Sunday, March 18, 2007

"My bike needs a tuneup" - Or how to talk to your mechanic, part two.

I can't tell you how many people come to the shop and say more or less exactly that. And it's a good start... at least I know you're not there to buy a headlight or test ride folding bikes. But it's amazing how many possibilities that simple sentence can represent. So here are some thoughts about how we can work together to get your bike what it really needs.

First, think about how long it has been since the bike has been serviced, and how much use it's had since then. Did you bring it in to us last March, and have us lube it and adjust all the systems, then life got in the way and you only got to ride it 4 or 5 times before it went into the garage for the winter? Or has it been ridden almost every day for three years in all weather on your commute and hasn't been touched by a mechanic that whole time? Each of these and everything in between starts with "my bike needs a tuneup" it seems. So think about your bike's history and try to fill me in on it. To help you, I'm going to ask you questions about that, so I can get a better sense of what "tuneup" is going to mean. I can tell a lot by looking at the bike, but words help too.

Second, are there any particular problems you have had with the bike lately? Are there any odd noises it's making? Don't worry about not knowing the right words to use to describe it... telling me "the gear thingies slip" at least points me in the right direction. Obviously, the more you can narrow down the symptoms helps... "the gear thingies slip when I'm shifting" is different from "the gear thingies slip when I climb", and will lead me to look for different possible problems. Again, there's likely to be some question and answer involved in this process, along with some explanation. As much as possible, I try to tell people what I think the problem is, and how I plan to solve it, when they bring the bike in. Some folks like that, while others' eyes simply glaze over, at which point, I cut the explanation short.

Speaking of "gear thingies"... please don't be surprised or offended if I patiently give you the correct terminology. I figure if I use the words "derailleur" and "shifter" often enough, and point out what I'm referring to, it will eventually make it easier to communicate. On the other hand, if you feel I'm bandying about jargon too much, just ask me to clarify what the heck it is I'm talking about.

Finally, it's a big help if you understand that when you bring us a bike to repair, we prefer to take a few minutes looking it over with you there, so we can discuss what we feel the bike needs with you. This saves us guessing, or trying to reach you later with questions. It also helps you to know right up front what to expect in terms of how much it's going to cost, and how long it's going to take.

Which is where we'll pick up on installment number three... soon!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Miyata Commuter Revised!

originally uploaded by frickercycle.
Well, I wanted to post a photo of the Miyata 210 winter commuter I built up, as it is now. After a few weeks trying to love Albatross bars, I gave up and switched to Moustache bars. Much better! It's more comfortable for me, feels faster, and the handling feels more secure and familiar. Maybe the Albatrosses will find a home on another bike someday.

Crazy Weather in DC Area

On March 7th, I was supposed to go visit my mom to clear some fallen branches from her yard. I didn't go, because it snowed that day, and while we don't ever really get THAT MUCH snow here, people seem to lose all driving sense (if they have any to begin with!) when they see anything come out of the sky here.

This past Wednesday (three days ago), we had a high somewhere in the high 70s. I've heard it even hit 80 in some places. A gorgeous, warm, spring- almost summmer- like day.

Friday (yesterday) we got treated to cold rain, which changed to sleet, then snow. And the high today is supposed to be 36 degrees.

Global warming? Or just the peculiarities of the mid-Atlantic region? Or both? Who knows. Me, I'd love to have a stretch of days in the 50s, followed by days in the 60s, then 70s. But having grown up in the region, I know it's just as likely, if not more likely, that we will go from 30s to 70s overnight, and maybe even back and forth a few more times, and before you know it, we'll be in the humid 90s of summer.

I miss the weather in Portland, and the very different weather in Flagstaff!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Like a whole 'nother bike!

So, after several weeks of riding, I determined that the setup on my "new" 80s Miyata 210 commuter wasn't working for me. I had installed a set of Nitto Albatross handlebars, an upright style of bar that sweeps up and back toward the rider, like an exaggerated variation on the old English 3-speed bars, known as North Road bars. I first heard about them through Rivendell Bicycle Works (, a very cool company headed by former Bridgestone product manager Grant Peterson. Grant espouses a lot of ideas about bicycles and riding, many of which I agree with and some I don't. Regardless, I feel like I and many others have learned and benefited from his thoughts.

It may simply be the specific bike and bar combination, but whatever the reason, I found I just wasn't liking the Albatrosses. I felt like the position was so upright that the slightest headwind would slow me down significantly, and I also felt like I wasn't getting the kind of power to the pedals that I do with some other bars. I could have lived with that for shorter rides (my commute is only 6 miles each way), if I had found them wonderfully relaxing and comfortable to ride. On the contrary, I found myself never really being comfortable on the bike after about 10 minutes or so. I think part of it is that I'm so accustomed to the multiple hand positions of drop handlebars and such, that it's hard for me to live with only one position at the grips. Yes, you can tape up the whole Albatross and gain additional hand positions, and I tried those positions a little while riding, but it still never quite felt right.

The finaly straw was realizing that I just didn't feel as much in control, especially on snow and ice, with these bars. Due to the frame geometry, coupled with the extreme sweepback of the bars, the front end just felt really light and, well, squirrelly (no offense to squirrels!). So off came the Albatrosses, and on went a set of Nitto Moustache bars (another design I learned about from Grant Peterson). I'd used Moustaches on a couple of other bikes, and generally liked them, especially on older road bikes like the Miyata. At first glance, off the bike, they look similar to the Albartross, but they actually have a pronounced forward sweep near the middle, that puts you hands further forward and shifts more weight to the bars and front end, while also stretching out your back more. I don't have a photo of the bike in the new configuration yet, but will soon enough. I immediately felt more at home on the bike once I made this change, and felt I was getting more power, control and comfort all at the same time. Funny how some things work for some people and not for others. Of course, it could just be the particular bike that I tried the Albatrosses on... short of top tube, so even with a really long stem, it tended to keep me more upright than I like. But it's odd that it was actually less comfortable like this, including neck, arm, and wrist aches (minor, but there).