Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Saturday was strip day on the Schwinn Suburban. Though the bike looks well enough from a distance, it has not been ridden in a number of years, so good practice dictates ripping everything off the bike. Most of the bad news I could see coming; being new cables and tires. Most of what I discovered in the tear down process was good news.

When I pulled the wheel bearings, I was happy to find that the bearing cones show signs of almost no use.  On a bike that has seen heavy use, the cones will be polished over their entire surface. The cones on the Schwinn have just a faint track starting, so they are practically brand new. In all cases, any part involving bearings (hubs, headset, bottom bracket) was in perfect shape. I packed them with fresh grease, and they should be good for hundreds of miles.

The brake pads have worn to fit the rim a bit, so the bike has been used, but it's still the equivalent of a car with less than 20,000 miles on.

While working on the hubs, I pulled the dry-rotted husks that were once referred to as tires. Underneath those nasty bits were a pair of perfectly usable tubes. I refilled the tubes, and no leaks showed, so I'll probably run with them for a bit.

The big problem with this bike are the rims. The front is not too bad, but the back almost makes you seasick when it spins in the truing stand. Beyond the usual side to side, the rim goes up and down and even has a twist to it. It's reached the point that the tire will no longer turn freely without contacting the brakes on both sides, and running into the fenders. In short, this thing is whack. Truing wheels is something unique to working with bikes, so this should be good practice.

That is as far as I got Saturday. Next shift the end of this week

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New Job, New Bike

Mileage: .8 (even if the workplace is less than a half mile away, it still counts as bike commuting to work, right?)

Weather: High 20s, breeze from N.

Saturday was day one at the shop. My previously mentioned jitters were unfounded, though I was very nearly late because the clocks in our house were running a few minutes slow.

The morning project was a pre-season service of a Giant road bike from the early 00's. Service for the bike included repacking front/rear hubs, sealing a headset that had rust issues, replacing tires, and tuning up the index shifting. I got some good experience messing with bearing cones and index shifting, both of which I'll be running into on a regular basis.

Dave said he always wonders what people want when they say "look it (the bike) over." He says that he feels he's giving his customer a disservice by spending time opening up areas that are in good condition, or finding problems hundreds or thousands of miles before they really need to be replaced. I take his point, but I enjoyed the option of taking my time and actively trying to find anything wrong, as opposed to doing a patch job.

Next shift will be this coming weekend, and part of the work may involve a bike that looks a lot like this:

Can you see me now?

That's a shade of green best described as a safety feature.

Hailing from Schwinn's "electro-forged" days in the mid-seventies, the Suburban features a five-speed Schwinn approved rear derailer, fenders, chain guard, and Schwinn's heavy-weight bombproof reputation. This bike is not going on any long tours, not for riding centuries, and most definitely not the bike of choice for anything involving speed. What it can become is a very nice city and errand bike.

The bike pictured is not the actual one I purchased, mine is in worse shape, so the following needs to happen:

1. Tires: current are dry-rotted gumwalls
2. Rim Service: Rear wheel has some serious out-of-true going on. Front is not much better. Hubs most likely need a repack
3. New Chain
4. New Cables: Both cables and sheathing are rusted and need to be replaced.
5. New Seat
6. Fenders are bent.

That's a bit of a list, but Dave said that I could use this bike as a training bike - if you're going to ruin a bike, it may as well be your own. Since I won't be officially working for the shop until March, between now and the end of February I can work on the bike between servicing other bikes . This will give me time to learn the layout and practices of the shop. I'll also have access to Dave's extensive parts bone yard, which will make rebuilding this bike much cheaper.

As it stands, the bike is unridable, but I've got parts, tools and a shop primed to rip the thing apart. I'd attempted to set up the Sekai as both a road and utility bike, but yanking baskets off between errands and training rides got old very fast. I've very happy about the chance to set up two different bikes for two different tasks. Also, having a city bike to match K's mixte will make riding together easier.

Really, the only question is about what configuration of baskets should go on the Schwinn.

Friday, January 18, 2013


"Where you from?"


When people think of Iowa, they think of Field of Dreams. They think of endless fields of corn unbroken but for the occasional farm place. That image is a mostly accurate start to the area I call home.

I live in a county named for a branch of the Lakota. I work in a county with the a higher population of livestock than any other in the entirety of the US. The county population is dwarfed by single farms that contain thousands of head of cattle or pigs, millions of chickens. When compared to it's original tall grass prairie state, where I live is the most altered county in the most altered state. The people who make a living from the land and from livestock have a single-minded focus to wring every pound and bushel of production from their animals and land.

They have been very successful in that focus.  The price of cropland has doubled and in some cases tripled in the past decade. The Great Recession only briefly paused growth, most people would not have noticed anything amiss without the barrage of bad news from the rest of the nation.

