Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Runwell: Day 5

As you can see from the photo above, disassembly continues.  As I go, I'm still doing major surface cleaning, focusing most on the rust.  No dramatic results to report so far, just plugging away at it and applying liberal doses of elbow grease, although you can start to see a difference on the handlebars.  

After checking prices on new Brooks saddles, and confirming my inability to buy one just now, I've decided to have a go at resurrecting the original.  The left photo shows the before condition, the one below shows how it looks after liberal doses of saddle soap and neatsfoot oil, more of which will be forthcoming.  It's actually not looking too bad, although its age and general decrepitude are still obvious.  It should be serviceable, however.
 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On the Personalities of Old Bikes

Having worked on a few now, it has become pretty obvious that old bikes all have unique personalities. Sure, I know a mass of metal and rubber isn't really sentient, but there's something in each old bike that perhaps brings out different aspects of my own personality. For instance, my Columbia, the bike that started this blog, is like an old friend. I know him inside and out, and whenever a problem crops up, I'm happy to do what I can to help. We go out and have fun together, but we're also just happy hanging out. He's sturdy and reliable, and just an all around great guy.

My Peugeot, on the other hand, is kind of an ass (he is French, after all--apologies to the French). He has dramatic problems that confuse me, and he refuses to let me in on his deepest secrets. There are parts of him that I just don't have access to, and that, frankly, scare me. But man, if I ever want to just get out there and go, he's always right there with me. And he's stylish, too, like a fast car or a well-bred horse.  But sheesh, is he ever high-maintenance. We may someday have to go see a professional together.

My wife's Schwinn is like a good acquaintance. We've hung out a few times, shot the breeze, and what-have-you, but we're not close. I check in from time to time, just to make sure everything is going okay, and we've been known to double-date on small outings. She's nice, and she lets me know if she needs anything, but we're not real tight.

The Runwell, who I'm still getting to know, is like one of those people you meet and they immediately let you in to their confidence.  He's open, honest, and not ashamed of his flaws. He's a pretty simple guy, not overly complicated, and you get the sense that he's a real no-nonsense kind of fellow. But you can also tell that he's really good to his friends, and if you put yourself out there for him, he'll come through in a big way.

I know this is all just a little silly and romantic, but it speaks to the good effects of working on old bikes.  I think what you get out of it is ultimately more than just a nice ride or a new set of mechanical skills; perhaps you also get a better sense of yourself, a deeper sort of patience with others, and a repertoire of experience that you can carry into other aspects of your life.  For all the other benefits of riding old, perhaps these are the most significant.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Runwell: Day 4

There's not much to report for today. I spent most of my time trying to get the #?@$& stuck left pedal off. Didn't happen. I guess I'm going to have to take it to a shop, which is okay, because I think I also want to have them pull the crank cotters, since I hear that can be a real pain.  A big part of DIY work is knowing when to concede. 

I did pull the rear wheel off today, and also got started on some of the rust on various surfaces, including the cranks and handlebars. I'm starting to get a little daunted at all the rust. I think everything is sound underneath, it's just a matter of getting all the rust off in the first place. I've got some more photos up at Flickr, too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Police Attack NYC Critical Mass Rider


Regardless of how you feel about Critical Mass, this is a pretty disturbing video.  I'm actually fairly ambivalent about CM, and I don't endorse anyone intentionally breaking traffic laws while riding, but I do believe that cyclists have as much right to the road as anyone else.  That the fellow was arrested and charged on top of getting randomly creamed by a cop, is just the height of absurdity.



Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Runwell: Day 3

Today's big task was the front wheel: getting the rims, spokes, and hub cleaned and inspected. Everything seems true and tight and sturdy, and it certainly looks better now than it did. I used a combination of light oil and steel wool, and Brasso polish. I also had a go at removing the pedals, but was only able to get one off.  The other is stuck fast and is going to need some serious help. The pedals weigh about half a pound each (a slight exaggeration, perhaps), which surprised me. I also got most of the paper or cardboard, or whatever was under the grips, off the handlebars, and realized that probably the worst rust on the bike was hiding under there. 

Once I get a rust treatment on, they should look better, and hopefully there's not too much damage. I guess I'd rather have it there than anywhere else, though. Work is probably going to slow down a bit, as I have more pressing obligations to attend to, but I'll keep posting my progress here as I go.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Runwell: Day 2

First, I took a few swipes at the chainring with fine steel wool and some light oil to see what I was in for, and it looks like it's going to need a more extensive treatment.  

I removed the decaying plastic (or very old, thin rubber?) grips, and found a mess of cardboard, or paper, or cork, or something underneath, which is proving difficult to chip off.







