Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chicago's Old Bikes

This today from my old stomping grounds, via the Chicago Tribune:

It is the great bicycling irony. Some people lock up their bikes and, an hour later, they're gone, stolen. Yet others languish in bike racks for weeks or months, abandoned as their metal rusts and paint job fades. And if you've ever abandoned your bike in Chicago, there's a good chance it eventually found its way to Lee Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft is the founder and president of Working Bikes, a non-profit cooperative that fixes up bikes and either sells them (usually for around $60) or ships them overseas to places such as Africa and Central America. In fact, the group just sent 550 bikes (plus spare parts and tools to fix them if they break down) in a container to Angola last weekend. "I think a lot of those bikes are abandoned because they need too much work," he said. "I'd say 9 out of 10 are broken and need repair."

Read the full story here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why This Blog Exists, Redux

On my post a while back, Chic Cyclist (whose blog I enjoy) makes the comment:

I love my old bikes. I ride my old bikes. For several bikes that means changing out some of the old bits for newer technology. There are people who get very upset about this...a subculture who idealizes the "old". I'm personally all for durable technology, which may end up being a mish-mash of parts. What is your position on historical accuracy in maintaining old bikes?

That's a fantastic question, and one I've sort of side-stepped up until now. As far as I'm concerned, old bikes generally have two purposes: 1) as working machines, and 2) as artifacts of bicycle history. There are some bikes that can serve both purposes simultaneously, but I do not believe that every old bike has to serve both. There are plenty of bicycle museums and plenty of people who go a little nuts over "authenticity" when restoring their old bikes, and I think that's great. More power to them.

But this blog isn't for them. It's about making and keeping old bikes usable. It's about haunting garage sales and thrift stores and friends' garages, sheds, and barns for your next bike, rather than a) going to Sprawl-Mart for a $99.99 Huffy or b) going to an up-scale bike shop and spending $1,500 on the trendiest, latest-model racing bike. In order to make that old garage sale bike safe and usable again, yeah, you're going to have to put some new parts on it. It might even be well-nigh unrecognizable after you're done, but the point is to use it again, not to lock it up in the garage and occasionally take it out in the driveway and look at it.

I think Chic Cyclist is absolutely right in characterizing durable technology as sometimes a mish-mash of parts. Naturally, some parts of that technology are going to wear out faster than others, and by all means, to keep the whole thing working, you might need to pick up a newer or (gasp!) better replacement part. For example, derailer technology didn't reach its apex in 1977, so if you want to put a newer or better derailer on your old bike, why the heck not? The purists out there probably won't, and that's cool, too. Whatever turns your crank (I was also considering "whatever shifts your gears"). The point is to keep old bikes working, use them, and enjoy them, no matter how you choose to do it.

PS--My new axle for the Peugeot arrived via UPS while I was writing this post, so more on that later.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bent Axle

Well, there's yer problem.... So, I mentioned that my ride down to National City a couple of weeks ago brought to light some problems with the Peugeot that I hadn't noticed on shorter rides. Among these, the tendency of the back wheel to migrate ever-so-slightly to one side, and also for the wheel to get a little wobbly at the axle. You wouldn't think it would take a rocket scientist to figure out that the axle was bent, but it wasn't until I took the rear hub partially apart that I discovered the culprit (above). I've ordered a new axle from Harris Cyclery, which I hope will be the right size for the hub and dropouts, and the right threading for the hardware, which doesn't come with. When I get the axle, if it's what I need, I post the specs. Oh, and for anyone taking apart a hub, front or back, be aware that some hub bearings are loose (not held within a ring) and that little bearings can suddenly fall out and run all over the place if you're not ready for them. Not that that happened to me, mind you.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Quote of the Week

Mister Jalopy from the Coco's Variety Store blog reflects on "The Patience of Old Bikes":

"Derelict old bicycles have the patience of a giant sequoia as they are absolutely comfortable to sit and rust into the ground. Natural as can be. To rustle these slumbering beasts from their preferred state means the mechanic must exhibit that same patience...Don't get me wrong. Working on a mysterious three speed hub is no Zen exercise of careful consideration and tea sipping. It is a dirty and fairly miserable job of exploding components finding their way into previously unknown cracks in the floor."

