Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good deeds

What does it take to make you feel good about yourself?

Have you ever been presented with an opportunity to do something good but didn't act upon it because you felt unwilling to get involved? Most of us have been in that situation. I know I wish I could always be there as a facilitator for all that is good; or another way to say it, would be "to act against all that is bad".

Today at the shop, late afternoon, Gretchen, Zach and Luke were in the shop and Luke was installing some new goodies on his bike. Chris Derkach came into the shop and had something on his mind that he shared with us.

He had been in the University area in San Diego and witnessed a man frantically sawing away at a lock that secured (for the moment) a bike to a pole. Chris asked the guy if it was his bike and the guy said "no". Chris asked him "Then what are you doing?" The guy changed his tune and stammered something about it being his bike. Chris called the police on his cell phone and told them what he was seeing and where it was happening. The guy did not shop sawing away with his hacksaw blade even though Chris was within earshot of the would be thief. There must have been a patrol car in the immediate vicinity because as Chris hung up, a black and white rolled up and aprehended the guy.

I know that's a pretty short story and I wish I could tell you there are some more interesting details to share. But as the cops rolled up onto the scene, Chris turned and went on his way. You see, Chris is a pretty shy fellow.

An interesting side note: Chris said that there were several others around and that they didn't seem to pay any attention to the guy using a hacksaw blade to hack away at a locked bicycle.

I have a picture in my head of a person returning to her/his bike after a day's work and unlocking the bike and riding off without the slightest glimmer of how this very bike changed the lives of two other men this very day. To the owner of the bike, it must seem like the same bike it was when it was first locked to the pole, but now it is much more. It is a changer of lives.

A tip of the hat to Chris and all doers of good deeds.

Chuck Hoefer

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stop signs and spuds

Did you know that Idaho is super smart? How can a state be smart? By treating bicyclists as intelligent beings with something to do and somewhere to go. In Idaho, cyclists legally treat stop signs as yield signs.

Right here in Oceanside there has been a recent push among the police to harass cyclists when they make incomplete stops. The people who I know who've been stopped have not been wildly innattentive kids who run willy-nilly through stop signs just because they don't know any better. They have been responsible adults who have complete awareness of the danger inherent in being hit by a car. In fact, the ones I know are car drivers.

In one case, the rider who has dreadlocks was stopped on Pacific Street by a female officer. She made him sit on the curb for over ten minutes while she checked his - well, whatever they check. When she asked him where he was going, he told her he was on his way to work. She asked him how lucrative his line of work was. (I view that as innappropriate.) The fact is, that this guy is kind of a fixture around town and works at a prominant business. That makes me feel like this officer should get a better grip on the town she is supposed to be serving. She let him go without a ticket, but he was late for work.

Another case I know of is a guy who was riding along Pacific Street with a couple other cyclists and when they cruised through a stop sign, having checked out to see that it was clear, he was pulled over and ticketed. This guy has been riding for decades. He's experienced. At best, it is a technicality that he was guilty of. What he did was safe and sensible, causing inconvenience to no one. I would posit that the cops should avoid that kind of ticket giving practice until after they have enforced all the other laws. You know, the ones that protect us.

Now, back to Idaho: that kind of ticket is not given in Idaho. And that is not because the cops are busy trying to enforce all the laws that protect. It is because in Idaho, the law is set up to allow bicyclists to treat the stop sign as a yield sign. Boy, I like that! Idaho is a state that has aknowledged that stopping a bicycle unneccisarily impedes its progress to an unreasonable degree. Three other factors make this reasonable. 1. Bicyclists have excellent visibility and are traveling at speeds that allow for good use of that ability to see all around. 2. Bicyclists are naturally aware of the risk involved in unsafe entry into an intersection. 3. The size of a bicycle makes it less of a threat to others. That is not to say, in any of those reasons, that it is OK for a cyclist to be less than proper in traffic. Remember, the stop sign is not ignored, it is treated as a Yield sign. Cyclists who blow through stop signs recieve stiff fines in Idaho.

You go Idaho! I'm eating plenty taters to support youse guys.

Chuck Hoefer

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fitting: then and now

Back in the olden days and to be specific about that, it is about twenty years ago that I'm talking about, we used to fit bikes differently than we do now.

Top quality road bikes which were basically road racing bikes, were more uniform than they are now. To some degree, a 56cm bike from one maker was very similar in form to a 56 cm from another maker. Level top tubes were the norm. It was not unreasonable to have a number (bike size) in mind when shopping for a bike from most any manufacturer. Bikes nowadays are measured differently, more configurations exist and in particular, the same size frame can be called by different numbers due to measuring from different points on the frame.