Here's a photo of the small spot I started on the handlebars, which also shows the poor shape they're generally in.  Still, I got this much done with just a touch of oil and the steel wool, so that's encouraging.

The front hub and rim are shining up beautifully.  I only just got started, so I didn't take a photo, but they will fairly gleam when finished.  The front hub has apparently been serviced somewhat recently, too, since the bearings are still well-greased.  All-in-all, I'm still pretty encouraged.  

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Runwell: Day 1

The first order of business was to run a cloth over the whole thing so my hands didn't come away black every time I touched the thing.  I squirted Pedro's Bio Cleaner on a damp rag and just wiped the whole thing down.  I came away with three buckets of brown/black water.  At first, I thought I must be taking off the paint, but no, it was just dirt.  I also took a broom to the underside of the saddle, the wheels, etc. to get the cobwebs and leaves and such off.  Even this minimal cleaning made a big difference.

With everything clean, I set about tackling what I expected to be the worst part: trying to wrestle the seat post out.  Actually, it came out quite easily, and was not rusted at all below the tube line. Phew!  

I put the seat back on, and flipped the bike over to work on getting the bent fenders, seized-up chain, and floppy front tire off.  They were all getting in the way of moving the bike around, and I figured it would just be that much easier and lighter without them.  The result is pictured above: a nice clean-looking bike, if I do say so! This is the last time for a while that it will look like this (i.e., all put together), so get an eyeful!

The next step is going to be cleaning up the front wheel, since it's in the best shape to begin with, and making some forays into working on the handlebars.  I figure that will give me a nice boost to get started on the rear wheel, which is really a mess.  I'm starting to think that it may not take as much work to get this beast rideable as I thought (knock on wood).  Famous last words, right?  

CNN Gives Old Bike Refurbisher "Hero" Status

And well-deserved, too:

"The thought that I can reach out and permanently improve someone's life for the better is addictive," says Dave Schweidenback. Several times a year, the 55-year-old can be found prepping large shipments of used bicycles bound for a developing country. For Schweidenback, gathering and breaking down these bikes is a labor of love -- one that is helping to keep the bikes out of landfills and give them new life.

"Used bicycles can transform the economic and social condition of families," says Schweidenback. "[They] give people access to jobs, health care and education that is too distant for walking."

Since 1991, Schweidenback's nonprofit Pedals for Progress has collected and shipped more than 115,000 used bicycles to 32 developing countries worldwide, where they are sold at a low cost to local residents like Don Roberto Garcia.

"A used woman's mountain bicycle changed my life," says Garcia, 54, a house cleaning supplies salesman in Nicaragua who works six days a week to support his six children and buy medicine for his wife, who suffers from cancer.

Read the entire story here.

Also, see this story from Chicago from a while back.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My New Project: The Runwell

Ever since I featured Margaret's Hercules project, I've been extremely jealous that she gets to work on such a truly awesome old project.  There aren't a lot of pre-WWII English bikes in San Diego, after all.  And yet, while poking about on Craigslist, I did indeed find one. Meet the Runwell.

Year unknown, model unknown, but I'm guessing 1920s-1930s, based on what the previous owner told me, and what little I've been able to deduce from the style and features.  In fact, there doesn't seem to be much information out there about Runwell cycles, generally. Apparently, they operated in Birmingham from either the late 19th or early 20th century until the 1960s.  I found a couple of old adverts on British eBay, and a very small collection of papers housed at the University of Warwick, but that's it.  I can't find any other photos or even any references to Runwell on the interwebs anywhere.  Does anyone know anything about them?

The poor little Runwell needs lots of love.  It's very dirty and 
rusty, but everything seems solid and true, and the rod brake works like a dream (a rusty, scrapey dream at the moment).  The Brooks saddle is completely trashed, or at least the leather. Hopefully, I can get it recovered and preserve the original metal bits.  Never thought I'd own a Brooks!  

The chrome is all rusty and the paint is in sorry shape in some places, but once I get everything cleaned, I'll know better what it needs.  Hopefully the stem and seat post aren't seized up too badly.  The chain is virtually frozen, but you can force the pedals around, and the rear wheel turns.  The front wheel is in better shape than the rear, but I think both are still completely functional.  The fenders are pretty tweaked, but perhaps not beyond redemption.

I'm so completely psyched about this project!  It's going to be a long-term one, certainly, but with two other perfectly functional bikes (knock on wood), there's no particular urgency.  I'll be taking this one all the way down and then rebuilding it, replacing what needs replacing, but otherwise trying to stay true to the original parts and design.  He's going to be a real looker when I'm done.  I've got lots more photos up at my Flickr page, and of course I'll be posting more here as I go.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Old Bike Blog!

