Working on a Wifely Wehicle

I recently purchased two vintage Peugeot bicycles from their original owner. One was a U-08 from the mid 70’s and in nearly perfect condition. The man told me he’d bought it and then put it into storage and moved away for a good long while. Then he moved back, took it out and had it serviced, then forgot about it again. It’s barely been ridden and it shows. But that also means it’ll need the full treatment to make sure everything is ready to ride and to insure it’ll last for decades to come.

The other one is a sweet mixte, pearlescent white with black pinstriping.

That one is about the right size for my wife, and it just might be cool enough, cute enough, and comfortable enough that she’ll want to ride it around a bit. Just to up the stakes I’m gonna take the sprung Brooks saddle from Frank and put it on this bike since Frank is out of commission until I can build him some new wheels, I think. I took apart the cottered B.B. and was all set to order a nice, simple, sealed replacement, but I couldn’t locate one with the right specifications, this being a vintage French bike. So I cleaned everything up and sat it all aside for the rebuild.

It had 9mm cotter pins, which the internet could lead you to believe is unusual for a French bike. I know because long ago I looked up “what are the most common sizes of cotter pins for vintage bicycles?” and was told that it was 8.5mm and 9.5mm. So I got those sizes. But luckily Peter over at Port City Bikes had a scant few left in the right size, and he even sold me two for a fair price! I grabbed some new handlebars and brake levers from the Gear Hub, and that should be all I need to get it in riding shape. I can fine tune it after that, maybe get some different pedals. Maybe saw off the ends of the cotter pins once they’ve had time to really work their way in there and I’ve tightened them down as much as I’m gonna. All the pins I’ve found are way longer than their original counterparts. Not sure when that changed. Probably before I was born.

The jockey wheels on the rear derailleur were both broken. I don’t know if that means this bike was ridden hard, but it doesn’t look like it otherwise. Besides a little dirt and grime it’s in pretty good shape. I replaced the rear DR with something similar in style, but I couldn’t find a Simplex.

Tomorrow my plan is to reassemble the headset and try to get the new stem and bars set up properly. I gotta do the hubs, too, especially now that I got my latest freewheel removal tool!!! Plus whatever else I need to do to make it rideable.


Overhauling Judi’s Freewheel + updates

While I was working in the attic with Ezra he noticed that Judi was quite rusty in parts, mainly because I put her away without properly scrubbing everything down. And so I took apart her drivetrain and he helped me scrub. But when I went to reassemble the rear wheel I noticed that it felt a little loose and wobbly. The middle gears had felt a little strange when riding lately, and that explains it. So I took apart the freewheel and overhauled it. Now it is running smoothly.


Wow! I discovered this post in my drafts. Seems like I wrote it (mostly) and then forgot about it for…shit, like, half a year. So there ya go. I had put Judi away for the winter a little earlier than usual since she had developed a flatting problem. It turned out that I had some crushed glass in the front wheel, so I assumed that was the problem. I ended up getting new tires, the same Paselas but with the extra bit of flat resistance. When the weather got good I put the new tires on with new tubes. I pumped up the first one, set it aside, and as I turned to the rear wheel I heard that damned “pfffffffffftttttsssssssssssss…” I won’t lie, I got unreasonably upset by this. But at that point I said fuck it and I went ahead and pumped up the rear tire. I had originally planned to just ride the bike to work the next morning, but since it was getting late and I had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning I decided to just deal with the front tire the following afternoon.

But of course when I got home from work the next day I found that both tires were flat. Since I had already gotten unreasonably mad the day before, in fact within the last 12 hours, I decided to stay calm and treat it like a mystery that I had to solve. A really irritating mystery. It seemed that all the punctures were now coming from the inside, so the first thing I did was to very carefully go over all of the spokes to see if anything was poking up. I also looked and felt along every millimeter of the rim for any rough spots, and did end up sanding down a couple of questionable areas, though I don’t know if that was actually necessary. I then replaced the front tube again and followed through till it was pumped up to 80psi. While I was just starting to futz with the other wheel, satisfied in a job well done (that’s not true, I actually sat there with my eyes fixed on the front wheel just waiting for something to go wrong) the tire went flat. I can’t say how mad I got at this point because I blacked out. But when I came to later I discovered that I had angrily, but successfully, removed the tires and tubes from the rims and found the new punctures, also located along the inside of the tubes.

