Sunday, June 26, 2011

Making the most of the weekend

Tracks embossed in grass on a nice evening.
Today I had the opportunity to finish up a few tasks around the house. Well, some were tasks, others were working on bikes, which I only rarely regard as laborious.

One quick project was for the Panasonic. I made a swap from a 39 tooth aluminum chainring on a 130mm bolt center diameter 170mm crank, to a 34 tooth stainless steel chainring on a 110mm bolt center diameter 175mm crank. If the last sentence was gibberish to you, I assure you it translates to increased single speed mountain biking fun.
Going from 39 teeth (L) to 34 teeth (R) means a better gear for climbing.
I teamed up the Surly 34 tooth stainless steel ring with a Spot chain guard.
I also hung up our new clock. Our big girl is learning to tell time, so the new clock will be a great visual aid in understanding how it all works.
It's always a good time to ride.
I collected the vintage Schwinns for a family portrait. We now have one each from the decades of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. It's intriguing to me to examine how the bikes changed, yet stayed the same.
Front to back, a 1947 Schwinn-built B.F. Goodrich, a 1956 Schwinn Corvette and a 1964 Schwinn Hollywood.
You can tell they're sisters, but each has its own personality.
I did a few non-bike things too, but it would of course be a shame to waste the day away merely accomplishing stuff, so we made sure to fit in a ride. We did several circuits on the dirt trails, on which she has now mastered climbing the second steepest hill. I'm not sure if it was her new pink skirt or the handbrake that gives her power, but she's brimming with confidence when it comes to off-road riding. She shook off a couple of minor crashes with a smile and was proud of the minor scrapes she received.
This girl is tough.
Soaking up the last few moments of the sunset.
Some of us appreciate certain segments of the ride more than others.

Back when the U.S. was a manufacturing powerhouse

Uh oh. This dirty little item popped up at a neighbor's garage sale.
As a prologue, it should be noted that I neither spotted nor purchased the bike that is the subject of this post. That honor goes to my keen-eyed wife, Julie. I merely served as advisor and mechanic. I do have the ability to not buy every bike I see. Really. Now that this important point has been established, on with the story.
A classic 1956 Corvette, not of the Chevrolet, but the Schwinn variety.
Meet the latest addition to our herd, a 1956 Schwinn Corvette middleweight bike. It's the type of bike that was once a staple of school-aged kids in suburban America for decades. The seller said that the bike had belonged to her aunt originally. This bike has apparently been a life-long Denver resident.

After a little googling of the serial number, I discovered that the bike was manufactured on February 2, 1956. I remember this type of bike as being a standard offering at garage sales of my youth, although they don't show up very frequently any more. They certainly aren't often found in the condition of this one, untouched, complete, and rideable. This one had been encased in a sheath of waxy, dried-up oil, grease and dust for decades.
A nearly pristine Denver bicycle license plate from 1959. Rocky and Bullwinkle, one of my all time favorite shows, was new to the airwaves at the time.
As I ordinarily do with old bikes, I started fussing with the Corvette. I adjusted the basket, which had been rubbing on the head badge for decades, inevitably greasing some dry threads along the way. As is typical of me, that lead to noticing that the bearings of the front hub were dry and a bit loose. Of course this meant that I had to rebuild the front hub. After that, things deteriorated into an unplanned and extended session of disassembly, cleaning and reassembly. The internal workings of the bike haven't been seen in 55 years. After a considerable amount of sludge removal and a new slathering of fancy waterproof grease, all the bearing assemblies on the bike are in as-new condition.
The Arnold Schwinn and Company insignia meant you had made a good investment.
I've worked on bikes for most of my life, ranging in manufacture date from the 1930s to the present. However, it's been a few years since I really dove into a Schwinn of this era, and I'd forgotten about how good they were.

