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.

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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.

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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.

My first metric century

<DISCLAIMER: I am bad at remembering to take pictures, so they are so few as to be almost nonexistent. But it’s all true, I swear>

   This week I was as invited on a ride with a coworker and some other folks to ride to Kennebunk and back to Portland, a trip that totaled 68 miles. I was excited the whole week leading up to it, but busy too, so the excitement never got out of hand.  When I mentioned that I was planning to do the ride friends and family were flabbergasted. They couldn’t wish me enough luck or remind me sufficiently that I had to be especially careful for cars, hydration, Governer LePage, etc. I was never worried about my legs. I’ve done several 30ish miles rides and none have ever kicked my ass. The first one sent me into a hilarious cramp spiral, but I did a bad job that time and learned some valuable lessons. 

  Even though this was twice as far as my longest ride I knew that it was doable, and I find that riding with a small group makes the miles feel easier somehow. No one was in a hurry. Everyone was nice and pleasant to talk to. There was just enough familiarity between the different riders that one could always drop in or out of a conversation, moving back and forth between the small pods of two or three cyclists. We stopped a couple of times each way to snack, chat, and fill up on water. 


   I had never been on most of the Eastern Trail system that links up southern coastal maine. It’s so picturesque and well maintained. I kept thinking of how fun it will be to come down with the family and ride through the salt marshes in Scarborough and down into Saco Biddeford. Maybe we can visit some friends there before riding back north. The only parts that weren’t woodsy gravel trails were a short stint in south portland and pretty much all of Biddeford. There you had to ride through town, but there were still signs to guide you back to the trails and the roads we took were minimally trafficked. 

   After that we got back on the trail until we met up with the Kennebunk exit on 95, and from there we took the road into town for some much needed food and coffee. Everyone remained in good spirits as we mounted up to head right back the way we’d just come. The return trip went faster as it always seems to do, though it might have been the lengthy discussion of modern poets and poetry I ended up having for over half that trip with my younger, collegiate doppelgänger.  What an experience!

   We ended the ride at the Gear Hub for their Grand Opening Party. The band was playing, the BBQ was…flowing?  The yard sale was in full effect, as was the four square tournament. I left my fellow riders there so I could run home, shower, roll out my legs, gather my family, and finally return in time to see the festivities come to an end. I did pick up a few items from the yard sale bins, and my son did get a new, more legit game of four square going (legit because of the presence of a school child). 

   I ended a longish day of riding my bike by riding my bike home with my son, a trip that was mostly directed into the sunset. But we had our sunglasses. So it was cool. 

Judi’s bar wraps were starting to fall apart, and I always found the bars to feel a bit too hard anyway, so I got some elk hide sew ups and I sewed them up. I really enjoy the feel so far, and I’m looking forward to how they darken up. I do feel like the hide is a little pocky and not particularly smooth, but I knew it was different than cow hide going in,

and I find them to be surprisingly soft and cushy for how thin they are. Plus I dig the look of of them.

Judi and I got around the Newcastle side of the Miramichi today and saw some of the sights. The curling club didn’t have any ice down for the season, so I wasn’t able to slap on a sticky shoe and sweep the ice. The folks inside were incredibly nice, though, and let me look around. French Fort Cove has a lovely park with some great hiking/biking trails. Overall a pleasant place to ride. Plus I got to ride over the other bridge in town, which my father-in-law always calls the Strawberry Marsh Bridge.