Monday, April 15, 2019

Rebecca Twigg: The Kind of Follow Up You Never Want to Write

A few years ago, I wrote an article Whatever Happened To Rebecca Twigg? The occasion was her 52nd birthday and it was an overview of her stellar career as one of America's best bicycle racers, and the love that I and so many others had for her. It turned out to be one of the most-read articles on this blog. Some time after that article posted, people started reaching out that there were some rumours about Rebecca and possible homelessness - that she may have been drifting from one acquaintance to another looking for places to stay, or maybe living out of a car. It was such an awful thing to contemplate, and I could only hope it wasn't true.

An article that appeared today in the Seattle Times made it pretty clear that the stories were true.

Writer Scott Greenstone managed to track down Rebecca's whereabouts and talk with her about her experiences. I won't recap the whole article here - just follow the links and read it. But essentially, the article gets into how transitioning from bicycle racing to the regular workforce was a struggle for her. Through years of travelling and training, she had kind of lost her "home base," and struggled to find the right career fit. Anxieties set in, and things went from bad to worse. Though there were often people who were willing to help, it was difficult for her to accept that help.

Near the end of the article, Rebecca says, "Shelters are great, but there has to be a next step. . . The point is not so much that I need help, it's that there are a bunch of people who need help -- 12,000 in this area, half a million in the country. Help should be provided for everybody, not just a few."

I don't know if there will be a happy epilogue to the story. Maybe the article will spur something to change and maybe things will turn around. It kind of sounds like she might not accept help that may be offered - particularly if it feels like a handout. But maybe just some help getting back on her feet and back on track. I just don't know. I. Just. Don't. Know.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

New Bikes for the Retro-Kids: Another One Done

If you've been following the progress on the new bikes for the Retro-Kids, then you've probably been waiting for a final update to see the second bike finished. Well, it's pretty much there. Let's take a look:

This is the bike that started out as a Miyata One-Hundred model - A fairly inexpensive but nicely made bike from the mid-'80s. According to the frame tubing sticker and the catalog, it was built from triple-butted chrome-moly, so that's a good sign for quality and surprising considering the original price point. The lugwork is simple but well-executed.
Here's a shot from the '86 Miyata catalog that shows how the model would have been equipped when new. I got the one here as just a frame and fork for about $75, along with a headset and bottom bracket that I did not re-use. Looking closely at the catalog photo, I couldn't help but notice that the mixte would have had the rear brake (side-pull) mounted on the top set of stays - necessitating a redundant loop of cable to operate it. Using a center-pull brake on the middle set of stays (the mixte-stays, as they are sometimes known) as I did makes for a straighter cable run. Not all mixte frames have the proper bridge necessary for that, but this one did.

Drivetrain consists of a Sakae crank (same model that I used on the other bike - I was able to get two of them new-old-stock), and SunTour derailleurs. Though you can't see it, I put Shimano UN-55 sealed cartridge bearing units on both bikes. Those are cheap but smooth-running and long-lasting. Freewheel is a vintage Shimano 6-speed, 14 - 28. Chainrings are 48/34.
One of my favorite derailleurs: the SunTour Vx - here in one of its medium-cage configurations. I have a couple of these, either on other bikes, or in my parts bin waiting for other projects. But this is the only one I have with a fully enclosed pulley cage (Vx-T) - the others have the open "quick cage" that made chain replacement an easier task. The Vx was reasonably light, nice-looking, and durable.

Front derailleur is the SunTour ARX model - The AR/ARX line were early-'80s replacements for the V series of derailleurs - so the front and rear units are actually from different generations - but visually they are a good match for one another. The ARX front derailleur was significantly nicer than the regular AR which used a lot more steel. These are inexpensive on the vintage parts market, but shift very nicely.

I've got Velo-Orange "Left Bank" handlebars and a Kalloy stem - same models that are on the other bike. Brakes are the nearly ubiquitous Dia-Compe center pulls with Kool Stop salmon pads.

There's that cool dragon head badge I showed in an earlier post - which was actually a pewter jewelry pendant that I modified. The cable hanger for the brakes has a built-in quick release to simplify wheel removal.

