Saturday, February 26, 2011

New rubber and parts for my road bike

A bit of a refresh for my 1991 Diamond Back Master TG.
After being sick for much of the past week, I was finally feeling well enough to spend some time in the shop. It's fortunate that I was up for a little shop time, because my 1991 Diamond Back Master TG was in need of some work. You may remember my 20 year-old crazy pink road bike from an earlier post. Curiously, that post about my Master TG is one of the most visited pages on this site, possibly because not much relevant info exists anywhere else about these particular bikes. If you happen to be here looking for info on the short era of steel Diamond Back road bikes, I'll do my best to continue to expand the story as I'm able. For now though, on to a little shop work.

When I got the Master TG, although initially flat, the tires and tubes held air well when pumped. In fact, they've held air very well for several months now, and have carried me on several shortish rides totaling perhaps 80 to 100 miles. However, I knew the tires were dry and brittle and could become problematic any time, so new tires were in order.
The old Vittoria 22c clinchers crumbled when I removed them from the rims.
I hadn't yet taken the tires off the rims since I had owned the bike, but when I did, the casing near the bead disintegrated into dust and fragments. However, the tube inside was supple and in good condition. After a careful inspection of the tubes, they had no patches and served to support my hypothesis that this bike had only been minimally used. I decided to reuse the tubes with new tires. After all, the tubes appeared to be in at least as good of condition, if not better than tubes on many of my other bikes. I have a pile of tubes that have accumulated in my shop over the years, a few of which are at least 20 years old. Some of my older tubes have been patched many times, but seem to have more lasting power than newer tubes. Maybe they just made them better back in the old days. In any case, I have no qualms about reinstalling the original tubes on the Master TG. 
New Michelin 25c tire (left) versus old Vittoria 22c tire (right). Who knew an extra 3 mm of width would make the carcass look so fat?
I chose a pair of Michelin Lithion 2.0 25c folding bead tires as replacements, mostly because they seemed to be decent mid range standard road tires. I was tempted by some colored tires that would match and/or contrast interestingly with the frame color, but I couldn't quite pull the trigger. I decided to modestly up-size the carcass width of the new tires because I couldn't see any clear advantage of running such skinny tires on this bike, and thought I might appreciate a little more bounce.
There's not a lot of clearance between the new tire and the fork crown, 3 mm or so, but that's enough.
It's a good thing that I didn't decide on any fatter tires than I did, or else I might have had to file down the inner fork crown to fit. The rear triangle had plenty of clearance at the seat stay bridge and the chainstays, so probably 28c or even 30c tires would work on the back. The 25c tires are just fine for my purposes though.

I also decided to make some alterations to the cockpit, with a new bar and stem. I liked the original black anodized Tioga Prestige road stem, but I felt a bit stretched out along my torso when riding. This could be because I'm not recently accustomed to a traditional road bike riding posture, but I decided to install a somewhat shorter and taller stem. I swapped the original low rise 130 mm extension stem for a Nitto Technomic Deluxe 100 mm extension with a higher rise. I'm not sure that this stem will permanently stick on this bike, but I wanted to give it a try.

For the handlebar, I went with a Nitto Model 177, otherwise known as a "Noodle" bar, in 44 cm width. The original Centurion bar was 41 cm wide and felt a little narrow for me. I haven't owned a Noodle bar before, but based on the feedback of a lot of people who swear by this model, I'm now entering the test phase.
I like the shape of the Nitto Model 177 (top) better than the original Centurion bar (bottom), at least in theory. Only putting on some miles will let me know for sure.
Those who are familiar with Nitto products know that they come with a glowing satiny finish reminiscent of times gone by, when Japan and Europe exported components with buttery smooth metal surfaces. Modern components aim more for the technical wow factor of a plastic-like carbon fiber finish. I know carbon fiber parts are lighter, but for me they are diminished in aesthetic appeal by the way they feel. This is probably no small contributing factor in why I'm working on a bike that's almost old enough to buy beer. Well, that and the fact that I likely couldn't withstand the price tag of carbon fiber anything.

