Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Snow On the Way

A couple of inches, tomorrow, something more serious, this weekend.

Funny...we have had a warm dry winter, here on the Front Range. Now, Spring is cold and snowy.

That's okay. I have a bunch of bike work which needs to be done. Bad weather makes it easier to stay home and get projects done rather than ride.

More to come...


Sunday, March 29, 2009

The "Impossible" Bike

One of the reasons I got out of the retail bike biz (other than the fact that the pay pretty much sucked and I wanted to buy a house) was the fact that service is seen as, at best, a necessary evil. Some shops won't even grant it "necessary" status, including the last shop at which I worked.
There, I was actually ordered to lie to customers and tell them that their bikes were not fixable, and that they needed to buy a new one. Now, I realize that most bike shops do rely on the cash flow of volume sales on new bikes in order to meet overhead, but there has to be some room in the business model for good, honest service. I said so, and was informed that I would have to either modify my views (betray my ethics), or leave their employment.
You know which path I chose.
Last week, my buddy Mark sold this nice 1985 Trek 830 to a fellow who then took it to a local shop to buy tires and get it converted to a singlespeed, for commuting. I won't tell you which shop, but they do share their name with a city in Northern Italy.
The "service" department there told the new owner of the bike that it could not be converted to single speed. Just couldn't be done. Plus, the headset needed to be replaced, and this, and that and it would be cheaper to just buy a new factory-built singlespeed from them than to mess around with this old piece of junk (or words to that effect, from what I was told).
Anyway, the new owner called Mark, and told him all of this. Mark called me, and I called bullshit on the shop. Not only could the bike be converted to singlespeed (as can any bike, by the way), but I was pretty certain that everything else on the bike was useable.
So, an appointment was made, I looked the bike over, and had the owner leave it with me for a week. Yesterday, I replaced a broken axle and spoke in the rear wheel as I respaced it for single speed duty, installed a BMX freewheel, chain tensioner and singlespeed chain, removed all the extraneous parts, adjusted the headset (it's in good shape) and replaced the old brake pads. I also replaced the seatpost quick-release with a binder bolt, to cut down on the ease of theft.
Here is the result of a couple of hours of work (click pictures for BIG):

It's a really nice lugged steel frame and fork. I wish I could find a fork like that for the 650b Stumpy.
Even with vertical drops, a chain tensioner allows any bike to become single speed. Fixed gear would be a bit more of a challenge.

The handlebars are about a mile wide, as was the style back in the day. Back East, we would cut those down to fit between the trees. Out here, they supply good leverage for control on long, fast, technical downhills.

Speaking of the controls, I really dig the BMX-style stem. It looks especially cool now that the bike is singlespeed.

So, there you have it: The bike which couldn't be built.
And, yes, I did straighten the brake levers up so that they were at the same angle, after looking at these pictures!

Friday, March 27, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes

I got up and rode to work, today, unsure if we were even open for business. We don't have a set policy for snow days (they are rare), and no method of being alerted to them, outside of the office.

So, I pedalled off through 8 inches of slushy snow, and figured that if I could get there, then other people could as well and we were open. If not, then...

Riding through this stuff was pretty difficult. Like most Spring snows, it was wet and heavy, plus it was deep enough to make steering difficult. Couple that to a surprising layer of watery slush under the snow (surprising in view of the 17 degree temperature), and the effect was akin to riding on a sandy beach. The 8.3 mile ride took me exactly an hour, making my average speed...uh...Well, I'll get the calculator out, later.

I actually made better time in the blizzard, yesterday, doing the 9 mile route home in a hour, including stops to take pictures. But I suspect the 30 mph tailwind had something to do with that.

Here are a couple of shots of our parking lot, just after I arrived. I love the aerodynamic look of the snow on the vehicles which were parked overnight.

The ice buildup on the rims made the brakes completely useless. I was glad that I switched to the fixed-gear snowbike, this year.

One of the things I love about Colorado is how fast we recover from these big snow storms, this time of year. As the day went on, the sky cleared and the sun came out. As I was leaving, the pavement in the parking lot (and on the roads) was drying, and steam was rising from the ground.
You may remember this shot from yesterday's post, looking across the football field toward GW High School.

