The Mule cracks me up

When I go on bike tours I try to think of everything that could go wrong and plan accordingly. I carry a kevlar spoke in case one of my spokes breaks. I bring along a folded tire in case I have a catastrophic tire failure. There are, however, some problems that you can’t do much about. Number one is a break in your frame or fork. Theorerially, if your frame and fork are made out of steel, you can find a welder to repair it.

Yeah right.

Basically, if your frame or fork breaks, your tour is over.

Another tour killer is a broken rim. On my 2005 tour, I felt something fishy going on with the rear wheel of my recumbent. I limped into the town of Frostburg, Maryland and got very lucky. I found a bike shop, one that had not yet even opened for business, that had a wheel builder. The manager found a rim in the basement (they didn’t even have their stock displays finished in the store) and built me a rim overnight.

That wheel eventually failed but it got me through the tour and several thousand miles more.

I replaced it with a Velocity Dyad rim which is still on the bike,

I haven’t looked closely at a rim in a long time. I can tell when the sidewalls of a rim are worn out when the start cupping. The concavity grabs brake pads. Because of this I knew that The Mule needed a new front wheel. When I dropped it off at Bikes at Vienna I told Beth the mechanic to replace it. She recently returned from bike mechanic school and was eager to test out her wheel building skills,

Whenever she gets a bike she looks it over closely. She knows that I’m going to ride thousands of miles on the bike so I appreciate her attention to detail. A day after I dropped it off she contacted me and said I needed a new rear wheel too.

Hmm. I hadn’t noticed any problems.

I told her to go ahead and build another one.

I picked up the bike yesterday. It has two shiny, new, Beth-built Velocity Dyad rims.

She kept the old rims for show and tell. Here’s what my rear rim looked like.

The rim on my #specializedsequoia touring bike. Kinda glad it held together during my tour last year
Let’s put 40 pounds of gear on that bad boy and ride to Maine. NOT.

This kind of damage doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it probably takes a good 10,000 miles of loaded touring. It doesn’t help that I’ve hit hundreds of potholes, tar patches, and root heaves during the time this rim was on my bike. I’m willing to guess these cracks were in place during the last part of my 2022 tour. Now imagine you’re riding along on this wheel with 40 pounds of gear and you hit a bump or a pothole. Eek. It’s safe to say that a catastrophic wheel failure while descending a mountain pass at 35 miles per hour would ruin your whole day.

Incidentally, as I mentioned, Beth is meticulous. After she built the wheel she had someone else check it over. My job is to put the bike through its paces to stress test the wheels in the next week or so. I already did a 7-mile test ride. So far. so good.

Meanwhile, Beth is giving the CrossCheck it’s winter physical. I already know t needs a new front wheel.

TLC for The Mule

Given the fact that I’ve been riding The Mule 90 percent of the time since November, it’s not surprising that this bike is beat up. All that sand and salt and crud has taken a toll. I took in to my local bike shop for some TLC. Here’s what the to do list:

  • Replace the bent handlebar, brake levers, and bar tape  (damaged in a crash last winter)
  • True both wheels
  • Clean and adjust brakes (front caliper was sticking)
  • Replace the pulley wheels in rear derailer (they squealed like crazy. One has teeth that were worn to points)
  • Replace bottom bracket (I could feel crunchiness every time I pedaled)
  • Replace chain and cassette
  • Tune up whatever is left to tweak

Fortunately, the shop’s winter service deals were still going on so I got a break on the labor. I also put my WABA membership to use to get a ten percent discount on all the new parts. (Basically, the membership just paid for itself.)

The bike will be ready next weekend.

In the meantime, Big Nellie will do service as my bike commuter. Fortunately, we will be having a spate of springlike weather for the next several days. Just the thing for a little laid back riding.


Carl and Little Nellie

As I posted the other day, Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, was in the shop for a new chain and new bar tape. I also needed some help getting a tire mounted on the front rim. When I left the bike the folks at Spokes Etc. told me that they’d have the bike back to me on Thursday.

Imagine my delight when I received an email telling me the bike was ready today. Yay!.

Imagine my befuddlement when they also told me that the front tire was flat.

What a weird email.