At this point I called my friends at the gear hub to see if they had any advice on what else I should check. They suggested that it might be the rim strips and that perhaps new ones made out of cloth would work better. Luckily they had those so I ran over and grabbed a pair. When I got home later I used alcohol to clean the inside of the rims thoroughly, then I carefully applied the new strips. When the time came to assemble everything again I decided to try an experiment. Some of the tubes got punctures also along the side wall where the tube itself had a seam. I was worrying that perhaps I was using cheap tubes and that this was part of my problem. I had gotten a set of 10 made by Avenir but they seemed less stretchy and relatively brittle compared to the Kendas that I had had in the tires originally. So I used yet another new tube in the front but in the back I just use a patched up Kenda tube that had originally been in that tire before all of the flatting began. At this point it’s been a couple of months and I have not had any issues with the tires. But during the first week after all of this business I was very careful riding on them and always had a new tube and a patch kit on me. Though I should probably do that all the time anyway.

New(er) Brakes for an Old(er) Bike

I have been thinking for a while now about replacing the brakes on Judi, my 1983 Fuji Del Rey. The Dia-Compe calipers that came on the bike seemed fine when I first got it, but all I had to compare it to was an old Wal-Mart bike my little brother (also from 1983) had given me. Eventually I tried some other bikes with V-brakes and cantis, and those had more stopping power, but I assumed that was because they were of a different design. When I finally got to ride a number of different vintage bikes I began to realize that my brakes just weren’t that great. And changing to different brake pads didn’t change anything. They’re not as bad as the whole set up on my 1950’s 3-speed with steel rims, but they’re nowhere near as good as the early 80’s Suntour Superbes on the mystery bike I keep at my folk’s house in Oklahoma. So I was delighted when I saw a pair of seemingly unused Superbe calipers for sale in the display case of the Portland Gear Hub recently. These were definitely newer and nicer than the ones on my OK bike, but they were only the brake calipers and not the levers. After asking around and doing a little research it seemed like replacing the calipers would give me a lot of benefit whether or not I switched out the levers, so in the end I grabbed some cash from my almost totally depleted reserve of bike money and made my way out to grab those brakes and some pads. I was so excited that it wasn’t until I got home and started perversely manhandling them in the privacy of my own home that I realized these came with recessed bolts. The old Dia-Compes were the older nutted style. Hmmm.

I went to the internet and it told me that I could either buy two front brakes (too late and too expensive) or I was going to have to do some light drilling on the old bike to get the frame to accept these brakes. Now, there was a time not long ago when I would have returned the brakes sheepishly, saying that I hadn’t known. And I didn’t want to do any sort of drilling on my beautiful, sweet bicycle. Too risky! I could damage the paint…further. But I am more utilitarian than that now regarding this bike. It’s my bike that I love the most and that I ride the most. All others are nothing more than curiosity getting the best of me; brief dalliances that ultimately come to naught. And if this is THE bike, then I should get started really perfecting her.

The paint is much more chipped and well-worn than she was when first we met on that evening so long ago in a Libbytown basement. I’ve made some changes, but mostly things that are primarily aesthetic and easily reversible if I change my mind. Leather sew-ups for the handlebars, a new Brooks saddle (or two), vintage toe clips, etc. But today I sat down and drilled the rear-facing brake holes bigger and replaced the brakes. I used the method suggested by Sheldon Brown and demonstrated by RJ the bike guy on YouTube. It worked very well, requiring very little filing to get things to fit properly. I also had to drill out the holes on one of the curved washers for each brake, but that also proved quite easy. I was surprised at how smoothly everything went.

I did the front brake, then went for a test ride before doing the rear brake. Then another test ride. The brakes are short reach and probably from the era of 700c wheels on everything, but they do fit, just barely. The pads don’t touch the tires, even with my weight on the bike squishing the tires out a bit.