If the good weather holds and I continue to regain my health, I'll put my refurbished road bike to the test sooner than later.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday errands

Snow capped peaks in the distance on a beautiful Colorado day.
It's always a treat to have a few errands to do by bike on a warm, sunny day. It's even better when the whole family is along for the ride, and time is no issue. Today was one of those days. We started off with some books to return to the library and took the opportunity to ramble past the museum farm along the way. Next, we took a familiar route to the center of town, taking in a spectacular view of the Front Range at the top of the hill overlooking the local business district.
Longtail family: Xtracycle and Big Dummy with Electra Hawaii stowed aboard.
We participated in a little bicycle enabled commercial activity, in particular to buy some tikka masala spices for some terrific Indian food Julie has slated to make for tomorrow. Our long tail bikes always seem to draw attention whenever we are out, but today the frequency of stares, questions and exclamations of interest by passers by seemed of even greater quantity than usual. Much of the time that the girls were inside shopping I spent talking with people who happened to walk past as I was locking up the bikes.

Apparently I emit a genial vibe, as people don't seem to be shy about approaching me when I'm around the bikes, and I always take the time to answer any questions. Even those people who appear unlikely to ride bikes seem genuinely interested, if only in that "Hey Honey, guess what weird thing I saw today?" kind of way. In any case, I feel as though I'm serving as a social intermediary, modeling good behavior while promoting bicycle diplomacy.
Bike riding is fairly good here, even on the street. We're fortunate enough to live in what was an actual small town long before it was absorbed as a suburb. This pic is for Jennie in chilly Minnesota.
While riding on the street several people in cars passing by eyeballed us, I'll assume in wonderment of seeing a small pink bike and pink clad girl riding on the back of an odd, elongated bike. This sort of attention is not an unfamiliar phenomenon for me, and likely not unfamiliar to anyone who rides a cargo bike. Even when riding on trails, only the most intensely focused weekend warriors lack exhibiting a puzzled look followed by a grin as we pass.

It was great to see the quantity of activity on the Platte River Trail, with no shortage of bicyclists, runners and walkers taking advantage of the day. However, the best viewing was of the wildlife on the river. She spotted a goldeneye duck, and there were also several widgeons and mallards feeding and bobbing around in the current. Flocks of geese flew overhead and alighted in fields nearby. Even though I didn't manage to get any wildlife photos today, upon reflection it's easy to forget how great the wild scenery can be even in a major metropolitan area.

Bikes patiently waiting while their riders fuel up.
At the apex of our ride, we stopped for an early dinner. For years Julie and I have lamented the apparent lack of a reasonably good, non mega-chain burger joint in our vicinity. It's not that we often eat burgers, but it's nice to have the possibility. While this is not a food focused blog and I'm certainly no connoisseur, Freddy's seems to fit the bill. Their burgers and fries are about the right size, aren't too greasy, and as a bonus they have great frozen custard. It also doesn't hurt that they are located just off the Platte River Trail.
Our little big girl almost finished a whole burger by herself. The photo on the wall is of Freddy as a kid with his bike, from sometime in the 1930s.
Even as the possibility of snowstorms always loom well into March and April, days like today are a little reminder that Spring is just around the corner. I can't wait.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What a difference a week makes

Windswept and covered in hearts for the morning ride.
Last week we had an arctic blast of sub-zero temperatures, but it's warmed up tremendously in the past few days. Yesterday was shirtsleeve riding weather, and the sun felt hot on exposed skin. Today was not quite as warm and was windy, which always makes me think of Spring. Punxsutawney Phil's prediction of an early Spring may be coming true.