Here's the same view, today:

I was glad I decided to go ahead and work, today. About half of the people in my office called in and chose to not make the drive in the snow. This was my 400th consecutive bicycle commute, so I was happy to hit that milestone on the way to my goal of 500 work days in a row.
And now a word from our sponsor:

Bow to me, puny humans!


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Scenes From the Ride Home

We are having a bit of a snow storm, here on the Front Range of Colorado, today. The day started with light snow and rain and an official Blizzard Warning in effect from 6:00 AM today through 6:00 AM, tomorrow.
As the morning went by, the snow got heavier and the wind picked up. Eventually, the blizzard conditions appeared. At noon, we got an email from the Director advising us that we were welcome to go home early, for safety's sake.


As I was getting ready to leave, two or three people made repeated attempts to get me to ride home with them, in their car. They all know better, but it was kinda nice to know people are actually concerned with my well-being.


"Hey, Jon...want a ride home?"

"No, thanks, I've got one."

This was the scene about a mile into the ride; almost total whiteout conditions. Luckily, the streets I ride are never heavily travelled, and even less so, today.

Just a couple of shots to show the lack of visibility. This is shot from the bike path which runs alongside the football field at George Washington High. The school building is just about 100 feet past those trees.

Looking west from the same location.

At one point on my daily commute, I cut through City of Potenza Park. See the bike path? It's a good thing I know where it is. Bagging first tracks has its disadvantages, at times.

One hour, exactly, after leaving the lab, I got home. Luckily, the 30-to-40 mph wind was at my back, most of the way. The times I was riding perpendicular to the wind were pretty grievous.
Still, it was a pretty fun ride with no falls or other problems. I was shocked, though, to see how many people were driving cars in these conditions with their lights off.
As someone once asked, "What? Are you trying to save money on your electric bill?"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tragedy In the Workplace

Broke my French press, as I was washing it. Luckily, I have a spare at home.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Mountain Bike Ride On the 650B Stumpy

Rich left me a message on my phone, Friday. "Hey, dude. Want to go mountain biking for a few hours, up in Buffalo Creek, tomorrow?" (Words to that effect, anyway...)
"Hells yeah!" I thought. "I want to try the 650b bike out on the dirt.
So, plans were made, coffee was drunk and we eventually found ourselves at the trailhead parking lot outside of Pine.
I figure we got the "odd couple" award for our mismatched bikes. I was riding the 1984 Stumpjumper Sport 650b conversion, while Rich was on his new YETI ASR.
OldSchool/New School Shootout? Nah, I leave that kind of crap to the guys at Mountain Bike Fiction magazine. We were just two guys riding the bikes we wanted to ride.

Did I like the way bike rode? By the looks of the maniac grin I'm sporting in this picture, I'd have to say so. I love Mustache bars, off-road, and the big wheels and tires hooked up well on the sandy trails.
Plus, it's a hoot to ride rigid, again, after all these years. I think I've slowed down so much, in the past couple of years, that I ride about as fast rigid as I do with suspension (or as slow with suspension as I do rigid, I suppose).

Part of the ride took us through the burn area. Lots of vegetation has reestablished itself, but the horizon is still a lot farther away than it was ten years ago when the whole area was heavily forested.

Rich on a climb.
The one shortcoming of the bike was the brakes. I was running Avid Shorty cantilevers, and they just weren't cutting it on the long downhills. I had a few "life flashing before my eyes" moments, and pretty much was constantly on the brakes just to avoid gaining enough speed that I'd overshoot a turn, unable to slow down enough.
In other words, I was transported back to 1996.
In all, we rode 19 miles of trail. Rich sent me the elevation profile from his GPS:

That last downhill was worth the price of admission.

Today, I decided to make some V-Brakes work on the bike. I modified the 29er adapters I had made, back when I was running the 700c wheels on the bike, so that they aligned the front pads with the rim. The rear brakes were close to usable, and I was able to slightly lengthen the mounting slot on the brakes, themselves, to get good alignment.
The road bike brake levers were replaced with some V-Brake levers, modified to fit on the Mustache bar diameter. Presto! I got stopping power!

Here's the Dr. Jekyll personality of the bike. Road tires and the rear rack convert the mountain bike to a randonneur/touring rig.