This might be the finest description of old bike work I've ever come across.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reader Project Update: Margaret's Mystery Bike

I'm totally floored by what our friend Margaret is doing with her still-unidentified mystery bike in London. I posted a "before" photo from her blog last week, and she's done a lot since. I'll post a few pics here, along with some of Margaret's description of her work, but I want folks to check out her blog for more photos and a lovely running narrative of her work. I'm starting to think maybe I should hand over the Old Bike Blog to Margaret! I'm irrationally excited to watch this project unfold from afar, and I hope everyone finds it as interesting as I do.

Margaret writes: I'd really like to identify it, but unfortunately the back hub is so rusty that I can't find any serial numbers. Attached are the most distinctive parts of it - the front decal which is painted on and says "H" - which i'm fairly certain is Hercules, an old English bike company set up in the late 1800s.




The next is the saddle, it says Lycett Model L21.








Finally is the gear changer which says oswaldtwistle and field co. I sent a mail to the English Cycle Museum and they say that it's pre WWI! It's coming apart very nicely. I'm trying to tackle the dynamo at the moment, it's really stuck on pretty well!





This is the front fender before clean up...








...and this is the front fender after.









Front hub before...









...and front hub after.









Margaret has tons more photos and description of what she's doing with her bike, which she's named "Audrey Hepburn", at her blog. Really, go check it out.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

San Diego to National City

So, I took this ride last weekend, and have just now gotten around to posting about it. I've never really taken the Peugeot for a real ride, so I took advantage of a cool, cloudy Sunday and took a spin down to National City (about 20 miles round trip from North Park). I wanted to check out a cemetery down there to see if I could find the headstone of a Civil War veteran I've been researching, so off I went at about 1pm.

I biked down along the east side of Balboa Park, through Golden Hill and South Park on 30th Street/Fern Street. I passed a huge Cinco de Mayo celebration somewhere along in there, and was tempted to stop, but pressed on for the sake of time. I kept going on 30th Street, which zigs and zags a bit, to where there is a pedestrian bridge over I-5. I crossed the bridge, kept going on 30th for a block, then turned west on Main Street for two blocks to 28th Street, turned south on 28th, then southeast on Harbor Drive. To my surprise, there is a bike lane on Harbor, but in places it's kind of like riding on a washboard. I was passed here by a spandex-clad older man on a very slick-looking new road bike. "Go get 'em, chief!" I thought, but didn't yell.

I took Harbor Drive all the way down through the Naval Base to National City, where I hung a right on Civic Center Drive, which turns into Tidelands Avenue. Tidelands runs south through warehouses, shipping depots, and giant manufacturing yards. It was completely deserted on a Sunday, except for the strange wind-and-percussion ensemble of about a dozen people that was standing conspicuously on a sidewalk, playing (quite loudly) apparently for no one. I guess they were practicing, but it was kind of surreal. The railroad tracks that criss-cross that part of town are a little rough to cross, but the streets are nice and wide.

I stayed on Tidelands all the way down to 32nd Street, where it ends, and took a left. In a couple of blocks, I came to the north entrance to the Sweetwater Bikeway (see photo), a paved path that runs along the Sweetwater River for a ways before turning south down through Chula Vista. I stayed on the path until 2nd Avenue, then turned north to Sweetwater Road, then east to get to La Vista Cemetery. Turns out, I didn't find the grave site I was looking for, but it was a really great ride, and fully worth the three hours (round trip, including time spent at the cemetery; about an hour, one way). In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make this ride, which I had expected to be a real challenge. Mind you, I'm not in great shape--decent, but not great. The take-home message is: getting around by bike doesn't have to be hell-raising, butt-busting, sweat-fest if you don't want it to be. If you live in San Diego, and want to check out my route, see my Google map.

I did notice a few funky problems with the Peugeot once I got going, but I'll save these for later posts. Hopefully things I can fix.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Frisky Hungarian Cyclists

I found this at Grist today, and thought it was well-worth posting here. If you're watching at work, you might want to turn the volume down, but otherwise the content is work-safe. My Hungarian is a little non-existent, but I'd guess this an advert to get more Hungarians on their bicycles. Or maybe it's an ad for mustache wax...