Thursday, February 28, 2013

Grinning like an idiot: Porteur Rack

Every morning, I deliver muffins to our local cafe. My wife does the baking, but since O showed up a few months ago, its been easier for me to do the delivery.

I've been using the car for deliveries, but broke out the porteur rack this morning. I bungeed the container (approx 2'x3') down to the rack, and away we went.

Delivery went very well. I had some issues with rolling muffins, but that should improve if I can find a container that is smaller and gives a snugger fit. For the ride back, I carted back a bag of flour while holding a cup of coffee in the other.

It's a small, simple, maybe foolish thing, and I could be called petty or smug for it, but I can think of few better ways to start a morning than delivering muffins by bike.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Build it yourself, Cheapskate!: Porteur Rack edition

This past weekend I headed back to the family farm to take care of the cattle for my parents. I'm happy to do this, not only for the chance to play farmer, but because my father has a pretty well equipped metal working shop.

I've been wanting a porteur rack for some time, and been drooling over the offerings from VO and others. The price put me off though, especially since they would cost more than the actual bike.

Porteur racks come in a variety of variations and materials, each with their pros and cons. What was possible was limited by the materials available, and what I was capable of producing. In the end, I settled on welding 5/16 mild steel. I know that the weight of this rack is much higher than any production rack, but it was within my capabilities as a welder, and the materials were dirt cheap. (I have no photos of the construction because I doubted my ability to manage fire, a camera, and a three year old simultaneously.)

I decided on a flat rack without side rails, with the struts running down to the axle, and the rear attached to the front brake. Many porter racks will run to the fender mounts, but those are already in use on this bike. I also doubted how much weight they could stand.

Construction caught me a bit off guard. I had anticipated that building the platform of the rack would be the hard part, but getting the rack to mount to the bike was the hard part. Initially, I had planned on flattening out the top of the rod to enable bolting it straight to the rack

But the torch was out of oxygen, so that was out. I welded washers on instead, but getting a good weld without burning through the washer was an issue. I'll admit a serious lack of experience welding small parts, which resulted in this weld being by far the weakest point of the rack. To avoid making any more weak points, I fabricated some very crude washer/enclosed dropouts.

Emphasis on crude. Richard Sachs would have a stroke if he saw these.

Strut attachment solved I welded a bracket to the rear of the rack, to attach between the jam nuts on the front of the brake. Problem was that there was not enough threads to allow the jam nuts and the bracket to fit. I tested mounting without the jam nut, but then the entire rack twisted every time I applied the front brakes.  I had seen racks attached to the handle bars, but that would reduce my ability to adjust my handlebars. I had also seen attachments to the fender itself, but I had no threaded bosses available. Also I suspect this rack will switch between bikes, and I don't want to be constantly drilling holes in fenders. In the end, I built a longer bracket that wraps around the rear of the fork, and clamps to two of the rods on the rack.
The left side of the bracket misses the barrel adjuster by about 1/8 inch...
...but it does clear through the full brake travel

This should enable me to fit this rack to almost any bike with a drilled bridge, which 3 out of the 4 of our bikes do have.

So it's heavy, and more than a little ugly, but it's solid and cheap. Finishing may have to wait for a bit until we get temps above 50F.

This evening I mounted the unfinished rack to the Schwinn
Operating Table

I had been wanting to use p-clamps to attach the rear bracket to the rack, but no local hardware store carried them, so I used cable clamps instead. They do stick above the plane of the rack more than I like, so they may be replaced if I find something better. Future racks need a less clumsy rear attachment
Everything went together great, with a little help.
Not yet three, but she's perfectly capable of starting a bolt without cross threading.
I'm so proud.
If you look close, you can see that the rear bracket mounts to the lower end of the cable clamp, then the clamp goes around the rod of the rack

This bike is quickly earning the nickname "Shovelhead"
The finished rack is approximately 12 1/2 x 12 1/2. It ended up clearing the fender by about 3", which is more that I like, but I won't consider it a problem unless it becomes a problem. I have no idea what the weight is, but it's high.