Those are the stock tires from the Raleigh Portage I just sold. I'll be getting some newer, nicer tires for it, eventually. I'd like to get another pair of the Schwalbes like I put on the Portage.
Fenders are in route from Velo Orange. Maybe I'll actually get around to installing them, on this bike. I sent the fenders I bought for the Portage away with the bike, still in undrilled, new condition.
Oh, well, gotta get the snow bike ready for the commute, tomorrow. Close to 80 degrees, today, and a winter storm is supposed to move in overnight. Rain/snow in the morning, snow in the afternoon. The forecast is for only a few inches, though. The blizzard is apparently going about 90 miles north of Denver, this time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What's On My Mind?

I need to go to the desert and spend a few days. I need to camp in the sand and burn my food over an open fire, then watch the embers glow as I drink coffee sweetened with bourbon for dessert.
I need to see stars burning in the sky like torches across a lake. I need natural silence, punctuated by wind and rustling animals in the dark outside the firelight. I need to sleep in a tent, and wake up to warm sushine glowing through the fabric wall, with a restless bike outside, snorting and stomping, impatient to hit the trail like a mare who smells water over the next rise.
I need to ride trails full of rock and snakes and scorpions and cactus, and hope to avoid all of them as much as I hope to see them. I need to climb and sweat, descend and dry, then repeat the process untill my clothing is decorated with concentric growth rings of salt, each ring representing a climb the way that annual rings on a tree stump show the passage of the years.
I need to fly and crash and pick myself up and keep going, glad that nothing is broken, yet bleeding all the same. I need to be so thirsty that lukewarm water from a plastic reservoir tastes like nectar, and the beer after the ride feels like life, itself, sluicing down my gullet.
I need to see waterfalls form on the canyon edge as a thunderstorm bellows across the landscape, lightning flashing like God's inspiration. I need to hear the ravens complain about the wind.
I need to go to the desert and spend a few days.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Catching Up

The 1993 Bridgestone XO-1 is one of my favorite bikes, ever. I'm particularly fond of the "Construction Pumpkin" (orange) color. I've wanted one for years, but they enjoy a cult status which puts them firmly out of my reach, both due to their rarity (only 1000 were built) and the prices they command, nowadays. One recently sold on eBay for $2200.00!

Plus, the maximum tire size allowed by the frame and fork is a 26"x2.0. I like a wider tire, off road, and I really want to use the bike as a convertible on-and-off-road rig.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark and I were talking bikes, on the phone, and he casually mentioned seeing a red Bridgestone MB-4 Trailblazer at the junkyard. He had pretty much ignored it, because the tig-welded frames don't interest either of us, that much.

I happened to be leafing through the 1993 Bridgestone catalogue as we were speaking, and I flipped to the MB-4 page. In 1993, the MB-4 was a lugged Japanese frame, rather than tigged in Taiwan. So, I got on the internet, and looked up the "Trailblazer" version. The only red MB-4 Trailblazer I could find in the catalogue archives was the 1991 model, also a lugged Japanese frame (all of the other years were tigged).

Excited by the prospect, I asked mark to go and check it out. "If it's lugged," I said,"I want it."

Two days later, I had a lugged MB-4 in hand, minus the front wheel and with a broken freehub on the rear. No worries, since I was planning on using other wheels, entirely.

I had just sold the Portage on eBay, so I had some project money available. I got on Rivendell's site, and ordered up. Then, on to eBay for some tires, and Cycle Analyst for a lugged fork to replace the stock unicrown model. Some other stuff I had in my inventory.

So, I built this:

Rivendell 650B wheels, Pacenti 2.3 tires, Sugino cranks, Suntour XC Pro beartrap pedals, Suntour derailleurs, Nitto Mustache bars, Rivendell Silver shifters and bar-end mounts, XT V-Brakes. It was my more "modern" take on the XO-1.

