogue:

Cashier, “Ugh. What is this?”

Me, “Tofu”

“Is it food?”

“You put it in your mouth and chew it.”

“But is it… uh… real food?”

{At this point I decide to bow out of this discussion, I begin to load groceries into my messenger bag.}

{Not to be out of the game though, she volunteers with audible shock} “Oh, you’re putting it all in there?”

“Yes I am.”

Were I in a vindictive mood, perhaps I would have talked to a manager about this impolite, insulting, and obviously unprofessional cashier. Whose ignorance about product was revealed by another query of the same bluntness: “What is this?” (The item in question being a  head of cabbage, and the tofu was clearly labeled. I’ve worked in grocery, it’s not hard.) 

With jobless rates so high nobody should be so ignorant and rude to a customer. Furthermore, there are thousands of skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable people out of work that would thankfully fill that position. Before you’re sent out to interact with customers at least minimally know the product you’re selling. And in a grocery store, leave the surly, pirate attitude in the break room.

On the bike side of things, people expect a good deal of knowlege and expertise from us; make sure you can provide it. I try to deliver succinct options and objective descriptions of quality. Don’t know the answer to what something is, most shops at least have a Sutherland’s laying around, or hit up the internet. Attitude? Well sometimes, if you’re lucky, service can be given with just a dash of surliness—enough to be entertaining, but not alienating and of course, only to select customers—just don’t be too much of a dick and people usually love it. With this economy though, it can be a fine line. Tread carefully.