Later that night, I took a shake down run to the college library with the rack empty. I was looking for any rattles, but none appeared. On the way back from the library, I strapped my backpack (with book and crescent wrench inside) for a weighted run. The weight is definitely noticeable, but not unpleasant. The weight up front make the bike corner very smoothly, it seems to reduce some of the twitches out of the handling. Starting from a dead stop takes a bit getting used too, as any wiggles get magnified by the weight of the rack. I had a perception of hill climbs being easier, perhaps with the increased freedom of movement without a backpack?

My first impressions are very positive, and I'm excited to test out the weight limits of this setup. Adjustments are inevitable, so we'll have to see what this rack looks like in a few months.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Errandonee! pt 5.

Here are the final two. Temps in the 20's, and finally getting clothing right made these some of the most enjoyable rides of the challenge. Good thing this was the last day, because the snow hammer's about to fall.

11: Community Meeting
Destination: Events Center
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze
From the road, this building looks like a very large In-and-Out.
Lesson/Observation: The meeting concerned the widening of HWY 75 from a 3 lane (two directional, plus turn lane) to a 5 lane. The room was standing only, though that may have more to do with the size of the room, not the crowd. Many residents are against the widening, citing expense, (the city's share is about 2m) concerns about safety, and resistance to the purchase of additional right of way. City officials argue that increasing the capacity of the road will improve vehicle and pedestrian safety, and that enlarging the road is vital to the growth of the city. I'm on the fence about this, mainly because I don't know yet what exactly the city is planning on doing. A number of things they talked about are in the air yet, and that could swing the project either way in my mind. No cycle paths are planned, if you were wondering, but with the exiting bike trail, they would be mostly unnecessary. Side note: To get to this meeting, I had to cut across the city golf course, using the cart trails. By car I would use 75, but using that highway by bike would indicate I possessed a death wish. Technically the course is city owned, so I wasn't trespassing. The area around the course is still under development, so I hope that when the rest of the streets are in, I can just use those. Lesson: Cart paths=Bike Paths

12. Coffee Shop
Destination: The Fruited Plain Cafe
Mileage: 3.56
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze
This errand is my thank you. My wife and I share a love of cycling, and it's something we want to do as a family. She put up with my taking off for extended rides to participate in this challenge, and for that, I fetched a lambic from the Fruited Plain, which is both a coffee shop, and a place to get good wine and beer. Lesson: Say thank-you.

Thanks Love!
(Touching up her Mixte)

A few closing thoughts.

I had hoped to include children, but the weather would have made it borderline dangerous. Even with the work of pedaling I had a hard time staying warm.

Most of my errands were for transporting myself, or pretty light loads. My wife and I do not eat out much currently, though we are hoping for some bike dates come summer. When the weather gets warmer I anticipate higher weight utility runs, and more involvement with the kids. My youngest is too young to be in a trailer or a seat, but the oldest enjoys riding in the trailer. I also will be building a porteur rack this weekend, which will increase the cargo capacity of my bike considerably.

Most of my errands were at night, since most were run after the kids had called it a night. This also resulted in many poor pictures, for which I apologize.

Thanks MG for running this, and I look forward to reading about everyone's adventures in the coming weeks.

Errandonee! pt 4: In which I go to Siberia

We're nearing the final day of the Errandonee Winter Challenge, and for the first time, I think I might just complete this. I know that for many of the participants, doing this errands is just a normal part of their lives. February in Iowa does not generally encourage outdoor activity, and so this challenge has been a gentle shove out the door, keeping me on the bike through these cold, mostly dark, days.

Tonight's errands feature single digit temps, enhanced by a bear of a cold wind out of the north. I thought I was staying pretty warm, but when I got off the bike, I realized my legs were mostly numb. Then a few minutes after I stepped inside the library, I thought someone was stomping on my feet. Guess defrosting does  funny things to you.