And they work so much better then the old brakes! My final test ride was mostly just repeatedly getting up to speed and then seeing how quickly I could stop. I usually ride with my hands on the hoods and I like brakes that allow me to stop easily from this position of limited leverage rather than having to reach down in the drops for an emergency stop. The old ones really never got there no matter what I did or how clean I kept them. Luckily they also didn’t suffer any worse from being dirty, which is how they remained once I figured out how little difference it made.

There’s not much else I’d change about Judi, I don’t think. Better brakes was always the thing that would come to mind, but the list always stopped there, too. I’m sure I’ll try some different bar wraps some day, but I like these in their current, ragged form. I wish they were squishier by a bit. Perhaps I’ll rewrap them with a layer of cloth tape underneath next time. But that’s a long ways off.

It’s Bike Swap time again!

The Great Maine Bike Swap is coming up soon! On Sunday, April 22 at 10am the doors of the Sullivan Center gym will open and folks will be allowed to peruse thousands of bikes being sold by Mainers. Every sale will benefit the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, too. There will be opportunities to test ride bikes on site, and there will be helmets to use and mechanics on hand to verify the bike’s safety before you try it out.

This event is always fun and exciting, and it’s such a great opportunity to get ready for the good riding weather. Plus this year you can grab your bike at the Swap, then ride it over to Standard Baking Co where the Portland Gear Hub will have a table set up to do quick tune ups and inspections while you sip coffee, eat pastries, and ask any questions you might have. What a way to get your bike sorted out!

And the Gear Hub itself will be having its annual yard sale that day (and the day before) so be sure to stop by and pick up anything you might still need for your new bike, your upcoming camping trips, or perhaps your upcoming bikepacking adventure.

Basically the weekend of the 20th will be jam packed full of fun bicycle happenings. I hope to see you there.

A trip to the magical land of Tulsa

I was recently back in Oklahoma for the holidays and I got a chance to see how the bike I have living there is doing. How’s that Oklahoma bike, you ask? It’s just OK. Actually, aside from needing a little air in the tires (which I gave it) and some lube on the chain (which we couldn’t find, so it went without) it was in remarkably good shape for having just hung in the garage for almost exactly one year. It still had the same mismatched wheels and tires, but my kindly old father had gone and found a replacement seat and seatpost since the last ones were both cracked in their own ways. It was a lot more comfortable, and I never had to worry that at some unknowable moment the post would fail and I would be impaled rectally on my bicycle.

I had made a plan to ride 23 miles from Owasso down to my cousin’s place in Tulsa. I’d been wanting to make the ride just to say I did it, as well as to show my family how not a big deal it is to ride 20+ miles at a go. Several members of my OK tribe have proven to be bike curious, but none have really gone for it. My dad did a ride with me last year, but he was on a bike that didn’t really suit his…agedness. He does have a second bike that is more comfy with an upright position and thumb shifters, but he never seems to ride that one either. My cousin to whom I was paying a visit does ride when his bike works, but every time he has something go wrong it always takes forever for anyone to fix it (often it’s my dad or myself if I’m around) and unfortunately it tends to be pretty catastrophic failures. This last time, for instance, I was planning to fix his bike when I arrived (and maybe even go for a brief ride together) but when I got there not only was the chain trapped between the cranks and the BB more thoroughly than I’d ever seen it happen, but also his freewheel had sheared off from the inner workings and was just flopping all over the place like it was hoping to escape.

The leftover bits of the rear cassette

I managed to fix the chain, but I lacked the proper tool to remove what was left of the freewheel bits, so I was forced to leave it in my father’s hands. Hopefully that gets sorted out sometime before I visit next.

I was also looking forward to taking a nice long ride in some relatively pleasant weather. I was leaving Maine just as the temps were due to go sub-zero, and on the day I was planning to ride the Tulsa forecast called for temps in the mid 40’s! Last year I went for a ride right around the same time and I was sweating in just a light hoodie. I had been hoping for something similar this time around, but unfortunately as the day grew closer the forecast got cloudier and colder. By the time Thursday rolled around it came with a high of 32, which is still cold, but warmer than I was used to on my commutes back home. I borrowed some thicker gloves/hat/etc from my dad, got the bike as ready as I could, grabbed some water and some snacks, and set out for Tulsa.