This is the way we used to fit bikes: we used to fit the bike to the legs of the rider. Some people, especially men, come with pretty short legs (proportonally) as standard equipment from the factory. Common practice was to have the rider straddle the bicycle to determine which size of bike they would ride. For instance, a 6' rider with short legs could be assigned a smaller frame size than a 6' rider with longer legs. A typical reccommendation would be "you have shorter legs, so you take this smaller size of frame and we equip it with a longer stem to handle your longer torso." I no longer fit people that way. What we had going back then was a disservice to the short legged, long torso riders.

On men in particular, the upper body is where most of the weight is carried. A smaller frame with a longer stem was putting that weight further out over the front wheel. That doesn't make for relaxed handling and in the long run, it is not conducive to the rider's comfort.

Having the weight of the rider distributed between the wheels of the bike is the ideal situation as far as handling and comfort are concerned. A smaller frame with a longer stem puts the weight of the torso too far over the front.

To illustrate the effect of not having the weight between the wheelbase, I'll use an exaggeration. Imagine a little kid's sidewalk bike with 12" wheels. Take off the training wheels and set it up with a seatpost and handlebar/stem combo that is ideal for you. It is easy to picture how that would feel. We've already established that the bars and seat are in the ideal position but the main factor influencing the wacky feeling will be the fact that the rider's weight is not within the wheelbase. A too small frame has the same effect but to a lesser degree than this exaggerated example.

On a test ride, a too small bike can feel just fine. It is the longer rides where the bike fit makes itself known.

Even riders without the long torso/short leg proportion are more comfortable when not fitted to a too small bike. A common complaint with a too small fit is too much pressure on the hands and a cramped feeling in the neck and shoulders.

The seat tube angle on most bikes is within a three degree range and if you have a given seat angle, the estension of the seat post does not change anything. In other words, the amount of extension you see on the seatpost is not necessarily an indicator of good fit. What I look at is not the top tube height or seat post extension, or stem configuration, but the triangle of pedals, bars and seat in relation to the wheelbase. I wish I could tell you that I have numbers assigned to all this but I don't. There is a lot of intuition based on years of experience but I have not endeavored to make a "system" out of this.

Hardly a day goes by at the shop without someone asking what size bike they should ride. I figure that most of those folks have heard or read that the fit of the bike is of paramount importance and they want us to give them the answer. In the shop setting, first the customer decides which bike she/he needs; at this point, we can determine the size of that particular bike she/he needs. In the case of the buyer wishing to be armed with a number (size) to shop in the used market, there are too many variables to provide a simple answer.

Trends come and go. In recent times, the trend is to sell small bikes. Few of us should be seeking the same fit as a Tour de France rider. In general I see a majority of people on newer bikes riding too small bikes. Occasionally, I see someone on too big of a bike but it is easier (within reason) to make a too big bike fit comfortably.

Chuck Hoefer

Monday, October 5, 2009

Some general principals that apply to bicycle mechanics:

Generally speaking, bicycle mechanics adjust things. We also lubricate things that should slide (cables) and things that should spin (hubs, bottom brackets, etc) and things that pivot (brakes and derailluers).

As far as adjusting things goes, there is a type of part that we adjust so it is not too tight and not too loose. Those parts would include the bottom bracket, hubs, headset and in the case of sidepull brakes, their pivots.

In the classic parts, as opposed to some of the newer sealed bearings, there are threaded parts that we adjust tighter or looser to the point where there is the least amount of pressure that doesn't result in play at the bearing or brake pivot. The mistake I see most often is when the locking characteristics achievable with threaded adjusters is not used properly. That is, the bearing may have been adjusted pretty well, but the adjustment is not locked in.

I will use a hub adjustment to illustrate the principle. Because of the difficulty of trying to convey this process with words alone, I will use as an example, a hub that has a hex shaped lock nut. That is the nut that sits next to the frame. First, I put the wheel horizontally in my vise. I clamp the vise onto the locknut and do not put it in too deeply because I need access to the cone. That is the part that contacts the bearings. The locknut and cone normally have a washer between them.

The first adjustment I make when the wheel is sitting like a big steering wheel in the vise is to lock down the bottom cone. Since the bottom locknut is held in the vise, I back the cone down into it and doing so locks the two together into that position. That principal is called "jamb nutting". It is the same principle used to adjust the valves on VW and other engines.