9. Wild Card
Destination: City Hall
Mileage: 5.5
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze 1/2w f/b
Closed for remodel. Still receiving payment for utility bills.
Lesson/Observation: Grant Peterson says that it's a good idea to go for a ride under dressed, that it's good to be really cold on a bike on occasion. I checked that off my list with this ride, though I did not mean to. As a long time resident of this area, I'm ashamed how often I poorly judge the demands the weather places on a person. I feel fortunate that being very cold does not put me in the severe pain that some cyclists experience, but maybe a bit more discomfort would be good for driving the point home. Side note: if there is a frozen facial hair bonus, I would like to submit:
My wife is quick to remind me that I do not, in fact, possess a beard.

On the upside, I forced myself to bike on sheet ice. A portion of the bike trail I rode tonight is clearly not being kept clean, because the recent freeze/thaw/freeze cycle has turned a short portion into a skating rink. I was running late, so I kept riding, rather than get off and walk. Lesson: Cycling on ice is pretty easy, as long as you don't need to brake, or turn, or accelerate, or....

Destination: Public Library
Mileage: .8 (an example of direct route)
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze
Lesson/Observation: Short ride, short point: Nothing motivates hustle like heading to a warm home on a very cold night.
Our town actually has a very lovely library,
which this pic does nothing to convey.

 Two more errands to complete. #11 will be ironically fitting to the challenge, and in #12, I say thank you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Errandonee! pt3:More Stubbornness Than Sense

As previously noted, I'm running out of time. A looming deadline has forced me to take desperate (some would say idiotic) measures. Before I say what evil I've been forced to commit, some background:

I work in Orange City, which is ten miles away from the town where I live. Commuting is out of the question, both due to time restraints, and high speed traffic on narrow roads. I have a half hour lunch break, which I usually spend going for a walk.

Evil Commited: Tossing my bike in the back of the jeep to run errands during my break.

Now, if I were taking mass-transit with a Brompton or something of that ilk, we would call this multi-modal errandonuering. What I'm doing is just stubbornness winning over sense.

7. Grocery Store
Destination: Fareway Grocery
Mileage: 2.2
Bike:Schwinn Suburban
The indignities our bikes suffer, without a word of complaint

Lesson/Observation. The Schwinn fits remarkably easily into the back of my jeep, though only with the back seat down. I have heard of this bike rack things, but the one I own, I do not trust.
This morning I left for work in a great hurry, leaving hat and scarf behind. The resulting frozen ears I took as penance for my unsportsmanlike behavior. Unfortunately I had only 25 minutes for break, plus strong winds to deal with, so I failed to reach the needed 2.5 on this errand. These errands better start bringing the miles or I'm in trouble.
I was also spotted by a coworker at the grocery store, and forced to explain myself when I got back. Unsurprisingly (though understandably) they universally regard me as having taken leave of my senses. One of my coworkers is a RAGBRAI veteran, but the cold weather convinced even her that I was out of my mind.
Lesson: Be sneaky, or be regarded as insane.

8. Non-Grocery Store
Destination: Bomgaar's (Farm Supply and Hardware)
Bike: Schwinn Suburban
The Schwinn in the sun by the sand tubes
Lesson/Observation: Today marks an all time low for me, temp wise. While I know at least one person errandoneuring north of the border who has it colder, I still think -10F wind chills rank universally unpleasant. Outerwear today is a fleece jacket under insulated leather coat, wool scarf, wool lined leather gloves, and newsie hat. This actually is the first time that my gloves failed me, but I was actually plenty warm in my core. Even my face stayed pretty warm. Observation: Where I live the majority of people are descendants of Dutch immigrants. Cycling in all conditions is a very Dutch thing to do. Errandoneuring is helping this Dutchman take back his heritage.

Four Errands to complete...
Nine Miles to travel...
One Day to do them in...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Errandonee! pt.2

What better way to end a weekend spent with my brother and sister-in-law in the greater Des Moines area than a pair of errands via bike. After about 550 miles of windshield time over the weekend, six or so miles of  bike time sounded like perfection. I'm running behind the pace in both mileage and errands run, and my next post will detail the rule-bending that I was forced to commit to complete the challenge.

