Two Wheels - Six Strings

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

I May Have Ruined a Crank Arm, But, At Least The Sun Is Shining, Today

It's been a cold and wintry week, and it looks like we have another week of it coming. I'm getting a lot of use out of the fixed gear, with the studded tires, and the bike is beginning to show some wear from that use.

The drive side crank arm was loose on the crank, the other day. So, I tightened the crank bolt down, and all seemed okay. But, when I got home from work, the next day, the crank arm was, once again, loose.

I finally determined, this morning, that the Campy crank bolt ,which I had used, was too long for the drilling in the Shimano crank arm. I had bottomed the bolt out, but had not really moved the crank arm, that much.

I replaced the offending bolt with a Shimano item, and rode to the coffee shop and back. When I got home, the crank arm was still secure. Time will tell if I allowed the crank to be loose long enough to irreparably damage the arm/spindle interface. I hope that the arm is still usable, for the long term, but I won't know until I put a few miles on it.

Sometimes, I think that commuting on a bike may be the most abusive thing you can do to it.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snowy Commutes, This Week Have Beaten Me Up

The snow was coming down fast and wet, on the way home, today. Three days, in a row, of riding snowy, icy roads has taken a toll on my body. The holiday trip, followed up by breaking a rib on New Year's Day, allowed me to get a bit out of shape. I've been able to tide, for a bout 3 weeks now, but i still feel out of shape, compared to my usual level.

Add some headwinds, snow and ice to that, and three days of back and forth gets a bit tough. Yet, my fitness is coming back, slowly but surely. Hopefully, i will have a good year on the bike, inspite of a dodgy start.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fat Tire Heresy

 Just a little over three years ago, in December of 2011, I got my first fat bike. The market for fat bikes was a lot thinner, then, than it is now. There were virtually no affordable models (below $1500 was almost unheard of), and Surly owned most of the mass production market.

I saw a Tommisea Fat Sand Terrain Destroyer (quite a name) on eBay, for about half what a used Surly Pugsley was bringing. It was advertised as being a rental unit, and the price was good because of that.

I popped for the Fat Sand, and was pleased to find, upon receipt, that it was actually brand-new, and had never even been assembled. I put it together, upgraded the pedals, stem and bars, seatpost and seat, and added a front disc brake (the hub and fork were ready for the brake, it just wasn't included on the base model bike).

It was not a great off-road bike, but the long wheelbase made it very stable on a paved commute, and the 8-speed Shimano Nexus internally geared hub worked like a charm. Overall, it was a terrific commuter, and it was even fairly light, for what it was.

But, I really wanted to ride a fat bike off-road, so I started looking for a bargain on a more performance-oriented bike. Brad sent me a link, eventually, to an online bike retailer which was clearancing the original Salsa Mukluk frames and forks for a really low price.

So, I ordered up a frameset, and started shopping for parts. Once the Muk was built up, I sold off the Fat Sand.

The Mukluk was a much better off-road bike. But, it wasn't a real good commuter/around towner. And, for some reason, whether sizing or geometry or whatever, I experienced hip pain any time I rode the bike for more than about an hour. Eventually,  I put it on Craigslist, and got out of fat bikes.

But, I found that I missed the big, ungainly monsters, so I bought a Mongoose Beast, from Two bills, with free shipping, got me a bike that many people see as a joke: a 4" tired, hi-ten steel single speed bike with a coaster brake. I was happy to get it, though, because I had been reading the descriptions of custom builds that a group of people had performed on these bikes.

I jumped right into that subculture of Beast enthusiasts and started to modify the thing. I re-laced the wheels with disc brake hubs, added a 5-speed freewheel to the back wheel, installed a triple crank and managed to get a front derailleur working on it, then swapped on a Salsa Enabler fork, along with all of the standard seat/seatpost/handlebar/etc. swaps. Eventually, I actually bought a nice set of quick-release wheels, with a cassette rear hub, for the bike.