Once the bottom pair of lock nut and cone are working as a team, I move my attention to the top set of components. Remember that the wheel is sitting horizontally so there is a top set and the already locked in place bottom set. Next I will adjust the bearing so it will work as long as possible. (in another paragraph I will explain why there should be a tiny amount of play at the wheel when it is being adjusted in the vise.) Moving to the top set of cone/locknut, I use the cone wrench on the cone and turn it to where there is just the tiniest amount of play which I feel by holding the rim and rocking it up and down. I lock the cone and locknut together in the jambnut fashion to keep the adjustment.

In effect, moving the cone up puts less pressure on the bearings. Moving it up is done by "unscrewing" it. One of the finer points of jambnutting is that it can be done by moving the top nut down or the bottom one (the cone in this case), up or kind of moving them into each other. The important thing is to achieve the correct adjustment and have the locknut and cone locked together tightly enough that they won't move when the wheel is turning.

A cone that is not locked securely to the lock nut may turn itself inward and put pressure on the bearings which is el desastor!

The reason we leave the tiny amount of play in the bearing is that the axle is squoze (ha!) veddy veddy tightly by the quick release lever. That pressure actually bends the axle enough to change the setting that felt just right with no play into one that can put a fair amount of pressure on the bearings. If you would like a demonstration of this effect, come into the shop and if I'm not busy, I'll show you how that works. By the way, there is no need for play on nutted hubs.

With the exception of leaving play to compensate for the pressure of the quick release skewer, that is how the bottom bracket and headset are adjusted on old school bikes.

Also, the same principle applies to the center bolts of side pull brakes.

I will continue this if it seems that people want to learn it and have the patience to read it.

Cheers, Chuck

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Introducing the Shop

As of October 2009, I'm going into my 33rd year as Pacific Coast Cycles. Before I bought a small shop, Oceanside Cyclery, on Octover 13, 1977, I worked in the bicycle industry for six years. My first official job in the industry was at Talbot's Cyclery in San Mateo. Gary, Steve and their father, Gordon Moore, gave me my start and I still have good memories of working there. Wayne Culpepper was my work mate when demand called for a second mechanic. We had some really good times repairing bikes back when the workshop was in the rear of the toy store.

Gian Simonetti used to come in to Talbots and have me work on his bike, a Bianchi. In 1972 or 1973, he landed the job of interpreter for Masi California. He arranged for me to work at Masi. I ended up as a filer. For some time, I was a bicycle assembler at Masi. That experience has served me well in my chosen profession of bicycle mechanic.

After I bought my store in 1977, I renamed the store Pacific Coast Cycles. I designed the logo. It is simple, and intended to evoke an image of simplicity and precision. In 1978, the shop moved to Carlsbad and then in 2003, moved back to Oceanside where it is now - in the original location it was when I bought it!

The shop has had a distinguished history. It has been an area leader in road bike sales and services and went on to be the first and premier shop in the San Diego area for Mountain Bikes. At this time, I am the oldest (agggh!) standing bicycle shop owner in the area. I am still the main mechanic at the shop, so there is a fair amount of experience behind the repairs and opinons at the shop.

For the last several years, Gretchen has helped at the shop. We are married and her time at the shop gives us more time together. She has her own brand of bicycle enthusiasm and is much more of a "people person" than this mechanic. She is the bright spot in the shop. Also, she knows more than she lets on. I'm sure she would like for me to let everybody know that she met me because she was already a cyclist and not the other way around. Her main interest is just plain riding, but she will occasionally tell me she worked someone pretty hard when out on a ride. Her main job is school teacher. She's stellar in that field.

As far as cycling goes, I have never raced on the road. I did race mountatin bikes starting from some of the first Southern California races (placing near last in my first race) until about 1987. I had a lot of fun and things were a lot less sophisticated back in the beginning. My most notable result was 9th place in the 1985 NORBA National's, Veteran's class.

Today, at 60 years old, I still love to ride. I mostly ride for commuting or with Gretchen. I am pretty slow, though I'd like to be fast. Many other interests cause me to consider cycling a part of my life instead of it being my sole enthusiasm.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to make my way in this life by doing something I love. I have never been happier at my job than I am now.

As for the people who have worked at Pacific Coast Cycles, most are still friends. I'd like to quote a line from a Bob Dylan song. I think it applies well.

My heart isn't weary
It's light and it's free
I have nothing but affection
For all those who've sailed with me.

Thanks to all of them, for it is they who have helped make the shop what it is.

Lastly, thank you to all my customers. Thirty-two years has meant a lot of customers. I remember, and still work on bikes for some of them who started with the shop from the very first year.

Chuck Hoefer October 1, 2009