5: Library
Destination: Dordt College Library
Mileage: 2
Bike: Schwinn Suburban
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze 1/2w, Front/Back
I do love that tailight
Lesson/Observation: For this errand, I expanded my route to include the northern portion of Sioux Center's bike trail. While we have only about eight miles of trail in my town, the main line runs the length of the town, providing a separated, car free route from the north to south end of the trail. You do have to manage street crossings, but they are minimized through some excellent planning when the route was first installed. However, the trail is utterly unlit. While my lights threw enough light to see what was ahead, the tightly focused beam made the many curves in the trail almost completely blind. Now I know the trail very well, but if it were new to me, my speed would have been extremely limited by my lighting set-up. Now I don't want lighting on the trail, part of it's appeal is the ability to see stars in town on a late night run. But this has served as a good test on the limits of this lighting system, and a motivation to research additional lighting, perhaps a helmet mount?

Destination: Hy-Vee Grocery
Mileage: 4.85 (To date, this is the only ride where I took a direct route.)
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze 1/2w, Front/Back

Lesson/Observation: NW Iowa may not have much for hills, but it can certainly cook up a roaring good wind. Though the night was mild, I still layered up against the wind on the outbound leg of the trip. (Emergency dish soap run, btw) The tailwind pushed me back home, and I promptly started shedding the hat, gloves and scarf that had been necessary on the way out. Once again, a relatively short trip has been a lesson in proper layering. Product plug: Duluth Pack #51. This is a simple canvas and leather backpack with a single large pocket and a top flap closure. With the single, large pocket, you can ram pretty much anything your back can handle into the bag. Duluth pack is a small company based out of Duluth, MN on Lake Superior. Their gear is tailored to canoeing, but much of it is useful for anyone valuing durability over low weight. They do offer some bike specific gear which I have not tried, but reviews on these products are mixed.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Errandonee! pt1

Courtesy MG of Chasing Mailboxes, I present the first half of my Errandonnee. The basic concept is to complete 12 errands in 12 days, covering at least thirty miles. Please note that I shamelessly took out of the way routes to get to the necessary mileage. Going by most direct routes, my total distance would have been in the neighborhood of ten miles or less. This is forced on me because my town is just over six square miles, and most of the errand-type locations are clustered around downtown, which is about a half a mile from where I live. (ed: My wife ran two of the six errands listed. After inquiry, they were ruled void, but remain posted here as a testament to my wife's good humor towards her husband's penchant for bike-related nonsense.)

1. Wild Card
Destination: ATM
Distance: 1.78
Bike: Schwinn Suburban
Got to feed the steel frame habit
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze 1/2 watt front and back. Not as powerful as the popular Blaze 1w, it still manages residential streets perfectly well. I would like to use it for nighttime gravel rides come summer, not sure it will have sufficient power.
Poorly executed self timer. 
Lesson/Observation: Having a place to ditch excess clothing is reason alone for having a bike bag or basket. My clothing would best be termed as "day laborer," holdovers from my time as a farmer's son and later as a cabinetmaker. The Carhart jacket I own is a XL in order to have layering room, this also means it's long enough for biking. Riding a bike was nowhere on my radar when I purchased the coat, but it still works pretty well.

2. Community Meeting:
Date: 2/7/13
Destination: CCC Evangelical Free (local church)
Mileage: 2.42
Lesson/Observation: I'm new to the upright/city style bike. Fighting the headwind to Errand #1 caught me off guard, but sitting upright turned me into my own personal sail on the way back. My route from Errand #1 to Errand #2 is supposedly uphill. Didn't notice.
Bike: Schwinn Suburban
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze 1/2 watt front and back.

3: Work
Date: 2/9/13
Destination: Brothers Bike Shop
Giant Via, mid assembly.
Comes with fenders, rack, and three speed IGH
Mileage: 3.65
Bike: Schwinn Suburban
Lesson/Observation: An upright bike makes cold weather clothing choices easier. Specifically in regards to coat sleeves being long enough to keep wrists covered. At 6'3", this problem comes up for me a lot.