Unfortunately, the super-short steer tube on the 17.5" frame meant I needed a huge steerer extension to get the bars where I want the. Not only do I not like the look of this, but you can't run that much extension on a threaded fork without the possibility of snapping it off. I cut the fork down and, at a reasonable extension of the stem, the bars fell about 2" lower than I wanted them.
I rode it to the coffee shop, on Sunday, and ran into Brad. As we talked, the subject of the Rockhopper he recently acquired came up. He told me that he was planning on building up a bike to pull Noella's trailer, but he didn't want to go to the trouble until he found a lugged frame.
"Step outside with me," I said.
I showed him the bike, and had him lower the seat to his position and sit on it. It worked fine, for him. So, I told him that he could have it in exchange for his Rockhopper frame.
After I got home, I started doing a three-way parts swap. The result:

The 1984 650B Stumpy Monstercrosser. I had to go with the Avid Shorty brakes, because the V-Brakes didn't line up with the rim, as they had on the other frame. Otherwise, the parts are all the same as those which were on the Bridgestone with the exception of road bike brake levers replacing the V-Brake lever and I used the stock Specialized headset since I left the Ritchey Logic headset on the Bridgestone.

I'll get some nice 650B road tires for it (I still have the stock tires from the Portage to use, in the meantime). But, I want to do some off-roading with it before I swap tires.

The fork is the stock fork which came on this bike. I had removed it when I converted the bike to 700c wheels, so I had to put it back in place to use the 650 wheels.

I had used the black fork to convert the 1965 Huffy tandem to V-Brakes, so I had to swap another mountain fork onto it (oddly, this one is very similar to a stock XO-1 fork and won't take a wide knobby tire, though the 26x2.125 cruiser tires work nicely).

The red fork ties in well enough with the red cable housing that I decided to not spray it black. Carol may make me do so, since the tandem is going to her house so that she and Colin can ride it. That's one reason I turned it into a 7-speed.

It still has the original 1984 stem and handlebar from the Stumpjumper.
You can see the temporary fence I erected across the back yard so that I could re-seed the grass where the dogs have run it down to bare dirt. Once I get the metal building moved to it's new position behind the shop building, I will actually sink some wooden posts and permanently install the fence with a gate. That way, the dogs can play in the grass when I am back there, but the grass can recover at other times.
So, that was my week, along with getting my taxes done. This is why I'm not getting many bikes built for the yard sale.

Busy, Busy

Last week was pretty busy (hence the title). I got my taxes done (yay, refund!),
worked on my back yard a bit (trying to get some grass back on it, despite the best efforts of the two dogs) and worked on some bike tune-ups.
I also spent a good deal of time and effort building myself a bike which didn't suit me. So, I took it apart and passed the frame on to Brad.
I will post details, pictures and the final solution, tonight, when I am home and have my computer, rather than the Crackberry.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Brad asked me an interesting question, the other day, to which I didn't know the answer. He asked if either the On-One Mungo bar or the Origin8 Gary bar was an exact match for a Nitto Mustache bar.

I told him that I doubted it, as the Nitto bar was designed by Grant Peterson for the Bridgestone XO series, so I figured it was proprietary. But, I wasn't sure. I happened to have an example of each bar, out in the shop, however. So, it was easy enough to find out the answer, for sure.

Here are all three bars. From the top: Nitto, On-One, Origin8.

This is the On-One, atop the Nitto. The width is pretty much the same, as is the sweep back. The angle from the stem to the first curve differs.

The Origin8 atop the Nitto. The reach is shorter, and the ends come farther back.

The Origin8 atop the On-One. Click for big to get a better look at the differences.
So, no exact match, although the On-One gives you the closest approximation to the main riding positions of the Nitto.

52cm Raleigh International

Here is the International I got in the trhee-way trade last weekend. Unfortunately, it is one size small for me (52cm seat tube, 54 cm top tube), so I will probably clean it up, overhaul it, and sell it on.
It's a shame, because I've always wanted one of these.

Drive side portrait.

The Carlton-built Raleighs are my favorites.

Nice, fancy chrome lugs, and a Campy headset.

Srtonglight crank.

The full monty.

Campy hubs.

Nice brake fitting.

Headtube porn.

Non-drive side.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Busy Weekend

As part of a three-way bike trade, I overhauled this bike, installed tubes and tires (and a new front derailleur), seat and bar tape.

It's a 58cm RaleighCompetition, with the fancy Nervex professional lugs. Really nice bike.

The same fellow who traded for the Competition (not with me, I was the broker on the deal), also bought this from me:

This is the grown-up version of the chrome 24"-wheeled Raleigh Teton I turned into my BMX cruiser.

I have a thing for chrome frames. I don't really know why, but they appeal to me.
Most of the rest of my weekend was spent working on a Super-Secret Skunkworks project. More on that, later.