Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I’m the sort person that sometimes rides around with my commuting bike in much worse operating condition than I would recommend to anybody I was helping at Bikeworks to maintain their own machine. Maybe once a person has a certain familiarity with bike maintenance they know how to push components just to the edge of failure before replacing them. Or maybe my DNA would be a perfect source for scientists to finally identify the elusive procrastination gene. Either way, I have recently had a close call with a Just Riding Along sort of catastrophic bike failure. As in “Gosh, I don’t know what happened! I was just riding along when for no reason at all my rear wheel disintegrated into a twisted mass of spokes and rim fragments”.

A few weeks ago I had my winter bike in the stand for a little cleaning and lubrication, when I noticed that the rear wheel seemed to have a hairline crack running along a lengthy portion of the rim. If I noticed that with the bike of a patron at Bikeworks I would recommend that they replace the wheel at once, before riding it any further. In fact, I would be quite insistent. Of course, I did no such thing myself. Instead, I rode my bike to and from work over bumpy, rutted, icy winter roads while slowly getting around to building a new wheel (all the while conspicuously not keeping a close eye on how my old wheel was holding up).

When I finally completed and installed the new wheel, I took a close look at the now shudder-worthy failing wheel. There is a very good chance that even one more trip with the old wheel would have resulted in an “exciting” mechanical failure.

Some of it looked like this. . .

Some of it looked like this. . .

 

Cracked rim

And some of it looked like this.

 

So, don’t do that folks – it’s just stupid. Please replace your wheel promptly. Luckily, my story ended happily, with no accident, and a spiffy new rear wheel installed.

Replacement wheel contructed from ALL used components, built around a nice older Hope cartridge bearing hub (already getting dirty and earning its keep).

Replacement wheel constructed from all used components, built around a nice, older Hope cartridge bearing hub (already getting dirty and earning its keep).

 

A Fond Farewell to the Deep Cold

Yep. It's dang cold out there.

Cold enough to give an icicle frost-bite.

It’s spring! It’s spring! It’s spring! Tra-la-la-la-la!

Yes, spring temperatures have finally arrived in Edmonton after almost two weeks of January type weather stretching through the end of February and the beginning of March. I’m talking about lows of -29°C with a dollop of windchill on top, as Old Man Winter’s way of saying he’s not about to shuffle off quietly.

I have to admit to feeling somewhat trapped and claustrophobic going into  the last week of February with the weather forecast showing an unremitting deep freeze. Getting through the final freeze of the season is like slowly pedaling up a steep hill, while pulling a trailer filled with bricks, on a bike with under-inflated tires and with the brake pads rubbing on the rim. It takes me three times longer to layer up and get out the door. Furthermore, the commute is a slower one with added effort of moving my heaviest boots in circles, as well as the drag caused by the grease freezing in bike components. 

However, with a few years of Edmonton winter bike commuting under my belt, cycling through the deep cold has become just another routine. Properly prepared the riding can be comfortable and rewarding. 

In very cold weather, all the city buildings are sending out great plumes of condensing water vapour, as the moisture laden exhaust air from the hard-working heating systems mingles with the icy, bone dry air outside. The city looks like it’s on fire.

It doesn’t often snow when it’s very cold. There was a lot of brilliantly blue sky to be enjoyed. When it did snow, it was flurries of beautiful dry powder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA real visual treat that you can sometimes spot during the deep cold are halos around the sun. These are caused as sunlight is reflected and refracted in tiny hexagonal ice crystals suspended in the air. On  one of my morning rides there was a faint haze of diamond dust crystals like a low-lying fog over the city. With the sun just over the horizon, a partial halo appeared in the form of two red and blue pillars flanking the sun. As I rode through Mill Creek ravine, an arc of halo seemed to spring directly up from the trees on the other side of the creek. It was like seeing the end of the rainbow. When I climbed back up to street level, depending on the conditions of light and shadow, the halo fragments sometimes seemed to be just a few feet away, but at other times to be as distant as the sun. Simply magical. Inevitably, my camera does not do it justice.

Ice Halo

Ice Halo

The coldest weather is hopefully now behind us, I’m looking forward to melting snow, bare asphalt and eventually speedy road bikes. With luck, I’ve donned my winter space suit for the last time this winter.

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Coyotes & Songbirds

Winter Morning Ride

Winter bike commuting can be a very fine thing. If you were to head down to Mill Creek and conceal yourself in a snowdrift, and patiently wait, peaking out with a periscope, you just might spot me happily cycling past while whistling a jaunty tune or singing a song. On the other hand, you might not want to do that as the warble of this winter cyclist is often off-key. Despite the pleasures of commuting, it’s nice to actually get out for a purely recreational ride sometimes. On Saturday morning I finally managed to do this for this for the first time in a month.