It actually worked well on road, and off. I  told people that, if I had the money, I would take the Beast frame to a custom builder, and have it recreated in titanium, with all of the fittings needed to build it up as a real mountain bike .

Then, I saw a Hargadon frame, in my size, for a price I could not pass up. It was a limited-run production model from a local custom builder, and the sizing, geometry, etc were all very close to those of the Beast.

Parts got swapped, the Beast went into mothballs, and I was right back in fat bike land. The Hargadon is a really nice bike, off-road, and works well around town, as well. I commuted on it, quite a bit, but found myself hesitant to deck it out in all of the necessary racks, lights, and whatnot that a commuter bike needs. I wanted to keep it fit for off-roading.

At that point, I was thinking of building the Beast back up, to use as my fat commuter. Then, Mongoose dropped the Dolomite onto the market.

Just a bit over two bills, on the day I ordered mine, got me a disc brake-equipped, seven-speed (freewheel, not cassette) base, ripe for modifications. The triple crank and front derailleur from the Beast worked like a charm. I had some 7-speed Rapid Fire shifters in the shop, to replace the cheap Grip Shift copy that the bike came with. The rack and bag from the Beast, some decent tires, bars, seat and seatpost plus some nice pedals and lights converted the Dolomite to a decent commuter. It would need some lower gears to be real useful, off-road, here on the Front Range, but it works really well for what I need.

And, yet, the fixed gear mountain bike,with 2-inch wide studded tires, remains my go-to bike in snowy weather. This is because I just don't find that the fat bikes work that well on the road, then.

The fat tires are awesome on packed snow, off-road. But, the snow on the street turns to ice, as cars pack it down and the overnight temperatures consolidate it. At that point, it doesn't really matter how wide your tires are, ice will put you down. My broken rib, suffered on New Year's Day as I rode the Dolomite, is evidence of that. The studded tires are the only way to go, on ice.

We do, occasionally, get a particular, grainy and unpackable snow, here in Denver. It never consolidates, and just gets churned up into an icy/sandy sort of consistency. On that snow, the fat bikes rule.

Otherwise, give me studded tires on a fixed gear bike.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Snowy Day Chores

This was the view, outside my door, when the long-awaited snow finally started flying. The weather guessers have been telling us horror stories of record snowfall, on the way, for the past week. It was a bit late getting here, but it really started coming down hard, when it arrived.

Once I was home from the coffee shop, this morning, I really didn't feel like going back out. So, I decided that I would hang around the house and take care of some housekeeping, and other chores. First thing on the list was to wash some dishes and put them up. I got that done, and moved on to some more entertaining chores.

I had received a box, from UPS, this morning, before I left for Kaladi Bros. In it, was a new frame bag for the fixed gear mountain bike.

I have one of these bags, already. I have been swapping it back and forth between the blue fat bike and the fixie, depending on which one I was commuting with, on any given day. I finally decided to just get another bag, and save the swapping. At less than $15.00, I didn't mind popping for a second bag. It's nothing I would use to run the Iditarod race, or anything, but it is an awesome bag for the money, and mighty handy for a commute or trail ride.

I loaded the bag up with a pump, 15mm open-end wrench for the axle nuts, and the charging cable for a USB tail light.  This bike already had a tool kit and tube in a seat bag.

Now, both winter commuters are ready to roll, at any time.

Once that bike was set up, I turned my attention to the Flying V that I bought in Pennsylvania, as I was out there for Christmas. The guitar is a 2005 Faded Cherry, which is one of my favorite finishes on a V, and it has a really nice neck. The neck reminds me of the one on Cooper (my black Les Paul Special), and the V has become my go-to guitar, for the most part.

The sound was good, right out of the box, but I was missing the P-90 snarl that I get from the red BFG Les Paul. I wanted to put a P-90 at the neck, on the V, but the stock routing for the humbucker will not accept a P-90. So, I started looking for a Gibson P-94, which is a P-90 built to the size of a humbucker. Gordie Johnson uses these in his guitars (and Gibson produced a Gordie Johnson model with these pickups), and I love the sound of them.