My family made a big deal out of two things. First, they were concerned that a lot of my route might not have any sort of shoulder or bike lane, and that I’d be in danger since “folks aren’t used to looking out for bikers”. And second, I would have to pass through the “rough neighborhood” of north Tulsa. I can appreciate the first point, but the second seemed way overblown and likely motivated by ignorance. But either way I don’t worry about riding through bad areas unless I’m planning to traverse northern Mexico or some other place where there’s an actual, statistical chance that my headless body might be discovered later. Generally I’m never concerned because I’m never giving off moneyed vibes when I’m out for a ride. At worst the homeless population might give me a knowing nod as I roll past, but in all my days and nights of riding I’ve never experienced any issues from any humans who were not driving a vehicle and also being total dicks. So this kind of thing I will continue to dismiss out of hand.

The first couple miles were just getting across and out of town. I chose a route that would keep me on the backroads until I hit the airport, then it kind of meandered through neighborhoods until I was half a mile from my cousin’s. After the first mile or so I had to pull over and adjust my layering, removing a hoodie and stuffing it inside the front of my jacket. Right after I got back on the road I took a turn onto what looked like a rural dead end road, but I was following the signs for a bike lane. It turned out there is an off-road, paved bike path that runs from just outside Owasso, through several fields, all the way to the outer edge of the airport! From what I could tell they had put down a narrow strip of asphalt on top of the middle of what had been an old, little used, crumbling street, and then they just put up gates to keep large vehicles out. This was a very pleasant surprise.

After that stretch it was fairly uneventful, though I really enjoyed seeing this town that I always felt like I knew so well, but from a bicycle. It really lets you discover new sides to every area through which you ride. And I got to wander through parts of town that I’ve never been near, relatively speaking.

The rough part of town was actually pretty run down; lots of houses with roofs caved in, but still seemingly occupied. But even that only lasted for a few blocks.

I grew up in Jenks, which is a little area across the river from Tulsa proper. I’m not really that familiar with the city any more than I was at 18 when I last lived there. Less so with all the changes since. Aside from the airport and the Fairgrounds/Expo Center I didn’t pass much that I was familiar with, which was exactly what I’d been hoping for from this ride.

A brief digression: Pleasant rides like this always make me wish I’d ridden my bike back when I lived in all of these different places. I could’ve ridden around the countryside where I lived as a kid. I could have commuted the 1.5 miles to work in Baltimore (it eventually became a 2.5 mile trip) and gotten to know the city so much better. I…don’t like riding in Texas because of the oppressive heat most months out of the year. I did start when I lived there, though, and I discovered something new in my little half-a-suburb with every ride I suffered through. And Portland I know pretty well at this point. A lot of the surrounding environs, too. But I am occasionally troubled by all the great rides I missed by not owning and operating a bicycle for most of my life.

Hogwart’s has a Tulsa campus now

The next thing I passed was the fairgrounds, followed by a meandering path, calmly described to me through my earbud-lady-friend, that led through several neighborhoods. This was nice because when I finally did have to hop onto an actual road for a mile or so it was Harvard and it didn’t have any sort of bike lane to speak of. Luckily folks mostly gave me lots of room and no one honked. But I turned off when a sigh of relief when the kind google maps lady told me to.

I stopped at the side of the service road by I-44 and ate a protein bar that I swiped from my parents and which I was surprised to find myself needing so badly. I gave up halfway through and pedaled off through the last stretch of neighborhood bike trail, letting out onto Lewis less than a mile from my cousin’s place. The road had a decent shoulder there, so I had a comfy home stretch. I arrived in good shape, pretty hungry, sweaty-backed and in need of a quick hair washing, but otherwise passable in polite society. I washed my hair, dried my shirt about a quarter of the way, then my wife and son arrived to take us all out to lunch. Perfect timing!

I drove back to my parent’s house after the outing that followed and my dad picked up the bike and brought it back later that night. I need to remember to bring a few things with me next time I return to the Great Plains to be sure I’m ready for anything the road throws at me!