The people fall roughly into two groups. The old, original group is overwhelmingly of Dutch descent (I share this decent). The second, rapidly growing group is of Latino decent. As an aside, I'm never sure how to properly term this group. They are from Mexico and Guatemala for the most part, and I am happy to see them. As in most parts of the nation, the new group occupies the smaller, older homes and works the poorer paying jobs. The notion that the "illegals" are stealing jobs gets some traction locally, but I see very few white people fighting for the chance to work the dairies, chicken barns, slaughterhouses and roofing crews that the Latinos fill.

As this is a mostly biking centric blog, let me note that a cyclist meets his or her weather obsessing match in a farmer.


You could say that as goes the county, so goes the city. The economy of city is almost entirely dependent on the success of the farming in the county.

The town is stretched along a north/south highway. Barely three-quarter mile in width, it is about three miles long.

North is the industrial park, a mix of light industry, processed food, engineering and tech firms. A small biotech facility is a recent addition.

West is the grain elevators, lumberyard, ag support facilities, some industrial and most of downtown and the poorer residential. Most of the Latino population occupies this area.

East is the oldest section of town. Entirely residential, it includes the schools, the local college, library (a certain bike shop) and most of the churches.

South is the newest section. The box stores, golf course, and the largest and newest houses are in this area. It is also ties the industrial north for least bike friendly.

The people here, and in the county as a whole, are exceedingly conservative. The county has not voted for a Democratic president since FDR in the thirties. Obama's stance on abortion is alone enough to guarantee that he will never get this county's vote. Let us only say that my family's voting record does not follow the average pattern.

As far as cycling goes, the town is fairly friendly. The main highway is a no go, with high speed traffic and no extra room for a bike. Fortunately, there are multiple quiet alternatives. A single bike path parrells the highway, and provides an off street route for north/south trips. There is also a three mile trail that runs east to a small park in the country.


The wonderful thing about a small town is that the things that you need for a given week (food, post office, library, job) are all compressed. I can reach two grocery stores in less than a mile and a half, the library is one half mile, bike shop barely a quarter.

This compression has become one of the driving factors in my application to the bike store. My chief goal at the bike shop is to help people understand that bikes are a wonderful means for in town transportation. Even at a very slow pace, the longest possible trip would take fifteen minutes.

Three things make this a hard sell, and they are reasons that I hear repeated throughout the country:

1. Weather
2. Traffic
3. Education

Weather is the big one, especially this time of year. During the winter, temps are commonly below twenty, and we usually get a day or two where the high is subzero. Many days it is simply miserable to be outside. Wind is also an issue, at all times of the year. During the summer, heat indexes in the triple digits are common. Both the cold and the heat naturally make us seek shelter.

Traffic is an issue, but the reverse of what you would guess. Because traffic is so light in most areas of the town, driving is almost always faster than biking. The time to bike may be double, but that is still only about ten minutes.

Education lumps many things together. Since so few cyclists are seen, residents don't even consider it an option. They don't know how much you can carry with a basket on a bike. They don't know that you are actually warmer biking in most winter weather as opposed to riding in a car that doesn't get warmed up on a short trip. More basic still, they don't think that bikes are good for anything practical.

To be fair, it took 20,000 cyclists descending on my town of 6,000 to make me realize a bike's potential. I needed to train, and to train effectively I need to do some research, which led to reading about the daily usefulness of a bike, and a year later I use a bike whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Welcome to Sioux Center.

Let's see what happens.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Mileage: 0
Weather: Low thirties, light breeze, clear. For January, it is perfect.

I have been occupied keeping my head above water. Sickness occupied E early in the week, coupled with fragmented nights courtesy O. Now both health and sleeping have resolved, and the weather looks fine once I recover enough to take advantage of it.

I can remember no January where I so longed for spring. Every night at supper K and I look out at the darkness and dream about all the things that we will do with daylight. Both the kids would benefit from some more time outside, but as cruel as the weather can be it feels wrong to put their little selves out in the single digits.

Anyway, jitters. They are a result of a full night of sleep (first since O was born) coupled with too much coffee on an empty stomach,  and (mostly because of) a moved up first day at the bike shop.  "I'll be in the shop doing a major rebuild, may be a good session for you" is what D called it. This is fully two weeks earlier than my original first day. Hence, jitters.

I have all these preconceived notions about what that morning is going to be like. I have questions, mostly about how I will perform. I'm nervous, and over thinking this, and so...jitters. With all the research that I've done to get the job I feel pressure to demonstrate all that I know, instead of concentrating on learning, which was the original intent of all this. Having a basic grasp of what it means to repair a cassette is one thing, trying to memorize which freewheel remover goes with which brand just seems to make things worse.

All that said, I'm very excited about the chance to learn a challenging craft that brings something positive to the community.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Mileage: .5
Weather: Low teens, breeze from south, intermittent light snow. Overcast.

This ride would be far to short to mention had it not taken me to the LBS. It is a very small shop, operated by the same man, D, since 1979. It is a medium sized two story garage, with a bike stand, newer bikes, and accessories on the main floor, and storage and used bikes on the second.

It is also where I will be working, beginning in February. This will be very part time at the start, maybe five to eight hours. But it is an opportunity that I am very excited about. I grew up working on the family farm, and I've missed using my hands as I've transitioned to working in an office. Working at our LBS offers me the chance to learn a useful skill, while doing something that I firmly believe benefits the community.

