Monday, April 29, 2019

Wheelbuilding Saturday

I spent this past Saturday lacing up a new pair of wheels. I've covered wheel building here on the blog before (Here and Here) so I won't go into a ton of detail about it. But suffice it to say, wheel building is one of those jobs I enjoy. There's something methodical and maybe even meditative about it.

The funny thing about building wheels is that a lot of people express complete dismay when you say you built your own wheels. I guess to the uninitiated eye looking at a complete wheel, it just looks like an unfathomable web of wire that somehow got laced together by magic. But the part that probably strikes them as the most confusing aspect (getting all the spokes in the right places)  is actually the easiest, most unambiguous part of the job. Lots of books and many more online articles are out there that outline the steps in a straightforward manner. The harder part comes in fine-tuning the wheel so it's not only straight/true, but also perfectly round, and evenly tensioned. It takes time to get it right. That's a part that gets better and easier with more experience - but for me nowadays,  looking at that little tiny gap between the rim and the calipers on the truing stand keeps getting harder for my eyesight. I got these into the ballpark, then had someone at the local shop give them a final once-over after my head started to hurt from the eye strain. Might be time for new glasses.

This pair of wheels are my first foray into the world of 650B. Last spring I was riding with a group of vintage bike fans in Michigan, and one of the guys on that ride had a really pretty old French bike that he'd converted to 650B wheels - it was such a sweet bike that I was inspired to try something similar.

I always start by gathering all my materials. Rims, hubs, spokes and nipples, a spoke wrench, and my copy of The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt. I always do a quick review of Brandt's book before starting a set of wheels. The spokes are Sapim double butted (14/15 gauge) which are a good value. I keep my spokes separated in their own little bundles by length while building so I don't get them mixed up. There are three lengths - the longest are for the front wheel. There are two lengths for the rear wheel - the shortest ones are used on the drive-side to help get the proper wheel "dish."

The rims are Grand Bois 650B which are available from Rene Herse Cycles (formerly Compass Cycles). They are a classic-looking profile, beautifully polished, and very well made. The regular price on these is pretty high ($98 each, I believe) but they were marked down recently so they are a little more competitive price-wise with rims like those from Velo-Orange. The VO rims are probably very good, but the Grand Bois are a little lighter, and I like the rounded profile more.

My hubs are vintage SunTour Vx - made by Sansin (aka Sunshine). These have a great polish and look almost new. Even the quick release skewers could pass for new. 

To determine the proper spoke length, I use Spocalc, a Microsoft Excel-based spreadsheet program developed by Damon Rinard. It's a free download and you can find it via the Sheldon Brown website. I've always found it to be accurate - but it's important to make sure you input the proper hub and rim dimensions. Spocalc includes a pretty extensive database of hub and rim dimensions to help simplify things, but it's still a good idea to measure. In my case, the SunTour Vx hubs I chose were not listed in the database, so accurate measuring was absolutely necessary and Sheldon Brown's site has some helpful tips for measuring hubs and rims. With new rims, the main necessary dimension (ERD, or "effective rim diameter") is usually easy to find from the manufacturer, and some even print it on the label.

With the wheels now done, I can start focusing on getting the bike conversion project underway.

Readers might remember this frame from a couple of months ago - a French-made Motobecane Grand Jubilee. It seemed like a good candidate for conversion, but first I had to get the Swiss-threaded bottom bracket unstuck. More info to come. . .

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.