We had a nice, but windy ride to school in the morning and a similarly windy, but warmer ride home in the afternoon. We've been practicing telling time, as she is a proud new Timex owner as of Valentine's Day. For those who might be wondering, it's a standard model with hands, of course. How else can a girl learn to tell time? Speaking of time passing, congrats to cousin Hazel on reaching big number five.
Sporting a new watch and having a snack during the afternoon ride.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Colorado Bike Summit

The Titan stands alone on Capitol Hill.
I was fortunate to be able to attend Colorado's first ever bike summit, which finished up a two day run today. It coincided with some chilly weather hovering around 0F, and a blizzard that began last night and continued into the morning. The summit attracted many of the most enthusiastic and connected bike people from around the state and the region. A lot is happening with a variety of bicycle related efforts throughout Colorado, and it was enlightening to gain a better view of the big picture.
Denver Mayor Bill Vidal was the lead-off speaker on Monday.
The first day of the summit featured several speakers including Mayor Bill Vidal of Denver, Dan Grunig of Bicycle Colorado, Tim Blumenthal of Bikes Belong, John Burke of Trek, and Randy Neufeld of SRAM Cycling Fund. Later in the day, breakout sessions focused on complete streets, safe routes to school and the power of mountain biking in your community.

Overall the content was thought provoking and the opportunity to discuss issues with new and different people contributed to a solidly positive experience. At the end of the first day I left convinced that frequent communication within the state's bicycling community would probably do much to identify common goals and facilitate projects.
A wind driven snow storm began as I returned home on Monday night.
I should take a moment to mention that I finished reassembling my Titan on Sunday evening just prior to the bike summit, with the help of my ever eager shop assistant. The Titan had dependably performed for several years during an extended period between service intervals, and is now ready for many more.
Shop assistant / bike fairy using her magnetic wand to identify objects made of ferrous materials. This grin signifies a positive discovery.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Bike Summit continued with a trip to the state capitol for constituents to meet elected officials and to ask for support of bi-partisan house bill 1092. The bill would ensure road rights for bicycles on public thoroughfares or require the necessity to provide alternative routes. The goal is to resolve Blackhawk's unreasonable bike ban, and to stem potential similar actions which might deny bicyclists from access to public roads elsewhere.

Representative Andy Kerr (D) and Senator Greg Brophy (R) are co-sponsors of the bill. After a press conference, Rep. Kerr took a spin on his bike for a photo op in front of the capitol building. It turns out he forgot his helmet, and I happened to be the only person around with one, so I loaned him mine.
Rep. Kerr sporting my trusty old helmet, still featuring the team 290 sticker.
Making sure the moment is adequately recorded for posterity.
Rep. Kerr and Sen. Brophy did a great job talking about how bicycling tourism, industries and activities are important contributors to Colorado's economy, and that arbitrary bike bans such as in Blackhawk create a negative image for the state. Kerr is a regular bike commuter and noted that although bicycling is possible here for nearly every day of the year, today was one of the few exceptions. I won't argue his point of view, except to say that I had a nice ride anyway.
Regardless of weather-related challenges, reduced traffic volume and much slower car speeds equals good riding in my book.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fun in the snow