I tried and trued to get the tire on. It was a new Schwalbe Marathon and the Alex rims on my bike are unusually tall. The combination makes mounting tires extremely difficult. It is never a good idea to use tire levers to get the tire on because you stand a very good chance of puncturing the tube.

After over an hour of frustration and quite a lot of lost skin, I resorted to my metal tire levers to no avail. So I took the bike to Spokes and waved a white flag. Carlos tried to get the tire on and couldn’t do it so he pulled out some thin plastic levers and popped the tire on. He then pumped it up and rolled the bike into their repair queue.

So, long story short, we don’t know who punctured the tube. Wanting to get the thing fixed today, I told them to go ahead and put a new tube in. After all, I still don’t have any skin on my thumbs.

When I picked the bike up, Carl had just finished mounting the tire. With his bare hands. I asked, “How did you do this?” He explained that he pushed the wire bead of the tire into the well of the rim and, in short order, he had the tire on.

Carl’s secret is that he has tons of experience dealing with Bike Fridays and recumbents. He’s dealt with this problem scores of times. In point of fact, I tried to do what he did and I just couldn’t get the tire on.

While he had my bike, he looked it over and told me about all sorts of issues the bike has or will soon have. The rear derailer is on its last legs. He recommended a different derailer, one for mountain bikes (Deore) instead of road bikes (105), because, unlike the road derailer, the mountain bike derailer is designed to work with a wide range of gears such as Little Nellie has. He also pointed out that the cable feeding the derailer had been installed incorrectly with a zip tie. This interfered with the proper operation of the derailer. He removed the zip tie and set things right. He then pointed out that the indexing on my rear derailer shifter was about to die. This is no big deal because with a twist of a nut the shifter will work just fine in friction mode. Finally, he told me that the long cable housings on folding bikes trap water and that the next time I have work done on my bike, it would be a good idea to replace the cables and housings.

Bike Fridays are odd ducks. So are Tour Easy recumbents which have similar cable and housing issues. I consider myself pretty lucky to have Carl working just three miles from my house.

For those of you thinking that this tire mounting thing is peculiar, check out this video that describes the trick Carl used.

Much thanks to Carl for showing me the ins and outs of the drive train on my nearly 8-year old bike. Next winter, I’ll take it in for some of the work Carl recommends.

Tubes and a Lunchbox

It was 70 degrees here yesterday. Tonight we are under a winter storm warning. The weather gods have been drinking.

I took off on The Mule today to get some tubes from my local bike shop. This would be the Spokes Etc. store at Belle View Shopping Center. They are a pretty good resource for bike commuters. They do small repairs while you wait. When I had only one bike, I abused this service. They never complained. 

They give a discount if you buy three tubes so I bought 2 for The Mule and one for Little Nellie. 

I rode back home and stopped off at Sherwood Gourmet on the way. They make a sammich called Gary’s Lunchbox that I am addicted to. When I got home I mainlined it.

After lunch, I went out to the shed to do some maintenance on my bikes. The rear tire on The Mule has had a slow leak for over a week. I can’t find the leak so it either has a bad valve or the rubber has become permeable. I pulled my old spare tube, the one that I had been carrying around for months, out of my saddle bag. It had an extra long valve that had come apart. It’s a good thing that I didn’t get a flat during my commutes or I’d have been stranded. 

My tire is a Schwalbe Marathon which are notoriously hard to get on and off the rim. I think I have mastered the technique though. It went off and on without a fuss. The wheel didn’t want to go back on the bike however. After a few minutes of wrestling with the bike, I got it all straightened out. The Mule was nearly ready for action.

While at the bike shop, I asked the mechanic to check my chain for wear. He said it was worn and should be replaced. He also recommended replacing the cassette (the gears in the rear of the bike). I figure if the bike still shifts okay and I have to replace both chain and cassette anyway, I might as well keep the chain on the bike until the shifting deteriorates, then replace the chain and cassette.

I oiled the pulleys and cleaned and lubed the chains on both The Mule and Little Nellie. The chains were kind of gunked up from all the sand on the sides of the roads. When I was done, both chains spun over the gears like buttah.

Now I wait until my third and hopefully final wovel-fest. I am sick of shoveling snow. 