Ugh, that sounded terrible.

But I’m keeping it.

Winter Alley Cat – January 28th!

Just a heads up that we are having a winter alley cat race this month, Sunday the 28th. It begins at noon in Monument Square, and it ends somewhere else where we can all party hearty well into the afternoon. This race will replace the annual Snowman Adventure Race that the Gear Hub has been hosting the past three or four years, but it will involve a fair amount of outdoor winter activities.

If you’ve never been a part of an alley cat it’s a kind of bike race/scavenger hunt with no set route. Instead there’s a list of stops around town that you have to hit in order to get a stamp before making it to the final stop. They’re always fun, and there are prizes for the normal race categories as well as best costume (encouraged, not required), bonus points, dead last, etc. I highly recommend showing up for these events when we put them on. You can race individually or in teams of up to six people, so drag some friends along.

I hope to see some of you fine folks there!

Review: Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills 

   The full title is actually “BICYCLING Magazine’s Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills – Your Guide to Riding Faster, Stronger, Longer, and Safer” which is pretty self explanatory, and I probably shouldn’t have to even do a review, but here goes anyway.  

   This appears to be a compilation of articles from Bicycling Magazine on various subjects particular to the art of road riding and road racing. In all honesty, I picked this up thinking that it would either be a bunch of tips and tricks I’d already read elsewhere or else a bunch of information about blood oxygen levels and intervals and other things that, while they might be interesting scientifically speaking, do not interest me subjectively speaking. But I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. 

   The first few chapters were super basic, but well written and focused on preventing bad habits from forming early on, one could assume. A great deal of what followed was a good mix of stuff I’ve heard before, but written by professional cyclists (Davis Phinney authored several of these chapters, which is noteworthy since he is the husband of one of the authors of the first book I reviewed, Connie Carpenter-Phinney) with specific, thoughtful tips, and stuff which I’d not heard or long forgotten.  

   There’s a good chapter on breathing. It may sound odd, but I’m a big fan of focusing on my breath when I ride. I try to turn some rides into a kind of pseudo meditation. Or maybe it’s more like yoga.  Either way it’s rarely discussed in the other books I’ve read about cycling. There are chapters on climbing and the benefits thereof, which I appreciate because I primarily notice my fitness level based on how I handle the hills in and around my home town of Portland, Maine.  They actually covered a wide variety of subjects that apply to any fan of riding bikes, from beginners to commuters. There are a few chapters that are mostly directed at road racers, but even many of these also pertain to long distance riding and touring.  

   The book was published in 1998, so there are some small elements that might seem dated, but overall it holds up really well. Good advice is good advice. There is a chapter toward the end titled “For Men Only” that was a lot about impotence and not being able to feel one’s penis for a month or more. It seems like much of this has been shown to be incredibly rare or just generally debunked. Which isn’t to say there aren’t risks. But still…  

   The following chapter was titled “For Women Only” so I skipped it. I try to respect the wishes of the books that I read. Plus it allows me to imagine all sorts of bizarre stuff that could be in that chapter. Kind of a Schrödinger’s cat of vulva mythology. But there was one thing that I read in this book that I will never forget. 

   In one chapter they explain how stop lights detect cars using metal detectors under the pavement, which was awesome because I didn’t know that. They also explained what to look for if you want to roll over the detectors to increase the odds that your bike will actually ping the thing and make the light change for you without any cars having to come up in the lane right behind you. Which I greatly appreciated. But then the guy goes a lot overboard by suggesting that cyclists should go so far toward obeying the vehicular rules of the road that, when you find yourself waiting at a light that just won’t change, rather than waiting for an opportune moment to just ride through the red light they could dismount and lay their bike down on the detector to help it detect the steel (this is assuming your bike is made of steel) and change the light. I feel that this would do so much more to confuse and disrupt any potential traffic that might witness such a scene than it would to actually make said cyslist safe. But of course I also really want to see someone try it. 

Or get one of these doohickeys

   I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to anyone who has been riding for a little while and who feels like they could ride a little smoother and a little better. Or really anyone at all interested. Don’t hold back just because I failed to properly pigeonhole you.