The weather forecast had showed that Saturday was likely going to be the last of day of our two week long unseasonable thaw. We’ve had temperatures as high as +8°C when the normal temperature range for this time of year is between -18°C and -8°C. Knowing this gave me the necessary motivation to set my alarm for early Saturday morning. More importantly, it gave me the motivation to not press the snooze button a dozen times, ultimately ignoring the alarm, sleeping in and then annoying everyone around me by bemoaning the missed cycling opportunity. Shortly before dawn, I was out on the ravine bike and happily zooming down Kinnaird Ravine.

The thaw-freeze cycle has added a slick, icy crust to the boot-tromped, hard-packed snow on the trail. It’s probably treacherous to walk on, but it didn’t bother me much as I did my very best to let the studded tires do all the work. I did travel a bit slower than I normally would. I headed along the north side of the river towards the Capilano pedestrian bridge.

Winter Morning Ride

As I approached the bridge, I could hear some coyotes yipping somewhere ahead. Peering down the river, I thought I could see some shapes moving about on the ice. I rushed onward to get a better view. From the bridge I could see two coyotes scampering around on the river, chasing each other playfully. This was the high point of the ride, and I stopped to watch for a good 15 minutes, breaking out the thermos of tea as well. I tried to take a picture of the animals, but they were a fair distance away, and my rugged little point-and-shoot camera has wretched zoom ability.

Yes, those little black dots on the ice are coyotes. With effort, you can almost make out that they have legs.  National geographic photography awards, here I come!

Yes, those little black dots on the ice are coyotes. With effort, you can almost make out that they have legs. National geographic photography awards, here I come!

Also visible from the bridge, and equally majestic, was the Goldbar wastewater treatment facility that looked to be flaring off an excess of methane. Ah, the poetry of urban life!

Also visible from the bridge, and equally majestic, was the Goldbar wastewater treatment facility that looked to be flaring off an excess of methane. Ah, the poetry of urban life!

On the South side of the bridge, I headed back upstream and into some trails with a bit more climbing. There were a few comic moments along this segment. At a couple of spots I spun out and stalled out on a steep, icy climb and had to put my feet down…but it was too icy to walk or even stand easily. In the past I have been reduced to crawling to the side of the trail dragging my bike along. Today I was close enough to the crests to stand and lock the breaks, then use the bike as an anchor, shuffle ahead a few inches, then gingerly slide the bike ahead and repeat the process. Sheer cycling elegance, that’s my style.

Winter Morning Ride

Morning Winter Ride

Down in the riverside trails there was plenty of evidence of our recent unusually windy day. I will forgo my usual sneering at what Edmontonians think qualifies as a windstorm, and admit that it actually was pretty gusty that day.

Winter Morning Ride

Hmmm...should I bunny hop this obsatcle, shoulder my bike cyclocross style and hurdle it, or just heroically slink around it.

Hmmm…should I bunny hop this obstacle, shoulder my bike cyclocross-style and hurdle it, or just heroically slink around it.

As I was rolling along the path below the golf course, I startled a flock of little songbirds that flew up into the branches of a decrepit old tree and then started crying out a storm of protest at my intrusion. Suddenly suffering from an attack of a sort of digitally induced neo-pavlovian conditioning, I emulated a certain Langholm blogger and got out my camera and attempted to take a photo of the little birds. It turns out that this was actually really difficult to accomplish; the little creatures were in constant motion and my camera is at its worst in low light conditions. Once they decided I wasn’t some sort of bird-eating Sasquatch, they returned to feasting on the frost-wizened berries on the little stand of rowan trees. I found their choice of food to be a dubious one. The local rowan, or American mountain ash is, I think, the same species of tree that we call dogberry back on the east coast. Folks back there make a country wine using these berries. I’ve never yet had a drink of the stuff that I would describe as pleasant, though it certainly “does the job”.

Winter Morning RideAfter this, little of note happened during the ride (other than, ya know, exuberant enjoyment of the beautiful river valley trails and warm weather). I eventually headed back up out of the valley to city street level and headed off to Bikeworks to squeeze in some time at the shop before my family was up and about. The streets were a swampy slurry of water and slush covering lunar ridges of ice. Perfect conditions for creating roadway chaos when the temperature drops.

Winter Morning Ride

Twenty-four hours after taking this picture the temperature had plummeted from  +6°C to -16°C.

Twenty-four hours after taking this picture the temperature had plummeted from +6°C to -16°C.