Today is one year since I started this blog to record the process of refurbishing my 1971 Columbia Sports III.  Several design changes, lots of new content, three new (old) bikes, and many new friends later, here we are.  Huzzah!  

I may or may not have bought myself a little OBB birthday present yesterday, but I'll save that for tomorrow.  I'll give you a hint: it's English.

About the image: while casting about the interwebs for "bicycle" and "birthday" images, I came across this perfect one from the exceptionally excellent BuyOlympia, run online from Portland, Oregon (they started in Olympia, Washington, hence the name) and featuring the very awesome cards of Sesame Letterpress, based in Brooklyn, New York.  The image above is cropped from their Happy Birthday Bicycle card.  Go buy some.  Really.  Go do it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

How's That? Forbes Says San Diego #3 Most Bike-Friendly?

Just a week after Kathy Keehan's (San Diego County Bicycle Coalition) critical observation at the Voice of San Diego that "it takes more than a bike path" to make a city bicycle-friendly, Forbes Traveler ranks San Diego as the third most bicycle-friendly city in North America, behind only Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado and ahead of bike mecca Davis, California.  

This in itself is bad enough, but among Forbes' most glaring gaffs, the statement that San Diego is "flat."  That's so wrong, it's funny.  The photo shows Upas Street between Florida Street and Park Boulevard, coming up from Florida Canyon on the north side of Balboa Park.  Indeed, the city is built around canyons.  I can't think of one core neighborhood that doesn't have at least one substantial hill.  Obviously, these Forbes people have never tried to squeeze into the bike lane alongside two narrow lanes of aggressive traffic to get either up or down the epic Texas Street hill between Interstate 8 and Adams Avenue.  Or how about trying to get from the vaunted velodrome on the east side of Balboa Park to the zoo or museums on the west side?  Yeah, there's a hill.  Don't even get me started on Little Italy or Banker's Hill (yeah, "hill").  There's another neighborhood called "Hillcrest."  It's right there in the name.  Hill.

And that doesn't even begin to address the wheel-bendingly horrible condition of the streets and roads, the pathologically aggressive drivers, the dense network of freeways that bisect otherwise perfectly serviceable bicycle corridors, or the general lack of interest in meaningful bicycle development shown by city and county officials.  Not to be a nay-sayer or anything, but really, just what the hell were the Forbes people thinking?  The weather is nice, I'll give them that, but only if you like to be all hot and sweaty when you get where you're going.

Bitch, bitch, bitch, I know.  But really, the point is this: if San Diego is #3, I worry that we're setting the bar waaaay too low for what it means to be bicycle-friendly.  There's a long way to go before San Diego even approaches bicycle-friendly for people who commute or ride on a daily basis, and while this ranking could have the benefit of spurring greater improvements in the future, I do sincerely hope that it doesn't create a sense of complacency among our public officials.  I know that the SDCBC will continue to push for meaningful improvements, and that others will continue to work to try to make San Diego live up to its undeserved high-ranking, and until then, I guess I'll take comfort--while laboring up to Park Boulevard from Florida Canyon--that San Diego is flat.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

1930s "Lifetime Elgin" Poster

I picked up this old advert (not a poster, really, but a leaf from a magazine) yesterday at one of our local shops, Paper Antiquities.  The store is amazing, and the owner is very friendly.  If you're ever in San Diego, check them out.  

I love the visual style of the ad, and I even borrowed a bit for the new banner head for the blog, which I think turned out wonderfully.  But it was the text that really won me over:

On city streets or country roads the Lifetime ELGIN is the popular choice of boys and men the country over.  Its smooth, easy action gives a new sense of freedom, of speed, of luxurious pleasure.  You'll revel in the convenience of its appointments and admire the sturdiness of its construction.  Whether commuting to and from work, going to school, using it for business or for purposes of recreation, you'll find the LIFETIME ELGIN an efficient, dependable and less-tiring means of transportation.  As a value it is beyond compare.

I've never ridden an Elgin before (it was the pre-WWII Sears, Roebuck and Company make, replaced after the war by J.C. Higgins), but this description makes me want to.  It's the utilitarian aspect of the description that I like so much--recreation is literally the last use they mention.  The emphasis is on "sturdiness" and on using the bicycle as transportation, which is a realization we're only just now making again.  However, for those who would romanticize an earlier era, on the back is an ad for Allstate automobile tires, so it wasn't all "luxurious" bicycling pleasure and apple-cheeked lads on bikes in those days.  Still pretty neat, though.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How to Adjust a Sturmey-Archer Three-Speed Hub

Sometimes I actually post useful information.  Sometimes.

