Monday, May 29, 2017

Hail, Hail, and I'm Still Here

I could've lingered around the office had I'd known what awaited me a few minutes later, but history is hindsight. 
Photo credit: Geode Hunter

In mid-May I left work, with topped-off water bottle, dressed in tank top and skort, prepared to survive 90F degree heatwave for my 5 mile ride home. The humidity was sky-high and stormy clouds loomed over my shoulder, ready to let loose, but I was undeterred, welcoming a little rain to cool the sultry weather. No sooner had I'd turned from my workplace into the neighborhoods, spinning uphill, when thunder boomed and fat droplets fell. Then, to my complete surprise, gradually small hail pellets fell, bouncing off my arms. I laughed. The air grew cooler, rain, interspersed with hail, soaked through my clothing., making me feel more comfortable. Yet, I was still unconcerned and continued through a park following my normal route home.

Photo credit: NWS Twitter

But quickly the light hail changed to dime-sized bullets, painfully pelting my bare arms, backs of my hands, pinged off my helmet, and created music on my bike rack. I still kept moving, however I glanced longingly at the dry ground beneath the leafy canopy when the storm increased, and with the potential for lightening, I knew the last place I should seek shelter was under a natural lightening rod. As I entered another park bike path, I was thankful for fatter tires crunching over hail-crusted asphalt as I negotiated hills and a wooden bridge. It was totally bizarre - and I was a little nervous - because the hail was bruising my arms. Welts were forming and veins darkened on my hands, but within 2.5 miles the ominous storm passed by. I was completely soaked. My hands were sore for a few more minutes, but in the end weren't too bad. On the rest of the ride, I mulled over the ludicrous situation and realized I had survived a May hailstorm. I'd like to think I'm a hardy soul - I have pedaled through 7" of rain in New Zealand, plus endured a monsoon rain in Thailand - but I've never felt as exposed or as humbled so close to home. At least the weather had cooled off!

Have you ever been in a similar situation that at the outset seem a little fun, if unusual, but eventually turned into a potentially dangerous situation?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Giro's Reverb and Sutton Bike Helmets - Commuter Style with Color Options

Giro's Reverb (on the left) and Sutton (on the right).
Last fall I needed to replace my aging leopard print helmet and discovered that Justine's advice (at Mid-Life Cycling) was correct: Giro helmets go on sale in late fall to clear out stock before introducing the new year's model. I prefer a commuter-style helmet with a visor, multiple vents, choice of colors, plus a way to hook or strap on additional helmet-mounted lights. I have never believed in spending more than 50.00 on a helmet. With the deep fall discount online, I had my pick of colors in both styles and had both delivered for 60.00 total!

Reverb style uses elastic band retention while the Sutton relies on stretchy cord with cord lock.
I've worn the Sutton primarily during the cooler months because it lacks large sized vents. I've appreciated it's substantial head coverage - it weighs more - but fits comfortably, even over a balaclava. It's special feature, that wins bonus points, is the adjustable visor. Flick it up or down in transit, to let in more daylight in the winter, or to accommodate ski goggles on those frigid, blustery winter commutes.

Both helmets have removable and adjustable visors. When the temperatures climbed above 70F degrees I switched to wearing the lighter Reverb style. I've found both styles to fit similarly and both came with extra padding.

Now that I'm a year-round bike commuter there are distinct advantages to owning two uniquely crafted and affordable helmets. I couldn't be happier!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Broken Spoke to Repair a Tube?

It was warm. I was thirsty. I had a slow leak in my rear tire. I couldn't think of a better way to relax and delve into the mysteries and mechanics of finding a minute puncture hole. Broken Spoke Pale Ale did the trick, along with chips and guacamole. A Drink, quasi dinner, time outside, and the tube is patched, ready for another bike commute.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Miss Clementine Gets a Racktime Topit Front Rack

B. Second time's a charm to refit a Racktime Topit to a Rivendell Clementine.
After two wrench sessions and some creative engineering, the Racktime Topit front rack is installed on Miss Clementine. Before I explain the difficulties I encountered with fit, first let me present my view of front racks in general and how I expect them to carry a load.

History: In the past I've done extended tours with Blackburn low rider front rack in conjunction with a rear rack, distributing the weight approximately 30% front, 70% rear. In recent years, I prefer 50/50, still using the low rider front rack. Funny thing is, I've also lightened my gear since those lengthy tours plus cut back on riding days, now only gone for up to a week. My needs changed. I've explored using simple front racks like the Sunlite version attached to cantilever brakes, which have worked well on both my commuter bike and Miyata 610, allowing a 10 lb. load over the front wheel. 

