Bearing Up – A Quality Shoe

In the Second World War, Allied bombers targeted a small Bavarian city named Schweinfurt. Located in between Frankfurt and Nuremberg, Schweinfurt was a center of ball bearing manufacturing for the Nazi war effort. No ball bearings means nothing made of metal will rotate properly. Bearings and the grease that keeps them from wearing out are little out-of-sight things that most people never think about.

Which brings me to bikes. A bicycle encounters three kinds of resistance: wind, rolling, and mechanical. Obviously, riding into the wind can ruin your whole day. Certain kinds of tires have higher rolling resistance than others. Puncture-proof touring tires keep you from getting flats but they increase rolling resistance. Personally, I hate changing flats so I opt for heavy, bomb-proof tires. Mechanical resistance comes into play when things that are supposed to rotate freely wear out.

I seem to have an aptitude for breaking bike pedals. Don’t ask me why; I seriously don’t know. A few years ago I decided to upgrade my cheapo platform pedals with expensive, fancy pants pedals from an online retailer. After about a year and a half, I found myself in Michigan, a couple of days away from finishing a solo tour of over 750 miles. My right foot felt odd as I pedaled. Suddenly, the welds on the pedal broke. Basically, the pedal disintegrated. As I rolled along, I was holding the platform part of the pedal onto the spindle using the force of my foot and ankle. Luckily I found a bike shop that stayed open late on a Sunday evening and installed new pedals for me. Cheap ones. (The fancy pedals were warranted for one year. I was out of luck.)

Every so often a pedal on one of my bikes goes bung in a more conventional way. The bearings wear out. The pedal starts feeling crunchy. Through the sole of your shoe, you can feel the workings of the pedal breaking down. A week ago, this happened to the cheapo pedals I had on The Mule. Supply chain problems being what they are, the aforementioned online bike place didn’t have anything in stock. I rode to the two bike shops nearest my house. They didn’t have anything either.

So, on a whim, I called Bikes at Vienna. The shop owner Tim said he had some MKS touring pedals. “I have them on all my bikes. They’re great.” I couldn’t help of thinking of the old Mark Knopfler song “Quality Shoe” about a shoe salesman describing his products. And they cost only about $10 more than the crummy pedals I had been using.

So I rode 23-ish miles to Vienna and bought a set. Beth, the mechanic (who also has these pedals on her recumbent and loves them) thinks they don’t come with enough grease in side so she opened the pedals and added grease to the bearings.

I picked one of the pedals up an spun it with my fingers. It was an obviously vast improvement over pedals on The Mule.

The next day I installed them and went for a ride.

The Mule’s new shoes

WOW. No way. What a difference. The Mule was very happy. I was very happy. So The Mule and I rode back out to Vienna and bought another pair for my Cross Check. After a 30-mile ride on that bike, I can confirm that these new pedals are the bomb.

Moral of the story: if you have a two-wheeled horse, you’re going to need a quality shoe.

Hockey Tape, Duct Tape, Carbon Fiber and Beth

About a month ago, Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, broke. Literally. The front fork broke off. While I was riding.

This was not fun.

Easy Racers, the manufacturer, has apparently gone out of business. Long before that happened, they put out a recall on the fork on my bike. My fork had something like 30,000 miles on it. What me worry? Doh.

With little hope of success, I conducted a nationwide search for a replacement fork. After a few recumbent bike shops sent me regrets, I had just about given up hope when Peter Stull from Bicycle Man shop in Alfred NY told me he had just what I needed. To be sure that it would work, I had Peter talk directly to Tim Fricker, owner of my somewhat (23-miles away) local recumbent shop, Bikes at Vienna. They determined that the fork would work on my bike but I’d have to replace the headset and the stem. I took Big Nellie out to Vienna and dropped it off.

After the usual delays due to summer backlogs, pandemic supply chain problems, and such, repairs began. Beth, who like Tim and me owns an Easy Racers recumbent, worked on my bike. In addition to replacing the fork, I asked her to replace my chains (it’s a long bike) and the cassette. I also figured I might as well replace the grip shifters that were in very rough shape. For the last year or so, the rubber grippy part was worn off. I’d “fixed” them with hockey tape.

During her work, Beth discovered that my bike needed a whole bunch of other repairs. (Deferred maintenance is my middle name.) The middle chainring was bent. (How I could do this without bending the other two chainrings is a wonder.) One of the crank arms was also bent. My plastic rear fender mount was cracked. (How they could have an obscure part like this lying around is beyond me.) She replaced all three.

Beth also noticed that the brakes worked very poorly (don’t need them if you crash, is my motto) and that all the cables and housings needed to be replaced. I think they were all over 10 years old. Maintenance? Moi? Mais non!

Lastly, Beth could not get my 20-year-old bike computer to work. Considering the fact that it was literally held together with duct tape, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve been searching for a replacement for ages. Sure enough, the store had one in stock.

Before I went out to Vienna to pick up the bike, Beth advised me that it would take an hour to dial in the set up on the bike. The set up on Tour Easys is complicated. As it turned out, she needed to cut the grips on the shifters, replace my bar end mirror, adjust a limit screw on the front derailler, and tweak the handlebar position.

The handlebars need to be a bit higher to allow the bar ends to clear my knees and for my hands to be a bit closer to my body. Beth put in an order for a stem riser that will solve the problem.

I think we could have done what we needed to get done in 20 minutes but as the 43 emails suggest, Beth is rather loquacious. (In this regard and in physical appearance, she very much reminds me of my friend Klarence.) We talked up a storm about our bikes and bike touring. She wants to ride to Key West. I said, “No Way So Hey!” I also told her about my Erie Canal tour which I did on Big Nellie.

With bike repaired and new friend of the wheel acquired, I headed home.

Today, I took Big Nellie out for a test ride.

Sweet!

It needs a few more tweaks. There is an odd intermittent noise from the drivetrain that may have something to do with the cassette. When you replace a worn chain, you should also replace the cassette but, thanks to pandemic supply chain delays, a new cassette was not available. The noise may just be an issue of links and cog teeth meshing improperly. No worries.

The last time I rode this bike I crashed so my steering was a bit tentative. The new handlebar position isn’t terrible but I am looking forward to a more compact steering posture.

The quality of bike computers is generally lousy these days, but the replacement computer seems to be working fine. I’ll keep an eye on this one. (Beth, mindful of my ego, keyed in the mileage – over 45,000 – from my old computer.) I am pretty sure the wheel size is on the generous side but that’s something I can deal with.

Big Nellie back home. Note craptastic duct tape fender extension.

My plastic fenders, with duct tape extensions, are all about keeping my bike and me dry. They are ugly. Beth wanted to replace them.

I declined but in the course of the email conversation she learned that I had stashed in my shed an Easy Racers carbon fiber front fender. Beth owns a Ti Rush, the titanium version of my bike, that retailed for 2 and a half times the price of my bike. It is a thing of beauty and weighs nothing. It also has a stiffer seat back and can go faster miles an hour.

One of these days I’m going to steal it.

In the meantime, it needs fancy fenders. I gave her mine.