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Friday, January 28, 2011

Grease Monkeying

Corinna was readying her bike for another epic adventure, riding to Jefferson City at the end of January, no matter the weather, for Bike/Ped day.

I told her if she really wanted to make an impression, she should hike to the event.

But no, she and Brian are going to pump legs instead of unleaded, but they'll do it on steel frame touring bikes.

For my part, I had a flat front tire, knew I needed to change a tube there before I could ride around the block. I'm painfully slow at this task, she can do it in ten minutes or less. I routinely take a half hour and once, on my birthday, I took over an hour with the help of a worn out mini pump.

Plus, I had the rack I got for Christmas. It's an Axiom Journey, and while it is rated for 150lbs of hauling (my girlfriend actually hauls payloads like this), the reason I bought it is in the vain hope that it would allow me to sport the Gay Panniers. And if not, that it would at least keep me from having to stuff the bags to hold their shape.

The problem is the regular panniers want to dive into my spokes if they're not stretched out with a stuff. Fine if you're stuffing them with what you need when you get to your destination, but makes it tricky to use the panniers to go get stuff. Such as a grocery run.

The Basil Twigs still hit my feet, this rack isn't that much longer than the one Corinna fronted me. So much for being 'hip and 'trendy.'

But the shape of this rack lets the boring panniers function just fine because it has a big swoosh of aluminum tube that hangs back where the panniers want to toe in when they're empty. It's a subtle design difference, you wouldn't notice it until you were stuffing books and giant mugs into your saddlebags to keep them from biting into your wheels.

While we had my bike on the rack*, though, Corinna took the opportunity to teach me some basic maintenance. She draws the line at bearings and such, but she showed me how to clean and inspect my frame, lube the cables, adjust the derailleur and so on. And replace the chain we just measured to be shot.

This is tricky stuff. Well, maybe it's not, but I was new to it and we had eight-speed chains to put on seven speed bikes. Which meant taking out some links. How many?

Three, she thought. I suggested counting the chain I took off, and while she agreed this was a smarter option than guessing, it neglected to consider I was in the room. I have a lot more Monkey Wrench Gang than Grease Monkey in me.

Corinna's friend Christy, on the subject of robust bikes and gear that will take abuse, told Corinna she could break a crowbar in a sandbox. Fine with me, but don't be looking to me to repair any crowbars, right?

We counted, we held the old chain and the new chain up against each other. And counted three or four more times. Then, on my maiden voyage with the chain break, I fucked up.

The chain break is a screw-ish thing that you put the chain into and push the rivet that holds the chain's plates together almost all the way out to open (break) the chain.

That is tricky. You screw it in and back up and test, screw it in again, back up and test. I did okay with my first try, broke the chain right where I meant to to remove links, and successfully drove the stuff back together.

But the bike wouldn't shift into its biggest chain ring and it's biggest rear gear. Time to break the chain, put another link or two in and try again.

This time, I wasn't so lucky, and I popped the rivet clean out. Of the new chain.

Thing is, besides being told I was pretty much screwed, the first thing I had noticed about this chain break thing was it had two teeth when it appeared to only need one.

I experimented, and whether this was designed or accidental (take your pick†), you can put another piece of chain in the second track and push a rivet from it into its neighbor. This is a three hand job, and it wasn't a quick process figuring it out, but it worked. I choose to believe the chain break manufacturer designed the tool with lunkheads like me in mind.†

The other thing that's tricky with the tool is seating the rivet so the joint in the chain turns easily. You can bend the plates of a link in so it'll never turn freely enough, and at that point you get to swap links out again. I should probably have more mastery of the process given that I started in on this whole thing at 8:30 and didn't have my bike down off the rope until midnight.

I didn't get the mandatory test ride in because it was so late, but I learned a ton of stuff about general bike maintenance. Stuff I've paid the Trek store mechanics to do, stuff that never occurred to me, stuff that matters if you hook up wit a girlfriend who gets you riding on salty city streets in the winter.

*My Bro has a rack in his basement just like what the guys in the Trek store put my bike on. They're nice, they offer a greater level of control by clamping onto a body tube and all that. If you have a couple hundred bucks to throw at the problem of how to hold your bike while you work on it, I can't say they're a bad idea. And if you get into repacking bearings and whatnot, like my Bro has, it may be even more helpful than I realize. But if you're just cleaning, inspecting, lubing and maybe installing a rack and changing a flat, Corinna's system of ropes and dog leashes tied to nails in the rafters is fantastic and it doesn't cost anything if you already have a dog. The ropes is also lighter, and if you so desire you can leave it up to garrote careless burglars.

†My atheist friends probably struggle to keep their composure when I say God talked to me about meeting Corinna. It was such a bizarre and uncharacteristic experience for me I haven't even blogged about it, even in a footnote, but true story: I walked into church a couple months ago and it wasn't a voice, exactly. More like the memory of a conversation already had, and it was the memory of a patient if slightly exasperated teacher saying, "You read books about intelligent design and then like to split hairs about what designer, whether the designer is still around, was intelligent enough, maybe didn't give a shit about his designs, or might already be dead of Designer's Disease and so on. Check it out, I designed someone who's a match for you. Not generically for you the male of the species, but so specifically it gives you the creeps sometimes. Deal with it."

1 comment:

Liz @ Creative Liberty said...

Commenting on your second footnote -- if it makes you feel any better about the voice-of-God thing, I had very much the same experience when I got together with Pat. As in, specific direction not to run and hide or do something really stupid to mess it up. So it does happen, whatever "it" turns out to be, my friend. :)