Clinton’s Winter Cycling Lexicon

Local winter cycling veteran and fellow Bikeworks volunteer Robert Clinton has written a detailed lexicon naming the various snows and ices that winter cyclists encounter in Edmonton. There is also a heaping helping of winter cycling philosophy and  tips on dealing with these assorted conditions described. I’ve added this document to a new winter cycling tab at the top of my blog and I hope to add some photos of the various snows and ices at some point. Check it out if you ride in winter conditions, are thinking of doing so, or are just morbidly curious about the mindset that produces a winter cyclist. It’s a detailed treatise, so get a hot beverage before you settle down to read.

Winter Update : November 2013

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Idyllic winter riding.

This year November was a wintry month: from the early snowfall at the beginning of the month, to the subsequent sheets of ice, to the later heavy snowfalls. The river valley was blanketed with a heavy layer of beautiful, sparkling powder and there was some truly wonderful winter bike commuting. For a brief, but glorious time my trips to and from work coincided with stunning sunrises and sunsets. I was late for work two mornings in a row to due gawking at the sunrise. There was also a cold snap that lasted nearly a week with morning commuting temperatures as low as -24°C. That felt a bit unfair so early in the winter. I have lodged a formal complaint with the authorities.

The cold snap did allow the snow on the roads to be packed down into a hard surface resulting in easy cycling. Unfortunately, the following week the temperature was near or above the freezing point most days, causing all that lovely hardpack to loosen up into a deep morass of brownish, oatmeal-like snow. It stubbornly refused to repack, resulting in a weary week of paddle-wheeling my way to work. That kind of riding is actually pretty fun in small doses. A full week’s worth, on the other hand…not so much.

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The city crews had their hands full with the snow clearing. In one week alone we had more snow come down than we usually average for the entire month. Main roads were cleared only to be promptly buried again. The side roads mostly had to wait. Of course, a lot of my commute is on side roads. On the bright side, the multi-use trails were very promptly and consistently cleared.

I was very happy to see this notice on Thursday night. It refers to snow-clearing rather than something more sinister.

I was very happy to see this notice on Thursday night. It refers to snow-clearing rather than something more sinister.

My neighbourhood streets have now been well cleared of snow, just in time for the major snowstorm expected to hit tonight. Wheeeee!

The winter conditions wore me down a bit in November, and I spent very little time reading blogs and almost none writing them. In December I hope to be a bit more active. Also, as a new feature, there will be a series of guest blogs by Edmonton winter cycling vetran and EBC stalwart, Robert Clinton.

Pros and Cons of Winter Cycling

PRO: A Winter Wonderland!

PRO: A Winter Wonderland!

CON: Long stretches of pure ice.

CON: Long stretches of pure ice.

Yes, here we are again with a blog post inaugurating a new season of winter cycling in Edmonton. Saturday night’s snowfall transformed the landscape into a mix of winter wonderland and tortuously icy roads. I’ve been for a few rides in the new conditions and I think I’m getting my winter cycling mojo back a bit more quickly than last year. Of course, we haven’t yet had a really big snowfall yet, or a real blast of arctic temperatures…

Bike of the Week: 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

WARNING: This post contains tedious, bike nerd content. My feelings won’t be at all hurt if you skip the text and just look at the pictures.

Introducing the 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

Introducing the 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

This winter I retired my old winter  ride, a 2007 Iron Horse Commuter. This bike served me well as my only bike for a couple of years before it was demoted to only winter service for two more years. By this time I was looking for something a little nicer for my winter ride. Preferably an older, good quality rigid mountain bike. What I ended up using was a slightly scruffy Rocky Mountain Fusion frameset  that had been kicking around, neglected, at Bikeworks North for several months.

About the Fusion Model:

The Fusion was first introduced in 1988. This bike’s frame was made overseas and then assembled in Canada. There was nothing unusual about this for the company, however, as in the previous year  six out of nine of the Rocky Mountain models were imported. By 1990, the year my bike was made, only the Fusion was not made in Canada. The 1989 model was made in Taiwan and I’m guessing that my 1990 bike was as well.  In the following year all the bikes including the Fusion were made in Canada. Ironically, I’m pretty sure that the pendulum has swung back and most if not all of Rocky Mountain’s bikes are made in Taiwan now. During these early years, the Fusion sat close to and sometimes at the bottom of the Rocky Mountain lineup. Even so, at  $760 in 1993 this was not an inexpensive bike.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

It has Ishiwata triple butted chromoly tubing. Triple butted was a marketing term from the period and functionally it’s no different from double butted. The tubing mostly has a circular cross-section, except where the seat tube joins the bottom bracket. At this point it is shaped to an oval cross section, purportedly offering better stiffness under pedaling torque.  Looking at the bike you can see the hint of a sloping top tube, something Rocky Mountain was making a big deal about at the time. It’s nothing by today’s standards, of course.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