Eventually, I ordered one up, from Amazon (I had a gift card, and figured I might as well use it). It has set around for a month, waiting for me to get the time and energy to swap it out.

Today, I had both...

Here if the guitar, on the operating table, as I removed the bridge, tailpiece and, ultimately, the pickguard/wiring harness.

Factory markings, inside the pickup cavities. I assume they are the initials of Gibson craftsmen.

The humbucker has a single coaxial wire, where the outer covering is the ground, and the hot is inside. The P-94 has a 4-wire cable, so I had to look on Google to see how to wire it up.

Once I figured that out, I heated up the soldering iron and removed the stock pickup. Then, I hooked the new pickup up (3 grounds and a hot ... why?) and tested the connections to make sure everything was cool, before I reassembled the guitar and strung it up.

 Here it is, with the new pickup in place.

I am excited to have this setup, now. You don't see single-coil equipped Gibson Flying V's, every day.

I spent about an hour adjusting the pickup height, pole pieces and string height to get the tone I was looking for. It is a howling jackhammer, now, for real!

I am really looking forward to tonight's band practice!


Sunday, February 08, 2015

Challenges, Small Victories and Aggravations

Isn't that, pretty much, a description of life? It is a phrase that certainly comes to mind in light of the projects I have worked on, these past few days.

We have enjoyed record warm weather, here in Denver, this weekend. I worked 4 ten-hour days, this week, so that I could be off for the 70 degree temps on Friday. Yesterday was even warmer and, while it's a bit cooler today, the high is still reaching well into the 60s. It's windy as all get-out, but that's the price we pay for the warmth, around here.

I spent all day, both Friday and Saturday, in my driveway working on bicycle projects (after the requisite morning trips to the coffee shop, of course). They were days filled with challenges, small victories and aggravations, for sure.

Challenge #1 involved my old Bikes Direct "Motobecane" 29er frame. I have a bit of an attachment to this frame, as it was my first 29" mountain bike, plus the fact that it is a quality, Kinesis-built, frame. So, I don't want to get rid of it. But, the thing is, I have a 29" bike (the titanium Funk, and the ti Fat Bike are both capable of running 29" mtb tires), which makes another 29 mtb is redundant.

Recently, I acquired some 26x3" mtb tires. They are cheap, and heavy, and a bit more knobby than what I want. But, I got them in order to figure out if I could run that size tire in this frame. I had some 26" disc-only wheels hanging in the shop, and I figured I would build the bike up as a test, before buying nicer 26x3" tires. (Surly Knards come in that size, but they retail for $90.00 apiece, and that's really a bit much to throw down for those, not knowing if they would even work.)

These tires just clear the frame and fork, with little to no room for runout, if you ding a rim. The Knards are a lot less knobby than these, which makes me think that they will have more adequate clearance.

I built the rest of the bike up with part-box components. The Deore crank is sporting RaceFace rings, and the rear derailleur is an old Shimano Light Action from the early 90s (but it shifts the 9-speed chain, just fine).

As an alternative, and actually a preference, there are some new Wilderness Trail Bikes 650bx2.8" (or 27.5x2.8", if you prefer that nomenclature) tires which should be available, soon. The slightly larger diameter should allow more side to side clearance for the tires, since they will be running more in the parts of the frame and fork which are designed for tire clearance. I have some 650b disc wheels, so I may just wait on those tires and run that setup.

That would give me a choice of five different mountain bike setups, spread across four frames, leaving the Funk as my all-rounder/cross bike:

1. My vintage 26" mountain bike (rigid)

2. The Fat Bike (26x4") (rigid)

3. 29er (Fat Bike with 29" rims and tires, rigid)

4. The "semi fat" setup (either 650bx2.8", or 26x3"), with a suspension fork

5. Fixed gear (1988 Specialized RockHopper, rigid)

Then, all I have to do is actually go mountain biking, this year!