So, I've kept kind of quiet about it, but ever since I put my Columbia Sports III back together last, uh, November, I've been having trouble getting the hub adjustment right.  This is mostly the result of the fact that I experience problems while on a ride, stop to quickly make some stop-gap adjustments, then realizing later that it's still messed up, and just keep repeating the process.  Finally, I got fed up with it, and decided to devote some time to getting everything adjusted exactly right.

As usual, Sheldon Brown has the definitive guidance on the subject, but I wanted to make things a bit more explicit and illustrated for you fellow first-timers.  So, here we go:

Correct hub adjustment is extremely important.  First, it allows you to take full advantage of all three of your gears.  Second, it prevents "freewheeling," which isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds.  Freewheeling on a 3-speed occurs when the internal gizmos in the hub align so that the pedals can spin forward without engaging the drive.  In other words, the pedals are turning, but you're not moving the bike forward anymore.  This can be extremely dangerous when you think you're solidly in a gear and pedaling along with resistance and suddenly your legs start spinning uncontrollably.  This throws your whole bike/body alignment out of whack and you are certain to at least wobble, and possibly lose total control.  Not good for riding in traffic or crossing an intersection, certainly.

Proper adjustment is actually pretty easy, provided you have an ample dose of patience.  There are basically only two parts to adjust: the indicator spindle, and the cable tensioner.  The indicator spindle is the little rod and chain that emerges from the right side of the three-speed hub.  One end of the rod is threaded with tiny threads, and this end screws into the hub itself (see photo).  This is where you make your first adjustment. 

Disengage the shifter cable from the indicator spindle so that you can unscrew the indicator spindle and take it all the way out of the hub.  Check to make sure it's not bent or damaged.  If everything is okay, reinsert the indicator spindle and tighten with just your fingers until it stops, then back it off a half turn.  This is really important, because if you back it off too much, the indicator spindle doesn't fully engage with the gearing mechanism inside the hub.  This was my problem, and caused me no little amount of frustration before I realized it.  If the indicator spindle isn't seated properly in the hub, no amount of adjustment to the cable will help.

Now, reattach the cable to the indicator spindle.  Tighten the cable tensioner (the barrel on the end of your shifter cable) by screwing it on to the indictor spindle, and use the little locknut on the indicator spindle to hold the tensioner in place.  It should look something like this:  

Now comes the tricky part.  I'll let Sheldon Brown explain it, with particularly important passages highlighted:

For best results, adjust the cable by tension. When the trigger is in high gear position, the cable should be totally slack. Shift down to middle gear, while watching the indicator chain-it should clearly move as you make the shift. Then shift to low gear; again, you should see more chain coming out of the end of the axle. Sometimes the internal parts line up in such a way as to prevent downshifting. If you have trouble getting the hub to downshift, turn the pedals slightly forwards. Once you are sure you are in low gear, take hold of the indicator spindle chain and try to pull more of it out of the axle. If the adjustment is correct, you should be able to get just a tiny bit more movement from the chain. If it is completely taut, the cable is too tight. Make sure to tighten the knurled locknut on the indicator spindle so that the adjustment will stay as you have set it.

Double check the adjustment in all gears. In low gear, you should be able to see that the sprocket moves faster than the wheel, and the hub should not make a ticking sound while being pedaled forward. In middle gear, the sprocket should move at the same speed as the wheel, and you may hear a slow ticking as you pedal. In high gear, the wheel should turn faster than the sprocket. The same slow ticking may be audible in high gear.

If you hold the trigger halfway between middle and high gear, the hub should disengage so that you can spin the pedals forward without going anywhere. If it freewheels forward in high gear, the cable is to tight or has too much friction to release properly. If it freewheels forward in middle gear, the cable is too loose.

If you're anything like me, you will have to make many minute adjustments to the cable tension until you get it just right.  The key points again: 1) properly seat indicator spindle in hub; 2) freewheel in high gear means cable is too tight; 3) freewheel in middle gear or low gear means cable is too loose; 4) there should be no ticking sound when pedaled forward in low gear; 5) hub should freewheel between 2nd and 3rd gear.

If you would like to read Sheldon Brown's original article in its entirely, go here.  Sheldon also has lots of other great information about three speed (a.k.a. planetary, or epicyclic) gearing, including diagrams that show what's going on in there.

By the way, my experience related here is based on the Sturmey-Archer AW hub that is original to my Columbia, I have no experience with other S-A models or other hub-geared systems.

Adults Learning to Ride



I can't decide if this is depressing or inspiring.  What do you think?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reader Project: Giuseppe's 1973 Schwinn De Luxe Twinn

Giuseppe wanted to share his new tandem project with me, and I wanted to pass it along to you all.  This is the first tandem we've featured here, and it's a real beauty.  Giuseppe has big plans to transport the entire family, so wish them luck on their inaugural ride this week.  Check out more photos of the rehab process at Giuseppe's blog.