The rack is from Velo-Orange. The other bike got a small front rack and a basket. This one will have a set of canvas and leather panniers.
The VO rack is super pretty - but installing it properly takes time and attention to detail. For one thing, the tabs that mount to the frame's dropouts start out fairly long and are pre-drilled (4 holes per side) with the intention that it will fit a variety of frame sizes and styles. The first time I installed one of these was over 10 years ago with the first production batch which did not come pre-drilled - the idea was that you'd locate it in the best position (low enough to pretty much sit on top of the fender) then drill it yourself. Pre-drilled is obviously easier - but in this instance I found that the holes were in exactly the wrong place for the optimum height. One hole put the rack higher than I wanted, while the next hole had it too low to clear the fender (unless I pushed the fender down to where it compromised tire clearance and proper fender lines). Oh well - I ended up having to go with the higher position and then where the rack bolts to the top of the fender I filled the gap with some aluminum spacers which I cut and filed to size. It was also necessary to cut off the excess length on the lower tabs which I then filed to a smooth, rounded profile - otherwise the tabs interfere with the wheel quick releases. Last thing - these racks look best when they're nice and level, and you have to get that set properly before you can drill the fender for the screws that attach to the rack to the fenders. That means the whole installation takes the following procedure: Take wheels out of the frame, test-fit rack for proper height with fenders, remove the rack and cut and re-shape the tabs, re-attach rack, install wheels, set the bike on level ground, level the rack (I used the level app on my phone!), mark the location for the fender holes, put the bike in the stand, remove the wheels again, drill the holes, fiddle around with spacers to get the correct thickness, install the screws and tighten everything down, and finally re-install wheels. It took a while, but the end result is worth it.

Another Brooks C-17S saddle - I had bought two of these for the price of one. Also, another view of that rack and my little spacers.

Hand grips are cork/foam bar tape, with cork bar plugs, finished off with some twine and shellac. Brake levers are the same Tektro "City Bike" levers I used on the other bike - a nice-looking design. The shift levers are old SunTour XC power ratchet thumb shifters (originally for mountain bikes). These sometimes sell for a bit more than I'd have wanted to spend, but I found this lightly used pair for a pretty reasonable price and cleaned them up with some fine steel wool and aluminum polish.
At this point, the bike just needs a few final adjustments and it will be ready to ride. Thanks for following the progress, and I hope readers enjoyed it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

You Don't Pay Taxes!

I'll bet a lot of you have heard this one. An angry driver puts you at risk, either by their inattention, ignorance, impatience - or just homicidal hostility. When confronted, they respond with some variation on a theme:

"You bikers think you own the road - you don't even pay taxes."

"I'm in a car - you're on a bike. I pay taxes - you don't."

Any time the question of a cyclist's right to the road comes up, ignorant anti-cyclists bring up taxes. Sometimes they're raging drivers screaming at a cyclist on the road. Sometimes it's some smug loudmouth pontificating at a social gathering. Sometimes it's a self-serving politician trying to score points with the anti-cyclist constituency. At some point, they all make the same preposterous claim. "Cyclists don't even pay taxes!" It's such a widespread view that many rarely get challenged on it.

The thing is, if all these drivers really believe there's some magical tax exemption for cycling, why don't more of them do it? Either they don't really believe it - or they're mathematically challenged. But that's somewhat beside my point.

First off, where does this idiocy even begin? Exactly what taxes do cyclists supposedly not pay? First and foremost, these anti-cyclists are probably referring to gas taxes. And many drivers have been convinced - or more likely deluded - that their gas taxes pay for the roads. These gasoline taxes currently consist of a federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, along with state gas taxes that can range anywhere from around 7 to 39 cents per gallon, depending on the state. So in total, we're talking about 26 to 57 cents added to a gallon of gas. (You can see a state-by-state gas tax breakdown HERE) Because these taxes are rolled into the price at the pump invisibly (that is, they aren't itemized and don't show up on the receipt), very few people are aware how much they're paying - they only know that they're paying.

The other thing that the "Cyclists Don't Pay Taxes" crowd may be referring to is license fees - whether for drivers' license, or auto registration/license plates. Again, a small portion of these fees may be earmarked for roads - but to think that the fees cover the true costs of road maintenance and construction is not only naive, it's demonstrably untrue. More on that in a bit.

What is completely ignored by these anti-cyclists is that the vast majority of adult cyclists in this country are also, in fact, drivers, and as such, pay all the same gasoline taxes and license/registration fees that other drivers pay. The anti-cyclists seem to believe that because you're on a bicycle now - you must always be on a bike. You never drive - you don't buy gas - you don't have a driver's license - you don't own a car. Hell - you're not even a person to many of them - you're a biker or a cyclist. Something "other." You're not someone's husband or wife. Not someone's father or mother. Not someone's son or daughter. You're an obstacle. And you don't pay taxes.

Except that you do. We all do.

Let's say, just for a moment, that these anti-cyclists are correct and you really don't drive or own a car. Does that mean you aren't paying for the roads and therefore have no right to use them? Hell no.