At the time, Schwinn was the pinnacle of modestly priced, U.S. manufactured bikes. It's no surprise that they were successful in the market for decades, as the Schwinn name was synonymous with quality. Parts that would likely go unnoticed by typical owners, regardless have a feel and precision to them unmatched in any modern inexpensive equivalent of bicycle components. In a time when very little is currently still made in this country, this is a bit of an astonishing realization.
I enjoy attention to detail such as the stylish and modernist art deco 'New Departure' lettering.
A little difficult to see, but 'New Departure' is stamped into the bearing retainer. That sort of pride of manufacturing detail just doesn't happen at this price point any more. The bearings are silky and feel precise.
Nearly every part of the bike is identified as having been manufactured by Schwinn.
Whether rebuilding bikes, Coleman stoves or other U.S. manufactured mechanical goods from this era, I am consistently impressed from a forensic standpoint. After much comparison, I consider Japanese-built bike parts of the late 1980s, just prior to when the yen to dollar balance began to shift against the yen, to be among the best quality bicycle components ever built. Although many technological advances in bike components occurred between the mid 1950s and the late 1980s, especially in terms of sealed bearings and the use of aluminum alloys, the Schwinn parts are just as well engineered as Shimano parts of 1989, given the materials available, and as importantly, just as well manufactured.
This bottom bracket lock nut exudes precision similar to what I would expect from a modern Chris King part. Whoever made it was a master craftsman.
It is truly staggering to consider all that this country has lost in largely abandoning domestic manufacturing. However well built Schwinns were, they were just one group of products from a broad array of companies that manufactured a huge quantity of other products. It was a time when it wasn't unusual for an individual skilled with manufacturing equipment to make a decent living while making high quality goods.

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when U.S. manufacturing quality was in decline for a number of reasons, but also when an intentional dismantling of production capability occurred as corporations shifted factories overseas. I won't get into the whole greed v. quality or shareholders v. unions debates, and from a societal standpoint I certainly don't pine for the good old days that never actually were. I do lament the collective loss within the population of skill, capability, ingenuity and justifiable pride.
The head badge was partially rubbed away because of a poorly adjusted basket. Now it's fixed.
Something else that we've lost is the concept and expectation of durability from the things we buy. I rebuild a lot of inexpensive bikes, mostly for the purpose of giving to kids I know. I won't work on many bikes built for kids from the past 15 or 20 years. My temperament won't allow me to work on bikes below a certain level of original quality, as I can't tolerate equipment that is intended to fail after a short time. It's made me selective about projects, avoiding those with design flaws, such as too many plastic or non-serviceable components.
Ready to roll again. Schwinn Westwind tires, somewhat cracked but in amazingly good condition after 55 years.
Shiny, happy steel beaming with renewed vibrancy.
With the Corvette, all the parts of the bike are made of easily serviceable steel except the tires, tubes, grips and seat cover. After over half a century I gave the bike what was likely to have been its first service and was able to do so using only simple tools. The quality of the parts allowed me to clean and adjust the bike until it was as good as new. I fully expect that this bike is capable of being ridden at least for another half century. I wouldn't say the same for any bike of today in an equivalent price range, or even those that cost much more.

To end on a positive note, although the days of broad manufacturing prowess in the U.S. are probably not to return, some of the best and most creative products of recent decades have come about through cottage industries, many of which are associated with bicycles. It is with these small scale manufacturers that any hope rests of at least some respectable form of a U.S. manufacturing base for everyday goods.
A girl and her new-again bike.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Speed can be a fun prerequisite to braking.
I installed a rear v-brake on our girl's dirt bike. It was an eagerly awaited prize for her, because in her view, a handbrake is an iconic fixture of the revered "big" person bike. With this new device, she quickly discovered the quintessential childhood pleasure of skidding rubber on pavement.

She's shaping up to be quite an all-around biker, adopting new skills quickly. She even helped with the installation of the brake and lever, and I'm proud to report that she knew what went where and which tools to use.  
This bike originally came with a damaged, cheap v-brake that I removed even before its previous owner rode it.
The reach is adjusted for small hands.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bike to Work Day

Pink. Old. Speedy. No, I still haven't wrapped the bars yet.
Today was the annually recurring day when biking to work gets the attention it deserves. It's always encouraging to see the trails and streets teeming with people of all shapes and sizes on bikes. A lot of people worked hard to bring to the public bicycle infrastructure improvements over the past year. A similarly large effort was behind the day's wide range of quality treats, goodies and entertainment. Having been involved with some of the underlying processes, it is rewarding to see Denver continue to blossom into a top-tier bike town.