It has sturdy rear rack bosses, eyelets for rack and fender in the rear, and for just a fender in the front. There is also nice attention to detail in the form of threaded holes for accessory mounting in the chainstay bridge, the seatstay bridge, and the fork crown

There are a few details that definitely place the era  the bike was made in. Firstly, the stem is the short lived 1 1/8″ theaded size. This size was briefly used in the early nineties but was quickly swept aside by the now familiar  threadless system. This isn’t  a big deal, but it will make sourcing replacements parts a bit more inconvenient. Secondly, while it has cantilever brakes in the front, it has a seatstay mounted U-brake in the rear. U-brakes were a fad in the late 90s, initially appearing on the chainstays, but later migrating to the seat stays before disappearing from bikes in the early 90s. There will be about that stupid U-brake later in this post.

Building the Bike:

Building this bike was the first time I’d ever started from mostly just a frameset. The only original parts are the frame, fork, headset, and probably the stem. All of the other components I either transferred from the Iron Horse or scrounged from my parts bin or the ones at BWN.

Starting off, the non-driveside crank threads were stripped. As we don’t have a puller at BWN, I cut the crank off with a hacksaw. The bottom bracket parts were worn out and I discarded them. Next, checking the frame with the alignment gauge showed that the rear triangle was bent to one side. Although this was my first time using the frame bending tools, the internet helpfully instructed me and I was able to realign the tubes, dropouts and derailleur hanger.

1990 Rock Mountain Fusion

I mounted XT levers with the shifters removed. These are great short-pull levers with good braking force and modulation. I used Suntour ratcheting friction shifters. Friction shifting is much less fussy than indexed in winter conditions, when your bike is coated in sand,salt and ice. These Suntour thumbies are as good as it gets. Levers and shifters are mounted on a Zoom 170 butted aluminum handlebar.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

I used a set of older LX cantis on the front. A little finicky to set up but with good braking power.

Biopace triple crankset. Some people loved the biopace chainrings, some hated them. I'm indifferent. The front derailleur is a nice,earlier Deore. Te rear derailleur is a nothing-special Alivio. Winter is tough on the drivetrain. No  sense in using anything too nice.

Biopace triple crankset. Some people loved the biopace chainrings, some hated them. I’m indifferent. The front derailleur is an earlier Deore. The rear derailleur is a nothing-special Alivio. Winter is tough on the drivetrain. No sense in using anything too nice.

Dratted U-Brake.

Dratted U-Brake.

When I started building the bike I assumed that it was supposed to have rear cantis. Posts on the seatstays equals cantilevers, right? Wrong! It wasn’t until I tried mounting a set of V-brakes that I noticed that the posts didn’t have a hole for the brake springs. I also belatedly noticed that the posts were higher than cantilever posts, above the rim in fact. What the heck was going on? U-brakes, that’s what.

U-Brakes are a sort of caliper brake on steroids.They do have plenty of stopping power, but have a few peculiarities. When bike manufacturers started using U-Brakes they placed them on the chainstays. These tubes are stronger than the seatstays, resulting in less frame flex during braking. Unfortunately it also put the brakes down near the ground where they tended to get clogged with mud and dirt. Builders, didn’t quite give up on them yet, though, and for a few years they located the U-brakes up on the seat stays. However,in this location they didn’t really have any significant advantages over cantilevers.

The geometry of the U-Brake system causes the pads to contact the rim higher and higher   as the pads wear out. Eventually, they will start rubbing on the tires with unfortunate results. This is not an endearing feature. While riding my Fusion this winter I made a special point of monitoring the pad wear to ensure my skookum studded tires were not ruined. Also, these brakes didn’t make it easy to squeeze fat tires and fenders on the bike. If you look closely at the photo you will see that I had to grind slots in the fenders to fit them inside the brake calipers. Add, a rack to the bike and it’s a real pain to make adjustments. Enough about brakes.

The front wheel is a Mavic something-or-other rim with a DT Hugi hub. I’d rolled with this wheel for two winters on the Iron Horse before using it on the Fusion. It’s continues to be great. Winter riding is one application where sealed cartridge bearings are very useful. Next year I may do something similar for the rear wheel (currently Mavic on an 8-speed LX Hub).