The notion that gasoline taxes, license, and auto registration fees pay for the roads is one of the biggest myths going. The truth is, driving is one of the most heavily subsidized activities the average American engages in day in and day out.

Consider the gas tax. The 18.4 cents/gallon federal tax goes almost entirely towards interstates and federally funded highways - many of which cyclists aren't allowed to use - and even then, the gas tax only pays a portion of the true costs while the remainder is picked up by other tax sources, such as income taxes. The state portion of the gas tax is, likewise, used mainly for state highways which may or may not permit bicycles (depending on their design), and generally not used for local roads where bicycles are more commonly found. And again, the gas tax only covers a portion of the true cost, while the remainder is picked up by other tax sources. Local roads are mostly paid for by local income taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes -- and these, like federal and state income taxes, are paid whether a person drives or not. Anyone who has an income, makes purchases, or owns or rents a home or apartment pays for the roads.

Here's another thing: Most road projects are too expensive to simply be paid in full from a community's budget, and so they are paid for by bonds - such as municipal bonds. The interest on these bonds is not covered by gas taxes or license fees, but through general tax funds which are (again) paid by all of us, whether we drive or not. Add to this the less obvious costs of driving - like the tremendous acreage of land set aside for "free" parking,  along with the environmental impact, and quality of life issues (health, safety, etc.) and you can see that the driving subsidy is pretty massive.

So, how much of the cost of road maintenance and construction is paid by gas taxes and other "user fees" (license, registration, etc.)? Approximately one-half, and falling. According to a study by the US Pirg Education Fund and the Frontier Group, the percentage back in the 1960s was around 70% - but because politicians are strongly averse to raising gas taxes, and because cars have become more fuel efficient, the amount brought in by gas taxes has steadily fallen while the cost of road construction has risen.

Here in my home state, Ohio, our newly elected governor proposed raising gas taxes for the first time in about 15 years to cover badly needed road maintenance, but immediately met resistance from legislators. Though they did eventually approve an increase, it was barely more than half of what was requested and likely necessary. Where will the rest of the money come from? As usual, from other tax sources paid by people whether they drive or not. And here's a fun fact: many states have found a creative way to generate more gas tax revenue without pissing off drivers who remain ignorant of how much the rest of us are subsidizing their addiction. Have you noticed that a lot of states are raising speed limits on their highways? People complain when their gas prices go up, but they don't complain when they get to drive faster on the highway, even though the end result (paying more money for driving) is the same. But ultimately, none of these little "half-measures" come close to reducing the driving subsidy.

A lot of what I'm saying here is probably pretty clear to most people who are reading this. The anti-cyclists who remain convinced that they are totally paying their own way, or who believe that cyclists are "freeloaders" on the public roads, aren't likely to be reading The Retrogrouch, and aren't inclined to do any reading (regardless of the source) that might make them question their narrow worldview. The problem comes down to how do we make people aware?

Just a couple of weeks ago on my ride home from work, I had a driver pass me within inches just to get in front of me at a stop sign (by the way, Ohio has a "minimum 3-ft. passing" law). I yelled out "HEY!" (just "HEY!" - nothing more). He opened his window and proceeded to scream at me to go find a bike path and get off the road -- the road that he and other drivers (and only drivers, as he seemed convinced) pay for. Predictably, he went there. He screamed "You don't even pay TAXES!" As usual, I'm incapable of just letting it go. My temper and my indignation at someone's willful ignorance and arrogance means I can't just ride away. Despite knowing how these things always end up going - despite the absolute folly of it, I totally took his bait and engaged in the argument. And as usual, the adrenaline and the anger took control of my tongue. It was all kind of an emotional blur, but I think I sputtered some really brilliant retort - like "YOU'RE the one who doesn't pay taxes." He drove away after threatening to run me down if he ever saw me again. It's just a reminder that there is absolutely no point in engaging these morons. Even if you can remain calm and rational, there's nothing you can say to people like that that would convince them.

One of these days I'll finally reach a point where I'll be able to just shrug it off. Maybe smile and wave ironically. It will be then that I'll have truly reached enlightenment.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Not April Fools

Yes, it's April 1, and it might have seemed like a joke when I stepped outside this morning, but it was no April Fools gag. We had snow and 25° temperatures this morning for the ride to work. Keep in mind that temperatures were in the 50s on Saturday.

This is Ohio weather - a tease to let you think it's actually Spring - then a freeze - another tease and another freeze. Over and over again, probably till May.

After the "spring forward" daylight saving time change, my morning commute was plunged back into  total darkness from start to finish - but dawn is starting to approach a little earlier and I'm just starting to get a bit of daylight for the last couple of miles of my ride.