MG wrote today about her journey as a cyclist, and our paths begin in a similar way. Both of us cycled as kids growing up in the rural midwest. I took a break while I believed that cycling had no practical use for me as an adult. But then RAGBRAI came to town. In 2012, the small town where I live was overtaken by 20,000 some cyclists. My brother was going to be doing the first day, and I wanted to join him. Trouble was, my current bike was a Huffy MTB with a snapped one piece crank. So I went to the LBS and bought my current bike, the Sekai. (need a good name for it, ideas?). So I trained the spring and early summer, and for the most part enjoyed myself tremendously.

Trouble was that I was with a group of much stronger cyclists who occasionally enjoyed 25mph pace lines. That, and my horrible food choice left me utterly bonked for the last 15 miles. Oh, and a headwind and a heat index in the triple digits did not help. I was a rookie, and I showed it. By the time we reached the end town that day, my chest was cramped and I was having trouble catching my breath. Everything turned out alright, but I properly freaked my brother and my wife out.

Somehow the whole experience stuck in my mind as something that I wanted to do again, and in the fall I completed a 64 mile solo ride across the border to Minnesota. Not huge miles by many standards, but this summer I'm planning one, maybe two century rides.

Back the the LBS. My Sekai had something that I had never run into previously: Presta valves. These "French Valves" have a few basic differences that I had to learn about just to put air in my tires. Enter the internet, Lovely Bicycle!, Sheldon Brown and a huge community that loved giving advice almost as much as it loved riding.  Its been a rabbit hole that I still have not found the bottom to.

And so now I'll be working evenings and weekends at a little bike shop in a small town in a corner of the midwest known more for corn than for cycling.  But the whole point of a LBS is to support a community of cycling, and that can happen even a town as small as this.

I'm not sure how far I can follow this, if I'll love it so much that I switch to the LBS full time, or I'll hate it and never come back.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Weather: Mid Twenties, damp, rain in forecast.

A woodworker blogger I follow, Robin Wood, had asked the question that we all ask at some point: "What would we do if money was no object?" Robin has resurrected a craft that most had assumed was dead, and now thousands of woodworkers can trace their knowledge back to him. What had been born from curiosity developed to a passion and eventually a means to make a living

I'm in the process of getting a part time position at one of the places that I would work if money was no object. My full time work is fine, pay is steady and the people I work with are excellent. But it is not work that creates a skill.

This part time work would take head knowledge that I have and convert it to hand knowledge. It will satisfy a curiosity that I have, and broaden my understanding of a craft that I have only just begun to grasp.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Mileage: 3
Weather: Clear, Temps in single digits and low teens, Wind light early, gusting from SW in the evening.

Rides today were errand and meeting rides inside of town. I was surprised by how well my tires gripped on the polished snow on most roads. Narrow smooth tires are no good in any sort of loose snow, but they work great on the polished residential roads in my town.

My wife K took her 1980s Raleigh Sprite Mixte out during the warmer part of the afternoon. She had received a Brooks B66S for Christmas and had been itching to try it out. (Early review: "It's awesome.")

This was only the second time that she had gotten to use her new(old) bike. Previously she had rode a newer Giant Cypress which demonstrated all the bad characteristics of a hybrid bike. (Climbs like its made of lead instead of aluminum, requires constant shifting through an overabundance of gears, uncomfortable despite suspended fork and seat post, etc.) The Sprite is a five speed, but those five are perfectly suited to our rather flat town. The mixte's combination of light weight and better geometry means that it runs circles around her former ride.

K and I are parents to E and O. E's nearing three and rides a balance bike. Before the weather turned cold she would declare "Ride own bike, need heymont!" As often as she falls, I'll take having a safety obsessed toddler. Now most of her mileage is of the two footed variety, and her primary ride is my back. O is a newborn, and I am grateful to sacrifice training ride time to be with him. He will be to small to ride in either the trailer or the bike seat for much of the summer unless I can figure some way to install his car seat in the trailer. It's not rollover and crash protection that worries me, its his inability to support his head and torso.

With the improved lighting on my bike I am hoping to find some small corner of time to start training, even if it means late at night, or very, very early in the morning.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Mileage: 2
Weather: Teens, light west breeze.

Roads were mix of clear and snowpacked with loose snow along shoulders. Smooth 32mm tires are not ideal, but no spills.

Tested new headlight and taillight (Planet Bike Blaze 1/2watt). They worked well in town. I am concerned about overrunning them on the gravel roads. Riding the paved roads in the area is not an option I feel comfortable with.

My usual winter clothing works well enough, excepting gap between gloves and coat.

Test and Purpose

This will be a log.

I want to complete a half marathon in the spring, and a century ride in middle or late summer.

I ride an early 1980s Sekai 1000. It's a Japanese lugged steel 10-speed.

The local terrain is small rolling hills, dominated by agriculture.

Local roads are mostly gravel, concentrating traffic to the paved roads.