The aggravations abounded, when it came to the other bike projects I worked on. I had gotten some new wheels for the commuter fat bike, with quick-release hubs and 50mm rims, only to realize that the bike has a 190mm spacing on the rear, and these wheels have a 150mm rear hub. I could use them on the ti fat bike, if I want, but I don't know that I will. I like the 100mm rims on that bike...

Then, there's this bike:

This is my 1986 Bridgestone MB-1 frame, built up as a 650b commuter/tourer/XO-1 wannabe. I never ride it, because the Funk takes that position in the quiver (commuter, century ride bike, etc).  But, I don't want to get rid of it. Every time I let a lugged frame Bridgestone go, I regret it.

That made me think that it would be a good idea to just rebuild this bike as a drop-bar mountain bike, and sell my 1991 Trek 930. I don't need two vintage mtb's.

If you are interested in the Trek, let me know!  (I'm looking at you, Tracy...)

I specifically want to run the same tires, on this bike, which I run on the Trek. They look good, work well both on and off-road, and they have a large enough profile that I can run relatively low air pressure, without much worry of pinch flats.

To that end, a few months ago, I started looking for parts. I took my time, and bought things as cheaply as possible. One of the first items I bought for it was an old-school XT/Ritchey wheelset. I replaced some chewed up spokes, on the drive side of the rear wheel, and everything was good.

I pulled the wheels out, this weekend, and found, first, that the tire on the rear will not clear the U-brake, under the chainstays. I removed the brake, with the plan of getting cantilever studs brazed on, eventually. In the meantime, I have a bolt-on cantilever carrier I can use.

Not a lot of clearance, Clarence...

Then, I started to install the new 8-speed cogset and ... remembered that I had a 7-speed wheel. Another aggravation, but I managed to turn it into a small victory by swapping the cassette carrier and axle from an old 8-speed Shimano wheel I had hanging in the shop.

To further make things difficult, I had recently ordered a  1" quill dirt drop style stem, with a removable face plate so that I could run the Gary Bar (original version) which I had picked up at VeloSwap, back in October. I pulled the stem out of the package, and it was a 1-1/8" quill version.

Dang it!

So, I was forced to use my old Specialized stem expander tool to wrestle the Gary into a standard clamp, on an UNO stem.

This is as far as I've gotten on that build. I may have to work on it some more, today.

So far, today, other than grocery shopping, all I have accomplished is the removal of the rusted step rail from the passenger side of my truck.

The drive side rail was missing, when I bought the truck, but I had left this one on just because it does make it easier to get into the passenger side seat.

But, it was not only getting embarassingly ugly, I was beginning to worry that it was going to collapse under someone as they stepped on it. So, off it came.

Challenges, small victories and aggravations...


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Getting Back On the Horse

The last weather forecast that I saw, yesterday, called for "less than an inch" of snow, overnight, with temperatures in the 40s (F), for today.

This is the "less than an inch" to which I woke up, this morning:

My first thought was, "I might drive to the coffee shop, this morning." Then, I cringed, inwardly, at the fact that I was turning into one of those guys. The broken rib is no longer painful, so all that would keep me from riding was the worry that I might fall, again.

So, I got dressed in riding clothes, shoveled the walk and drive, and took off to Kaladi Bros. on the blue fat bike (the bike I was riding on New Year's Day, when I fell and broke the rib).

The roads were pretty treacherous. The snow is wet, and easily packs into ice. My studded-tire bike would have been a better choice, in those conditions, but I specifically wanted to ride the blue bike, just to get over any lingering bad thoughts I might have about it.

I made it there with no problems, other than a bit of slippage here and there. The ride home was even icier, since a lot more traffic had moved along the neighborhood roads since I had gone through, earlier.  But, I got back with no drama, and was happy that I had made the ride.

I will definitely ride the studded-tire bike, tomorrow, for my commute. I'm thinking that the wet roads are going to ice over, nicely, tonight.

 Above the shop door

The stone patio had a nice pattern to it, when I got home.