Once the Clementine entered my house, though, I contemplated Rivendell's low cost alternative to front rack: a Wald basket (sans rack) using provided brackets attached to braze-ons near the wheel. While I like baskets, I preferred instead to use a rack for it's versatility and lighter weight. Benefits include the ability to mount small panniers and/or strap baggage on the platform. Thanks to various suggestions on RBW Google Groups, I contemplated other options, including the full coverage Soma Lucas alloy front rack. However, the Racktime Topit won out in the end due to attachment to mid-fork eyelets, an appealing trait, which reminded me of low riders, plus when I found the rack at half price, I couldn't resist. At the same time I ordered another Sunlite mini-rack, either as back up should the Topit not work, or as an alternative on another bicycle. 

Needless to say, the search for the perfect front rack - neither too heavy or costly, chrome-colored, and the ability to carry a sizable load - had become an obsession.

A. First attempt placed the rack at a steep angle.
I knew that Miss Clementine's geometry might pose fit problems, but initially it was my own undoing that sent me pleading to our LBS for help. I pre-screwed the first bolt into the front eyelet, knowing I needed to "crack" the frame's heavily painted threading, and when it proved a little difficult, continued until the bolt end sheared off, dropping to the kitchen floor. "Whaaaat?" I said, beside myself with horror. I was alone and unfortunately couldn't rely on my husband who's helped me out of sticky situations before. After a few deep breaths, I attempted to gently unscrew the protruding 1/4" of  bolt threads with pliers, trying to not completely shear off the remaining threads, worked at it for an hour, and eventually brought the bike in to a shop as a last resort.

A mechanic was, thankfully, able to remove the bolt using vice grips (now why didn't I think of that?). He said I'd stripped the threads on the end of the eyelet by screwing the bolt at an angle. However, for a few bucks they tapped both eyelets and repaired the damaged end by entering through the reverse side. Phew! Lesson learned!

A. This photo displays the longer bolt and spacer required to clear the rack from the rotating headset.
With a fiasco diverted, I installed the Racktime Topit following diagrams drawn on paper, the kind that lack written clues to accommodate multiple languages. With lower rack ends easily screwed into the mid-fork eyelets, I bought a longer bolt to accommodate fender support and top rack bracket, the later heavily bent in a vice to reach the position near the central hole in the fork, and with a spacer to clear the headset and V-brakes. It was a finely-tuned feat, and when admiring Miss Clementine from afar, I began to understand the rack's shortcomings in it's current configuration.  See two photos labeled "A" above for visual reference.

As my online research indicated, the Racktime Topit can sit traditionally lower, depending on where the mid-fork eyelets are positioned. However, it's not uncommon to see the rack propped higher, much like on Miss Clementine. If the rack platform is horizontal users have reported that hauling gear works out just fine without adversely affecting handling. I suspected however that a steeply angled front rack, as my first attempt turned out, panniers might be awkward and possibly shift while in transit.

It wouldn't be too terrible to live with it's current set up, but after thinking and scrounging in our collection of bike parts, I came up with a manageable retrofit.

B. Second time around, this fix should work (I think).
If you look closely at the photo above, you may recognize a pair of pre-twisted rear rack brackets refitted to Miss Clementine's fork crown's bolts, then afixed to the rack with plastic-coated P-clamps gleaned from left over rack parts. What I discovered, was there are numerous parts one can purchase to use the fork crown eyelets but they are proprietary and I couldn't locate accessories specific to the Topit. The P-clamp I used is a slightly larger diameter than I needed but smaller clamps of similar, as was explained to me "plasti-dipped" design are apparently unavailable in a hardware store (talk about proprietary!), so instead of searching further afield I layered the inside with a piece of bicycle tube which snugged the clamp nicely around the rack. The rack seems quite stable, though time will tell if the mechanism will hold up well under a touring load. What I particularly like about the new arrangement is it allows the rack to be separate from the fender attachment. Having two separate systems seems easier to fix should something go awry, especially if I'm away from home.

As an aside, the fork crown "eyelets" have always intrigued me, this being my first bicycle with this feature, though I didn't imagine I would use them quite so soon! It's a handy option, as I discovered, should you need another mounting point, and two points of contact as opposed to the one longer bolt through the fork should provide more stability to the rack.

To finish up the second wrench session, I replaced my terrible twine job with a couple wraps of leopard print duct tape that better suits my style.

With the new additions, Miss Clementine is feeling more like my own bicycle and developing a personality. I'm taking her on a bike overnight in two weeks so no better time like the present to try out her new front rack!