I'm all for coaxing people to try riding to work or school or to coffee or really for any trip. However, it's too bad that biking for transportation doesn't receive more attention and acknowledgement throughout the rest of the year. Bike to work day, perhaps without so much fanfare, could easily occur monthly, or even weekly year around. I'm not suggesting as a city we should forgo the fun of the annual event, but to truly encourage people to bike more, the periodic frequency of Bike to Work Day may need to be greatly increased. Off my soapbox now.

Since the day involves uncharacteristic choices for many who don't ride regularly, I decided to follow suit by doing something uncharacteristic for me, and ride my road bike as a commuter. Those who know me, readily see me as a cargo and/or utilitarian bike rider, accustomed to platform BMX pedals, any type of shoes and whatever clothes are comfortable. Today I chose my least utilitarian bike and rode with cleats and, although I wasn't in full kit, I did incorporate some thought into my choice of apparel.
1991 Diamond Back Master TG
I've always liked this part of the Master TG, where the narrow angle of the seatstays meet the seat tube.
I was rewarded in my choice to ride a different steed with a much faster journey, at least in my terms. My Garmin 210 reported a summary of each mile to me while enroute, and there were several miles during which I averaged about 20 mph. That may not sound impressive to any racer types out there, but that is lightning fast compared to riding many of my other bikes.
The giant metallic dog sparkles in the sun.
I was going along my way quickly, and didn't pause often to take photos. I made an exception to take a shot of a new piece of public art along the Platte River Trail, and found out by way of the Culinary Hack that the dog sculpture is for the new Denver Animal Shelter. As someone who has a critical eye for art, I thought it to be quite good and am pleased that the work entitled Sun Spot is associated with the new facility.
The Master TG parked downtown outside the building where I had a meeting.
Later in the day we met friends visiting from Alabama in Wash Park for a relaxing evening. At least one of us is of the opinion that it's always good to have other kids around to play with.
That's the way she rolls.
Kids and mud; a perennial favorite.
I have something new, black and Surly that will be finding its way more substantially onto this blog at some point in the near future. A couple of teaser shots appear below. However, it is not quite as impressive as something else that is new, black and Surly rumored to have arrived recently. We'll have to wait for the owner to spill the beans.
Or something else?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Platte River burger run

A bear for an off-road ride would offer serious traction.
As this is officially bike to whatever week in the city, it was a perfect day to ride to dinner with some friends. As our respective maternal counterparts were otherwise occupied, David and I met up at the Carson Nature Center and off we went with three kids in tow.
A cormorant on a rock.
Joel, David and Drew nearing our destination.
She and Joel did a great job riding three and a half miles to our dinner spot, quite a distance for little legs. Drew isn't quite up to trail riding as of yet, so he enjoyed the route from the trailer. Along the way we saw cormorants, a Black-crowned Night Heron, and plentiful ducks and geese.

I neglected to take any photos of the burgers, fries and ice cream, but as usual, they were great.

Following the meal, we set off again to our point of origin. She tacked on another mile and a half of solo riding and Joel flew co-pilot on the Big Dummy.
Two wheeled rocket in cruise mode.
After a bit she and her bike became passengers on the Big Dummy, accompanying Joel and his bike. One bike was in the carrier and the other was in tow with the front wheel in one of the Freeloaders, with the kids on the seat. This set a new personal record for passengers and bikes on the Dummy.
Two passengers and two bikes aboard. Leave it to two five year-olds to deduce that, counting training wheels, this is now an eight-wheeler.
I think David, riding a bit behind us, was amused at the double takes of other riders and pedestrians along the trail. I occasionally forget what an oddity it is for regular people to see a loaded cargo bike in action, and we had a real road train on display. It's kind of fun to see a swift rider on a training run slow down a bit and take a long look. Groups often voice astonishment or admiration among each other. We encounter few who have nothing to say. One guy, who happened to be an Xtracycle owner, rode along with us for a while to understand a bit more about how I built the bike carrier. If anything, hauling passengers and their bikes seems to be a great conversation starter.
Silliness ensued on the back seat. They also issued friendly reminders to wear helmets to those without that we met on the trail.
All too soon, we were back at our starting point and had to say goodbye. She and I saddled up and were on our way again, but after half a mile or so I put her bike back on the Dummy. She finished up with about 5.5 miles for the evening. Her toned leg muscles are evidence of her increased strength and endurance, thanks almost entirely to near daily rides for the past couple of months.
We had our choice of two parallel trails, either paved or crusher fine.
Imagine a nation of non-motorized highways.
We paused for a moment to appreciate the trail system. It's great to have access to such great facilities. On our way we had the fortune to encounter a train going over an old tunnel that has been adapted to accommodate passage of the Lee Gulch Trail.