My girls know that the first batch of flakes taste the best.
We finally got a good snowfall. By good, I mean that it was deep enough to not just melt away quickly, and it was accompanied by temperatures that weren't bone chilling cold. In other words, perfect for winter fun. Luckily the snow coincided with the weekend, and we made it count. From about the first flake that fell yesterday, she was plotting to build a snowman. Yesterday's snow was perfectly sticky for the task, and our snowman was soon positioned to greet anyone approaching our house.
The snowman might have gotten to be a little taller, but she was just too eager to install the buttons and facial features for it to grow any more. Note the snowshoes.
This morning Oma came over on her snowshoes, so after a hearty pancake breakfast we decided to go sledding. She had gotten a new sled in early December, but to her consternation there hasn't been much opportunity to use it until now. However, the fantastic conditions on the snow hill in a nearby park made up for the long wait. A lot of other kids and families had also congregated on the hill and the routes were prime for action. It's a perfect sledding hill, wide enough for many concurrent tracks, and with a variety of angles from steep to not so steep.
Coming back up the hill with Oma after an early run
She hadn't had much experience going solo, but got the hang of it quickly. She doesn't weigh enough to really seat the sled into the snow, so she just skims along the surface and can pick up some serious speed. This is especially the case where a track has been packed down by heavier riders.
Snow rocket with a Wyoming tuque starting a run.
I was a bit surprised at her stamina for trudging back up the hill after a number of runs. I often met her halfway down the hill to pull the sled, but she was a little trooper, practically running to the top. When she eventually decided that she wanted me to pull her back up to the top, I took that as a cue that she needed a break.
I'm hoping that all the times pulling the sled up the hill will equate to an early bedtime, but I'm not betting on it.
After quite a few runs, She decided to turn her sled into an impromptu snow fort for a snow fight. She's at an age where enjoys scoring a good hit with a snowball as well as receiving one. She's got a pretty good arm, and is relentless with a fair degree of accuracy, as the adults around her were soon to discover.
Plotting an attack from behind her shield.
Making a celebratory "snow fairy" as she called it.
It was great to be able to enjoy the snow. Once we got home, we topped off our fun with a change into some dry clothes and some warm drinks and cookies. A few more flakes are starting to fall as I get ready to start a fire in the fireplace. If winter could be like this for the whole season, I wouldn't mind at all.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sub zero

Warmed up to about -2F, from an earlier -12F.
Today was a little chilly around here. So chilly in fact that school was canceled even though we only had a couple inches of snow on the ground. This situation is a bit odd for me because I don't remember school ever being canceled for low temperatures as a kid. In fact, I vividly recall walking to and from school, as well as being outside at recess, in extremely cold and windy Wyoming weather.

Now, I know how this sounds. Implying that kids in the present day are somehow softer than kids in my day makes me sound like a stereotypical old guy. Perhaps not coincidentally, a concerned member of my household reminded me of my old guy status when I decided to make a trip to the post office this afternoon on the Big Dummy. Something along the lines of, "it's cold outside and you're not young anymore." Call it what you will, whether steely resolve or stubbornness, at that moment I was compelled to make the 2 1/2 mile round trip.

The post office journey passed without incident and I returned home no more worse for wear than having red cheeks and cold fingers. While it's true that I may not be young any more, I don't exactly feel old quite yet. What's more is that I'm happy for kids not to have to weather this kind of cold if it can be avoided.
At the post office. The Big Dummy rode perfectly, although its cyclocomputer refused to work properly.

The Titan-iad: saga of an immortal bike

The protagonist: a 1990 Titan 1/2 Trac in the stand for a long overdue checkup.
This post requires a bit of an advisory statement to you, the possibly unwary reader, to be forewarned that the following is an epic tale steeped in arcane bike lore and terminology, some of which is quite possibly incomprehensible to those traveling closer to the mainstream of society.

And so warned, the brave journey forth.

Some in the Denver bicycle community may know of the monolithic bike in the photo above as my frequently present co-conspirator and test platform for tinkering projects. My 1990 Titan 1/2 Trac is a prime example of a bike from the days when mountain bikes were built to favor durability over lightness. Certainly the bike's appearance is unusual, with looped and elevated chainstays and industrial tool-grade, textured powdercoat paint, like the type of surface you might see on a drill press or lathe. Aside from the bike's assemblage from disparate components or its license plate fenders (on which there will be a forthcoming dedicated post), to me this bike is legendary. It has proven to be too tough to die.

The story begins with my brother Chris, who originally bought the 20.5 inch sized, True Temper tubed Titan new as a frameset from Denver Mountain Bike Specialists in early 1990 and rode it extensively. By extensively, I mean he rode it nearly every day, year-round for most of 16 years, from high school through a doctorate degree.