4.Library (VOID: Errand run by spouse)
Destination: Dordt College Library
Distance: 1.76
Bike: Raleigh Sprite Mixte.
The mixte showing the BSOs what cool looks like.
Please note Brooks, Wald Baskets, and double kickstand from VO
Lesson/Observation: My wife mentioned that when she shifted from 4th to 5th, her chain would lock up. Since the mixte is a five speed, the loss of twenty percent of her gears was annoying to say the least. Turns out that a fender stay bolt had been replaced with one that was a little too long, and shifting to 5th rammed the chain against the bolt, jamming the chain. No damage appears to be done to the chain, and cutting down or replacing the bolt should fix the problem. Today's lesson is: Beware the Fender bolt!

5. Work
Date: 2/12/13
Destination: Brothers Bike Shop
Mileage: 2.10
Bike: Schwinn Suburban
Lighting: Planet Bike Blaze 1/2w. Front Only!
Between these two photos of the shop, you've seen 90% of the main floor.
I love it.
Lesson/Observation: There had been the possibility that my wife's errand yesterday would have been at night, so I pulled my taillight and attached it to my wife's mixte. Turns out she got to the library and back during the day, but I forgot to put the light back on my Schwinn. Running to work knowing that I had no taillight or reflector put me into ninja territory. I don't like it. Couples should share many things, but taillights are not one of them. She has a taillight of her own on order now.

6. Library (VOID: Errand run by spouse)
Date: 2/13/13
Destination: Public Library
Mileage: 1.01
Bike: Raleigh Sprite Mixte
Please note that my wife gets to ride the bike with the Brooks
Lesson/Observation: The ride to our public library is a short one, which is good since my wife experienced a full mechanical. The aforementioned fender stay bolt had not yet been repaired (my fault) and when she shifted to fifth by accident, her chain got really jammed. She walked the last quarter mile home, and I took my three year old daughter out to help me fix it for good. I had no shorter bolt to replace it, so I put a spacer on the side away from the gears, effectively shortening the existing bolt. I must recommend a small child as a useful addition to a home shop, especially if you have no work stand. While I held the rear tire up and checked the shifting, she cranked gleefully away. A three year old is like having an extra set of hands, hands that you almost have control over.

That's halfway there in errands run, not near halfway there in mileage. (Edit: I'm a third of the way there in errands run.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Bike(s)

Though none were for me, the bike shop was swimming in new bikes this Saturday. After wrenching on bikes built from the seventies to the nineties, getting to assemble brand new bikes was almost jarring.
The day was (I think) typical of preseason work at the shop; lots of new parts coming in, a few customers asking about new bikes for the season, a few preseason tune ups.

One bike that came in was a very nice full carbon road bike. I've seen these on occasion, though most of the local riders are on some form of alum/carbon mix. What made this bike unique was the rider, a gentleman in his seventies. Apparently he's been riding a Schwinn (traveler?) from the 1970's since it was new and decided he was due for an upgrade. Dave did keep the handlebars at seat height, and the areo bars are set up as much for comfort as for speed. Regardless on your thoughts about carbon fiber/steel and racer/unracer, I'm just glad to see someone ignoring the so-called obstacle of age and just riding.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Is safety on the road possible?

I've worked at a bike shop for less than a month, and already I've had a customer bring a bike in for repairs from a auto/bike accident.

Basic facts are as follows:
John(we'll call him) was biking alone during the day on a county highway in NW Iowa. Time was around 6 pm, John was northbound. Local traffic is light, about 500 vehicles per day. Conditions were clear, visibility unlimited by weather or terrain. He was in kit with helmet, riding one to two feet left of the white fog line. John had reflectors, no lights. A pickup truck approached from behind and struck John with the passenger side of the vehicle. The truck was traveling at highway speed, roughly 55-60 mph. Driver reports never seeing John. Driver is less than 30 yrs old. The driver initially thought he had struck a deer until he saw John behind him, lying down on the highway. John broke the headlight and side mirror of the truck, after which he fell, coming to a stop roughly in the center of the highway. John suffered multiple torn tendons in his left shoulder along with severe road rash and bruising. He spent a week in the hospital with a blood clot in his left lung, and has had at least one surgery to repair damage to his shoulder. Driver was cited for failure to yield three feet when passing cyclist. Fine approximately $450. John's medical bills are substantial but the driver's insurance will cover majority.