To all you metro area residents, have a great Bike to Work Day tomorrow.
A stone tunnel that has likely been in use for a century or so.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Night ride to Morrison

On the Platte River Trail near the turnoff for the Bear Creek Trail.
As an early Father's Day treat, I went on a recreational long distance (for me) ride on Saturday night, leaving my house at about 7:30pm. My friend Nick masterminded a ride to Morrison featuring some of the best bike trails in the metro area. He started in a group of five from the main Denver Public Library. Since I was coming from the South, I rode North on the Platte River Trail, and met Nick et al. near Alameda.

My solo part of the ride in the evening was perfect, with the exception of frequent clouds of face level gnats along the way, of which I likely ingested several. However, the riparian zone along the trail was picturesque and full of wildlife. I saw several types of birds, a small Garter snake and signs of recent beaver activity on some trees near the water line.
The Titan decked out for the ride on one of several bridge crossings over the Platte.

The sun setting behind some industrial buildings.
You might never guess that there's a bustling city 100 meters in any direction from this spot.
After darkness fell and I joined up with the group, the ride changed a bit. The journey was just as pleasant, but sightseeing gave way to conversation, food and drinks. About the time that we reached the Bear Creek Trail, we switched on our lights and zig-zagged our way along the winding trail, over bridges, under trees, dodging sprinklers and making hair-pin turns for the next several miles. We did this as twilight faded into a deepening darkness, which made the meandering of the trail even more fun. I've done this ride a number of times before, but riding in the dark, with a light illuminating only the next thirty or so feet ahead made for an entirely new experience.

Josh added another layer of entertainment to the ride with his bike mounted DJ system, featuring an iPod and a couple of thrift store boom box speakers lashed to his front rack. Through this apparatus, Johnny Cash coaxed us on the climb up Morrison Road, one of the few places where we encountered vehicle traffic on the route. After reaching the apex of the climb, Morrison was only a couple of undulating road miles away.
Emily gives my bike a try.
I don't really get helmet hair anymore, but I often exhibit helmet head.
The objective in Morrison was the Mill Street Deli, a beacon of light, live music and cold beer. We stayed for an hour or so, sharing a couple of pitchers of beer poured into frosty mugs and some tasty snacks. When it was time to leave, it felt a little chillier outside than we we had arrived, but it's likely that the actual temperature difference, if any, was minor. Regardless, much of the return trip is downhill and doesn't require a lot of energy input, so we put on layers and ventured off into the night.
A view from the outside...
...and the inside of the Mill Street Deli.
Quite possibly the Morrison town mascot.
Josh breaking out the flannel for the downhill ride back to Denver.
The ride back down along the Bear Creek Trail was not unlike being on a roller coaster at night; unanticipated twists and turns amplified through a sense of speed exaggerated by the darkness. We also inadvertently frightened at least one dumpster diving raccoon along the way. In short, it was perhaps the best part of one of the best rides I can remember. This route is a bicycling jewel of the metro area and is fun at any time of the day, but I look forward to making the run at night again sometime soon. Thanks to my riding companions Nick, Emily, Josh, Kelly and Stephan.
Solo again on the route home. I was in the door at 2:00am on the dot after 43 miles.