During the first summer he had the bike, he took it on a two week journey along the entire length of the Colorado Trail from Waterton Canyon to Durango, with only a sleeping bag, a tarp and a few tools strapped to a rear rack, and powered by a knapsack full of ramen and peanut butter. The bike summited Mt. Evans numerous times. It went with him from Denver to Santa Cruz to Hawaii and back again. He commuted on the Titan daily across the Golden Gate Bridge for a few years, then a few more through the academic wilds of Madison.

It was in 2006 that Chris finally retired the Titan and gave it to me, the bicycle curator of the family. The bike was a basket case at that point, so I promptly put it back together with an assortment of whatever parts I had on hand. Since I already owned plenty of bikes, my goal for the project was minimum expenditure for maximum utility. Parts from more than a dozen bikes went into the mix. It received Suntour XC Comp top-mount thumb shifters, an old Shimano 600 rear derailleur with a red Bullseye lower pulley, gold anodized platform pedals appropriated from a dumpster bike, and a bolt and nut from a discarded toilet seat conscripted to serve as a seat binder bolt. Laugh if you will, but the bolt and nut fit just right and are, after all, stainless steel.

The Titan's unique details continue with a vintage RockRing as a chainguard and a larger than modern standard 1 1/4 inch threaded headset (Fisher Evolution size, for you old timers) pieced together from two different headsets. Apart from the frameset, to my knowledge the only parts that have remained from the original build from 21 years ago are a black anodized 26.6 mm Deore XT heat treated steel seatpost, faded a bit but sturdy as the day it was made, and a steel Fisher Evolution stem. Nowadays it's hard to find a good quality steel seatpost or stem of any type, yet these have lasted impressively well.

Without any serious investment in cleaning or expenditures other than for my favorite Nitto albatross bar, I simply put the bike to work as a dependable workhorse that I wouldn't need to worry about too much. In a short time, the Titan emerged from being just another bike in the herd to being my go-to bike, ridden more frequently than any other. Before I got the Big Dummy it was my kid hauler, towing a Burley trailer. The Titan has risen in my esteem to becoming a favored bike, and building with it growing history of my own. From day one, the bike and I connected well; the fit was perfect. Regardless of how it might look, it rides fast, at least considering the limitations of its engine. It was the bike I chose to ride in a triathlon last summer. Figuring I wouldn't be competitive, I might as well be comfortable.

I've now had the bike for close to five years, and it has been afforded very little in the way of maintenance. A couple of years ago I broke down and replaced the worn out tires with some Conti Town and Countrys and installed some Oury grips. I've traded saddles and a few other odds and ends from time to time, pulling items from my parts bin, and lubing the chain as needed. That's it. However, a few weeks ago I started to hear and feel a creak in the crank / bottom bracket, so I knew it was time for a checkup.
Note the stub of a broken bolt visible on the bottom of the right clamp.
The bottom bracket shell on the Titan is another of its unique design quirks. Originally, it was a sleeved system with a proprietary sealed bearing and shaft unitized assembly. The bottom bracket shell had two bolts to clamp the bearings in place. With an allen wrench, the chainline could be adjusted easily by sliding the spindle left or right. This feature was likely derived from the bike's evolutionary lineage extending from BMX antecedents. The whole bottom bracket design was a great idea in theory, but in practice the it was prone to loosening and subsequent undesirable self-adjustment.

Eventually my brother broke one of the pinch bolts off in the clamp. To repair it, he had a threaded sleeve brazed into the shell in order to accept standard threaded bottom bracket assemblies. The work was done in the Bay Area sometime in the late 1990s. A Shimano UN-51 cartridge bottom bracket was installed at that time, and there it remained unserviced until now. It took a little coaxing, but I removed the UN-51 without incident. I found a bit of rust in the outer threads of the non drive side, but nothing of any real concern. 
The rear end of the Titan, showing off the curvy one-piece loop tail stays and wishbone seatstay junction.
While the Titan was in the workstand, I took the time to inspect its rear cantilever mounts. At this point the story unravels even more into an embroidered re-engineering junket.