I got this little bit of pre-sunrise light for the last couple of miles of my commute. To get the full effect, imagine the sound of wild turkeys off in the distance. 
By the way - it's supposed to get up to the 50s again tomorrow.

That's all I've got for now - just brief post today.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

New Bikes for the Retro-Kids: Update

One of the new bikes for my daughters is just about finished - nothing left but a few final adjustments. We had a beautiful spring morning with clear skies and brilliant sunshine so I took the bike down to the Cuyahoga Valley and an old Akron landmark for some photos.

This bike started out as an early '80s Centurion LeMans, with a nice-looking lugged steel frame in the mixte configuration. I got it as mostly just a frame and fork (it had a headset and bottom bracket - neither of which I reused) for about $75. It was powder coated in a purple color picked by my younger daughter.

The bike has a classic look and great proportions. 

Here you can get a look at the unicorn head badge I installed. You can also see the basket is resting on a little Dia Compe ENE rack which attaches directly to most Dia Compe (and Weinmann, I presume) center pull brakes. One thing I have to point out is that those little racks are a PAIN to install. For one thing, the brakes have to be completely disassembled to attach the rack, but worse, (learned after installing two of these in my time) I've found that they cannot simply go on without a fair amount of modifications - including some drilling and a lot of bending, etc. 

I used Esge/SKS plastic fenders. The tab for attaching the fenders to the fork crown will often hit the headset unless it's either bent or set off a little from the crown. I think this was a pretty nice solution, and the bolt was plenty long enough to make it possible. I installed the locking nut for the brakes and got the brakes set up first, then put the fender tab on behind that and finished it off with an acorn nut. This way, the fenders can be attached or removed without messing with the brake at all, and it has a nice, finished look.

Plastic fenders look pretty good when they're installed right. They're also light, durable, quiet, and cheap. 
Drive train shot. The crank is an '80s vintage Sakae with 34/48 rings. Derailleurs are 3rd generation SunTour Cyclone from the mid-'80s. The wheels were built by me - vintage Suzue hubs with Sun CR-18 rims. I used a new old stock SunTour 6-speed freewheel, 14-28 teeth. Some will notice that I was able to attach the rear brake on the middle set of stays which gives a nice straight cable run for the Dia Compe center pull brake. 
Bars are Velo Orange Left Bank model with a Kalloy stem. I like these Tektro brake levers (FL750 "City Bike" levers - also available from Velo Orange) - they have a simple design, a deluxe look, and are high quality. Shift levers are vintage Shimano EM thumb shifters. They have a fine ratcheting mechanism, very similar to the SunTour power ratcheting levers - but are a bargain price for new old stock examples.
Brooks C17s (the short nosed "ladies" model). I managed to find a pair of these for about half-price. For some reason, the S-model must not be very popular because I never see the regular version for under $100. Go figure, but it worked out well for me, so no complaints. I'm using the regular version on my commuting bike and like it well. Seat post is an inexpensive Kalloy.
The Mustill Store is one of the oldest buildings in Akron - it was an old grocery store and butcher shop beside the Ohio & Erie canal. Lock 15 is right in front of it, and it was a regular stop for canal travelers in the 1800s. It is now a museum.
I'll have the second bike done soon - but in the meantime, if you want to look back at the earlier posts on the projects, look HERE and HERE.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Modifying Kool Stop Brake Pads

Updating vintage brakes with modern pads and cables is a great and easy way to improve their performance. Modern cables often have less friction, which can lighten the "feel" of an old pair of brakes, and modern brake pad compounds are quite a bit better than what was available "back in the day." If you have vintage brakes and are still using vintage pads, those pads may not have been anything great to begin with, and by now they are probably so hard and dry that it's a wonder they can stop a bike at all.

I've found the brake shoes from Kool Stop to be a good choice for improving older brakes - they come in a couple of different compounds (black, or salmon), have some adjustability for toe-in, are fairly inexpensive, and will work with a lot of different vintage brakes. One issue with them, however, is that they are made to be uni-directional, with a long "tail" that sometimes interferes with the forks on older bikes. In some cases, the tail of the pads gets caught up on the forks with the result that the brakes won't open up wide enough to get the wheel out. Kool Stop does make a version they call "Continental" pads which are shorter and simply rectangular - but they also don't have the toe-in adjustability, which in my view is a strike against them.

The good thing is that the longer pads can be easily modified - and here I'll show you how.