I wasn’t able use my DIY studded tires with this bike as the front fork clearance is quite tight. However, I lucked into some great second hand Nokian Haka WXC300 carbide studded tires. These have fantastic traction (I was down riding on the frozen river one day this winter) but are a beast to roll when you’re on bare pavement. The narrow fork clearance meant that I couldn’t fit a fender with these tires, either. I also used a set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires for a while, too. These 26 X 1.75″ tires were narrow enough that I could use the front fender with them. They don’t have anywhere near the grip of the Nokians but they roll much better on pavement. I used them throughout the last part of winter when there was a lot of bare pavement but still a fair number of icy patches.

RIDING THE FUSION:

Riding through the winter months on the lighter weight Fusion was much more enjoyable than on the clunky old Iron Horse Commuter. It’s stable, fast, and nimble. I churned through deep powder, ground across pits of brown sugar, climbed hills of sheer ice, and pounded across rutted hardpack. All the while whistling a jaunty tune (or maybe not).

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

In the autumn, after building the bike and before the first snowfall,  I had the chance to take the Fusion for a test ride on the river valley singletrack. It flowed smoothly through the twisty trails, urging me to ride faster than my terrible off-road skills would normally permit. The difference between this bike and my previous imitation mountain bikes was noticeable. When I was racing down the the long, straight stretch leading to entrance to Kinnaird ravine I felt like I was outpacing the photons carrying  the visual information to my vibrating eyeballs. Good, clean fun.

It’s worth noting that the longish stem without much rise results in a very stretched out riding position.This aggressive stance felt great  on days when I was really digging in and pedaling hard.  However, on those commuting days when I was feeling less energetic,a more upright riding position would have been nice.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

The Fusion also did a fine job of hauling cargo. I’ve loaded up the bike with panniers full of groceries on a regular basis and have hauled a few large awkward packages with no problems. These older rigid mountain bikes really are great all-around bikes. As a bonus, you can still buy them for cheap as they tend to be undervalued. However, there has been a lot more internet buzz about them in recent years so that change soon. If you are the sort that absolutely MUST have drop-bars,check out this forum thread to see some  conversions. For the summer, I’m thinking of going the opposite way and temporarily transmogrifying the Fusion into an upright city bike style. Stay tuned for details.

Whichever configuration it ends up in, this bike is now one of my keepers.

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Bike Commuting At Its Best / Geese In the Mist

I started this morning’s commute in a grumpy mood.  The temperature had dropped overnight to-14C and that thrilled me about as much as bathing in a tub full of garden slugs would.  The snowfall late last week didn’t faze me. I expect a few spring snowfalls. However, I do resent dealing with temperatures that low in April. The average low temperature for this date is-2C.

On the other hand, the roads were free of snow and the rising sun was blazing brightly in the clear blue sky. Once I re-accustomed myself to the effort of moving my heavy, clown-sized cold-weather boots around in circles I started to enjoy the ride a little. The studded winter tires whizzed pleasantly over the asphalt.

When I reached the river valley the commute got very good, indeed.

Geese in the mist

Geese in the mist

Tendrils of fog and small pans of ice race past each other.

Animal tracks stitch the ice like the work of a drunken tailor.

Animal tracks stitch the snow covered ice like the work of a drunken tailor.

Over the warming river a heavy fog was rising in the icy air.  The vapour was moving against the swift river current making it seem to race upstream at improbable speed. Even though I was running late for work I stopped on the pedestrian bridge and peered down at the streaming, roiling vortices  of mist. I watched its mesmerizing progress for several minutes.Two geese were slowly making their way upstream. They didn’t seem perturbed by the unusually cold weather. Why should they be? They’re covered in goose down.

Geese In The Mist

Geese In The Mist

Geese in the mist

At this point I wasn’t much concerned about the temperature, either. It was small price to pay for the spectacle over the river. As I rolled up through Mill Creek ravine I reflected on the benefits of bike commuting. It is certain that without the motivation of getting to work I’d not have been out cycling that early on a frigid spring morning. If I was in a motor vehicle I’d not have been able to impulsively stop in the middle of a bridge and watch the mist. Just as I was about to leave the ravine trail and head back up to street level a woodpecker started tapping away off to one side of the trail. Then another started on the other side, treating me to a percussive duet in real life stereo.

At this point my forward momentum drained away and I stalled in the middle of the trail caught between two conflicting forces. The river valley was urging me skip work and just spend the morning watching the river and riding the trails. I was already late for work because of my stop at the river. On the other hand, my knowledge of the huge backlog of jobs to be done at work and my sense of responsibility were pushing me to continue. I can’t remember the last time I skipped work without a legitimate reason. Legitimate in the view of an employer, that is. I don’t think that being momentarily overwhelmed by the joy of life counts.

Unfortunately, adult responsibility won the day: I left the ravine behind and cruised off to work. Still, it was a danged good commute.

Geese in the mist