On the medical front, I have had to stop taking Vitamin I in advance of finger surgery in a couple of weeks. The stiffness in my lower back came back as soon as the medicine wore off, as did the pain in my hips and left knee. Oddly enough, I am having no pain to speak of while riding my bike. It seems the yoga sessions I do after waking up are doing some good in this regard. I can’t remember when I have felt this comfortable riding a bike. 

Errandonnee Summary

Errand # 11: Spokes Etc. at Belle View

Category: Bike Shop (#1)

Miles: 4 1/2

Observation: If you don’t patronize your local bike store, it won’t be there when you really need it. Show them some love.


Errand #12: Sherwood Gourmet

Category: Lunch

Miles: 4

Observation: About a half mile from the shop, I was buzzed by a corvette. The driver gave me about a foot of clearance as he passed me. I am pretty sure it was deliberate. 


Big Nellie Returns, Not

A few weeks ago during a bike ride, I went to open my water bottle valve with my teeth as I have done hundreds of times before. This time, a veneer crown popped off one of my teeth. Yesterday, after two weeks and over $800, the dentist installed a new crown and my tooth looks fabulous. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about its appearance, I’ll settle for structural integrity.

After visiting with my dentist, I drove out to Bikes at Vienna to pick up Big Nellie. The gears work. The brakes work. The new Panaracer Pasella tire with Tourguard feels like buttah. On the way home, I dropped the car off for an oil change and rode Big Nellie the last mile and a half. Sweet.

When I spotted our silver Accord in my driveway, my brain said, “Lily’s home.” And I immediately realized how life has suddenly changed. Lily, my daughter, is now a freshman in college, far away in Indianapolis (a city with some pretty awesome new bike infrastructure, by the way.) Not having her around brings a mixture of feelings. There is a sense of loss and a sense of excitement. I miss her but I know she’s going to have a great experience in college. Go get ‘em, Lily!

I was all psyched to ride Big Nellie to work this morning when I discovered that her new rear tire was flat. Yeesh! Rather than mess with a tire change first thing in the morning, I hopped on The Mule and headed for work. It was muggy and foggy and just kind of gross out. I passed the Hoppy Runner and Nancy “Two Sheds” Duley. Nancy was riding with a headlight on, which I find depressing; summer is almost over.

The ride home was typical for DC in late summer: an erratic tailwind combined with muggy conditions. The ride was made significantly easier than the ride in, because I wasn’t carrying my anvil of a laptop in my panniers.

Once home, I took the wheel off Big Nellie and examined the tube and tire. I couldn’t see anything wrong with the tire but the tube was losing air pretty fast. It turns out the valve stem was broken. Stuff happens. While I was working on the bike, I toed in the brake pads on the rear wheel.

Big Nellie is rested and ready. Tomorrow we ride to Friday Coffee Club at sunrise.

The plan was to clean the chain…

After lounging around doing crossword puzzles all morning, I went outside to clean the chain on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. This is not a trivial task since the chain is 2 1/2 times as long as on a conventional bike. I made it to the side of the house and saw it. The eastern redbud I planted three years ago split down the middle during yesterday’s storm. So I spent a half hour in the sun sawing and lopping and chopping.

I put the debris from my tree clean up in my neighbor’s pile of yard debris which had floated down the street to our house. Suburbs are so convenient. Mrs. Rootchopper moved the pile earlier today. It contained a mess of creepy bugs and a snake. I am amazed she didn’t go screaming down the street.

I pulled Big Nellie out of the shed and set her up for a good chain cleaning, Then I saw it. One of the master links on the chain was broken. I am thankful that it didn’t snap off completely during last night’s deluge.

I pulled out my chain tool and an old chain and went to work. Not having much experience at this sort of thing, it was taking a long time. Midway through the operation, I noticed that one of the chain guides on my chain tool had broken off. No worries. I got this. Then the second chain guide broke off. Despite all these annoyances, the chain was nearly repaired when I dropped the chain and the pin fell out. This meant I had to go back to square one.

Instead of going to square one, I drove the bike to Spokes Etc. in Belle Haven where they repaired the chain in short order. I drove home. Big Nellie kept trying to jump off the bike rack. I had to stop three times to re-secure it.

As I write this it’s four in the afternoon. The day is shot. At least I cleaned my chain…oops. Forgot all about that.