I just installed these new Kool Stop Eagle Claw Salmon shoes on this set of vintage Dia Compe center pulls. You can see that the tail of the pads extends back into the fork. In this instance, the spacing is actually not too bad and the brakes will probably open up wide enough despite the pad/fork interference - but I'm going to trim them anyhow.
 One thing you need to know about the Kool Stop brake shoes is that they are molded around a steel "foot" that runs most of the length of the shoe - stopping just short of the tail end of the pad. If you cut the shoe, you want to make sure you clear the metal foot.

Looking at the braking surface of the shoe, you can see there are two "rain grooves" that divide the pad into 3 sections. The metal "foot" that is inside the shoe ends just about where the second rain groove is at the tail end of the pad. That little ¼ in. section at the tail is the part we're going to cut off. You could probably use a basic utility knife for this, but I personally prefer a straight razor blade (nice, new, and sharp) for the job.
The blue lines show the approximate location of the metal foot. I suggest cutting on a bit of an angle through the tail end of the rain groove and outward - to make sure you don't run into the foot. If you do hit and expose it, it's not the end of the world (once on the bike, it's doubtful anyone would notice) but I'm anal retentive enough that it would drive me nuts.
Cuts like butter.
The cut is smooth and straight. When on the bike, the cut will disappear. 
It's usually only necessary to do this to the front pads - as the rear brakes often have a little more space between the seat-stays - and the brakes are usually oriented so that the long tail of the pads points away from the stays to the rear of the bike.
On the bike, you can't tell the shoe was cut, but it has increased the clearance. The next thing is the mounting posts. On the threaded versions of these shoes, the post is really long. It's possible they make it long so it works with more models of brakes - but I can't imagine any brake that needs the posts to be as long as these are. No problem. After the brakes are set up, with the position and angle you want, it's easy to cut off the end of the post with a Dremel tool. I do it with the pads mounted in the brakes, and use a file or a small abrasive wheel (also mounted in the Dremel tool) to smooth the end. If you cut the post prior to mounting, you might find it hard to get the nut started on the threads after cutting.
That's all for now. More updates on the bike projects will be coming soon.

Monday, March 11, 2019

New Bikes for the Retro-Kids: Headbadges

I'm making progress on the new bikes for the Retro-Kids - bit by bit. One update I'd like to share at the moment is on headbadges.

After getting the frames powder coated, I decided not to re-decal the bikes. With these entry-level Japanese bikes from the '80s, they aren't exactly collectable or valuable, and I figure a person can do whatever they wish with them - no need to "preserve" any kind of history. As previously shown, I did outline the lugs to dress them up a little - and next came headbadges. I decided to "personalize" the girls' bikes by choosing badges that reflect a little of their personalities and tastes.

The purple bike started out as a Centurion Le Mans and did have a badge originally (a big "C" for Centurion) that had to be removed before painting. Instead of simply re-attaching the original badge, I searched through eBay listings and found something pretty cool from a seller in China. There are a number of sellers who offer reproduction badges for known brands, as well as some unique "no-name" badges that can personalize a bike like I am doing here. The badges are metal and are applied with double-sided adhesive tape - the same stuff that is used for attaching automotive trim.

In this case, my younger daughter really loves unicorns. I was able to find this badge with a pair of rearing unicorns. I know she's going to love it.
For the second bike, which had started out as a Miyata 100, I had to get a little more creative. My older daughter really loves dragons, but searching through vintage and reproduction badges (including the same sources that provided the unicorn badge above) I couldn't find anything that seemed suitable. But looking through some jewelry pendants at the craft store, I happened to find a very cool pewter dragon and I thought "that just might work."

First, I filed off the loop at the top where the pendant would attach to a chain. Then I curved the pendant to fit the shape of the head tube and attached it with 2-part epoxy.
To make a form to curve the pendant, I bored a 1¼-inch hole in a block of wood, then split the block to reveal a half-round channel. I placed the pendant face down into the channel, then put a piece of pipe on top of that and tapped it with a hammer. The pendant gently curved to fit flush onto the head tube.

Here are a couple more progress pics:

I was able to find two sets of these old '80s vintage Sakae cranks - new old stock, but without chainrings. I had a couple of chainrings already that were the right size, and was able to find a couple more easily enough. The 110/74 bcd is still pretty common today. So both bikes will have the same cranks.
I also got a great deal on this 3rd generation SunTour Cyclone rear derailleur. It was in really good shape cosmetically, except for the logo (which was just screened on) was scratched up. I simply removed the logo completely with some fine steel wool and aluminum polish. These old SunTour derailleurs were fantastic, and this particular generation Cyclone was very robust. I have a matching Cyclone front derailleur to go with it.
That's all for now. More updates to come. . .