When I first got the bike, it had a u-brake located under the seatstays. This was an odd placement for a brake, even back in the old days, but it seemed to work well enough. My brother had installed a high tech (for the era) Scott-Pederson Self-Energizing u-brake, designed to maximize stopping power. By the time I got the bike, the internal springs of the self-energizing mechanism had severely corroded, and many of the aluminum parts were deteriorating. I had some old u-brakes of various types that I considered for replacement, but none were in very good shape. Besides, I wanted to put fenders on the Titan, and u-brakes are not the most fender-friendly brake. So, in keeping with my cost-minimizing goal for the project, I decided to embark on a radical departure.

The path I chose led to me grafting cantilever mounts from a donor frame onto the Titan with the aid of a hacksaw, a bench vise, a Dremel, a drill press, and some pop rivets. Years before, I had rescued the remains of a mangled 1984 Miyata Terra Runner from a dumpster, knowing that I'd have a use for it someday. That day had arrived. I harvested the Miyata's cantilever mounts, each accompanied by a chunk of seatstay tube, which I opened and formed to match the outer surface of the Titan's seatstays. I measured for proper placement of the mounts in their new location and carefully drilled and riveted them in place. I also grafted a set of cable stops under the top tube to serve the new brake location, again harvested from the old Miyata. Since I hadn't done anything quite like this before, I wasn't sure how it would work. Nearly five years and thousands of miles later, the grafted mounts have been working like a charm. No rust, no cracking, no signs of stress or other trouble.
Cantilever mount on the left seatstay, held in place by a bunch of 0.125 inch steel rivets. I painted the donated part with gloss gray Testor's model paint shortly after installation.
A view looking up from the underside of the seatstays. Notice the u-brake mounts below and my grafted cantilever mounts above. The right u-brake mount has a cool integral stop for the rear derailleur cable on its top.
As a disclaimer, if you decide to conduct similar experimental bike surgery, you're on your own. That said, with adequate creativity, fabrication skill and careful execution, a person can do a lot. Just be mindful of the limitations of your abilities, and don't go beyond them. 

On to the repair and refurbishment part of this missive. I cleaned the bottom bracket shell and sanded off the rust with a fine grain abrasive pad. In the mean time, I ended up stripping the bike down to the frame, deciding that the Titan was due for proper cleaning and maintenance. I also hit a few other spots here and there with the abrasive, where a chip or a scrape had exposed metal. Even with the hard life this bike has lived, there weren't too many spots to touch up, a testament to the quality and durability of the 21 year old powder coat.
An abrasive pad works much like steel wool, only it seems to make contact with the metal only where it is desired, and not where it's not. The black paint around the bottom bracket area is not original, and was applied in the late 1990s after the threaded sleeve was brazed into the shell.
When I first installed the cantilever mounts, I covered them with a quick coat of enamel modeling paint. Because the mounts were again available for a touch up, and I had some more appropriate paint on hand from another project, I decided to make things a little more aesthetically appealing. Rust-oleum hammered paint works really well on metal surfaces, depositing a uniform finish even when using a brush.
Rust-oleum hammered black paint meets a fancy-pants 30 year-old Windsor & Newton art brush.
I was pleased with the end result. The paint doesn't exactly match, but in the context of the bike it looks appropriate.
Nice clean threads and a little dab o'paint.
After some work the Titan should be good to go for another long while. The bike was built to last and continues to prove it daily. I decided to take a bit of extra time to rebuild the hubs, true the wheels and clean/refurbish the components before putting it back together. I'll have it ready in time to ride it to the Colorado Bicycle Summit next week. I might post an update on the build if I get a chance.

If you have made it all the way through this marathon epic, I congratulate you on your genuine interest, tenacity and/or time-wasting skills. However, I regret to inform you that there is really no end to the story. What did you expect from a tale about an immortal bike?
Bicycle way of life sticker courtesy of our friends from the North at FCBikes in Fort Collins.