The crash was in July, John was able to take the sling off his arm only recently. He has been cleared to ride a trainer, and so brought his bike in for repairs. Bike needs tune-up and wheels slightly trued, John took the brunt of the impact.

John said that he has been told by multiple people to quit riding. He plans to add a flashing tail light, but no other changes.

These are the facts as I best I can recall.

This is the first conversation that I've had with a cyclist after a major accident. John is fortunate to have survived the impact, in part because he glanced off the side of the truck instead of going under it.  Given the conditions during the accident it's possible that some form of distracted driving was involved.
John seems to be without bitterness regarding the accident.

What disturbs me the most is that there is nothing John could have done differently to prevent being hit. He adhered to every rule, written and implied, regarding how a cyclist should use the road. He could have made himself more visible by taking the entire lane, but he may also have been killed taking the full force of the impact. A flashing light may have helped, but its effectiveness would be limited by the bright light of a July day. It is impossible to really know.

So: Is safety on the road possible?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Added Bonus

The Schwinn's upright position means that my coat actually covers my wrists. I'm officially (mostly) windproof!

Monday, February 4, 2013

2/2-3/13:Grinning like an idiot

Weekend Weather: Mild, highs in teens. Windy in afternoon. Snow intermittent < 1in accumulation.

The Schwinn Suburban lives! It may have a (still) out of true rear wheel, it may have fenders slightly askew, it may be a color that has my wife (and E by extension) laughing every time she looks at it, but that lurid green electro-forged tank from the 70s is turning heads and putting a smile on my face.

Perhaps it's the color, maybe it's my glee making a useless wreck into a usable tool, but this bike makes me happy. As a bonus, it also has a very comfortable ride, like what I imagine a opafiets would be like. After the almost hunched position that the Sakai puts me in, the Schwinn feels extremely upright with almost no weight on the handlebars. The fresh snow we received on Sunday gave me a chance to test the Schwinn's snow handling. I found it very enjoyable and easy to handle, even when bouncing over some frozen ice chunks on the bike path.

The reach from seat to handlebars feels very short, which is a combination of geometry and the frame being a bit too small for me. Height of the the seat is also an issue. I've maxed the seat post out, but it still feels too short. It is possible to put a longer post on, but finding a post of the correct diameter that is any longer than what I have may be hard to do.

This Saturday's work (if it is work, it feels like work acting like play) on the Schwinn concentrated on replacement and repair. All cables and sheathing needed to be replaced since the old was cracked and rusted. Cable sheathing was something new to me, but the trick seems to be cutting a bit long, then trimming to fit. The cable needs to be as short as possible while still maintaining a gentle curve. In other words, when it looks right, it's right.

Cable routing was pretty straightforward, excepting a tricky bit of cable that had to go over the bottom bracket between the seat tube and chain ring.

As mentioned before, the front wheel is in pretty good shape. The rear was not even close. An hour and a half of wrenching resulted in a somewhat true wheel. I was making progress until some of the spoke nipples rounded over. Replacement is not a big deal, but I was 90% of the way there and running out of time.
Dave showed me how to "help" the wheel along by laying it across the steps and gently stomping on the bend. This trick will be filed under Not To Be Done Around Bike Owner. The final resulting rim is straight enough to keep from rubbing fenders or brake pads, but does pulse pretty hard when braking. The front is nice and straight, so most of my braking will be done with the front alone. 

I believe that this bike was rode very lightly until something happened to mess up the back wheel, after which the bike was put into storage and forgotten. With a small investment in parts, and a slightly larger investment in time, the Schwinn is ready to go. Now I need to find a basket(s) to finish this bike into the utility bike that I think it's capable of becoming.