Wednesday, January 30, 2013

And Now A Message From Our Sponsors

Bike maintenance is something near and dear to our hearts. We are a bike shop after all, and this is how we make our money. So, not to be all preachy, but I thought I would devote a few paragraphs to some of the more common maintenance issues that people often overlook. Please, don't take any of this personally. Everybody's standards are different, and even "professionals" like us let stuff slip through the cracks on our own bikes.

Which brings us to our first topic. See that eight inch strip of jagged metal? If you're thinking to yourself "well, that doesn't look right" then you are correct. This is an easily missed point of wear. And even if you know it's worn, you don't know when it's going to fail until there's a loud bang and all of a sudden your wheel won't turn. I know because this picture is my front wheel, about 15 miles into what should have been a 35 mile ride. I knew my rim was worn, but I didn't know it was THAT worn. I found out the hard way. Fortunately, this happened at relatively slow speed on level ground. If I had been hauling ass down Germantown, the consequences would have been significantly more dire.

 "How in the hell did that happen in the first place?" you ask. Well, friction. All bicycle rim brakes bring the wheel to a stop by pressing brake pads against the rim, and eventually they'll remove enough material that your rim is too thin to resist the pressure of your tire. It does take time, but maybe less time than you think. We have high mileage year round riding customers who can burn through a rim sidewall in about a year, but that is definitely the exception. Most people will take several years to get to that point, and often wheels meet a speedier end at the hand of potholes, curbs, or rampaging Tri Met buses.
 "So how can I tell when my rim is about to explode" Well, like I said, it's tough to tell with any precision. Run your finger over the rim sidewall. It should feel flat and fairly smooth, without any concavity or grooves. Rims that are severely worn could double as a soup bowl. On the topic of grooves, some rims have wear indicators that can take the form of a groove running the circumference of the rim, or less commonly a dimple or divot in the brake track. The idea here is that when the sidewall is worn to the point you can't see or feel the wear indicator, it's time to replace it.

"So, what about my chain? I put lube on it once or twice a year. Is that too much?"
Not if it looks like this it's not. On the face of it, chain lubrication is pretty straightforward, and it is. Sort of. Opinions vary on how often you should lube your chain, but I have found it's best not to think of it in terms of time. This is Portland after all, and if you ride year round, you are gonna need to lube your chain a hell of a lot more frequently in January than in July. I have two basic rules of thumb for when to lube a chain. One is when the chain (unless it's really new) looks bright and shiny, especially the part that rides over the gear teeth. The other is if it's making noise. This is impossible to miss after very long. When you pedal, a well maintained bike should make very little noise. It shouldn't be totally silent, but it shouldn't squeal like a hinge in a haunted house either. If it does, lube that bitch!

 Of course, the flip side to having a dry, rusty chain is having a gooey, nasty chain that has an entire bottle of lube on it.  If your chain has so much lube on it that it's spraying off of your chain and onto your frame and rear wheel, it's WAY too much.

"Alright wise guy, how the hell do I lube my chain then?"
Basic lube procedure, assuming your chain is moderately dry and needs it.
1. Lean your bike up against a wall so you can pedal the cranks backwards smoothly.
2. Pinch a rag loosely over the chain and pedal backwards a dozen or so times until the excess gunk is off the chain.
3. Pedaling backwards, direct a LIGHT stream of lube onto the chain. Ideally, you would put 1 drop on every roller, but most of us aren't this anal. Use a drip lube, not a spray. Much neater.
4. Pedal backwards for a minute or so to help it all soak in.
5. REPEAT STEP 2! This is to remove excess lube. That gooey gross chain I was talking about earlier? This is to keep that from happening.

 "So what kind of lube should I use?"
Oh, crap I wish you hadn't asked that. There approximately 150,000 brands of bike chain lubricant on the market, designed for all different types of conditions. They have chain lube specially formulated  for vegan dog owners for chrissakes. If in doubt, ask your LBS (ideally these guys) what they recommend. The important thing is to use a lube designed for bike chains. The type is much less important. Anything (well, almost anything) is better than nothing. I say this as a guy who used olive oil on his chain on a mountain bike trip when I forgot to bring any tri-flow. And, yes it worked fine.

"What shouldn't I use on my chain?"
Now that's a much easier question.
1. Olive oil. Don't be that guy.
2.Grease. Lube and grease are not interchangeable. Lube is thin (like olive oil!) grease is thick (like peanut butter!)
3. Peanut Butter. While delicious and kinda greasy, it's a poor lubricant.
4. Motor oil. Seriously? Unless your bike has a motor. Then, knock yourself out!
5. WD-40. Every garage in America has a can of WD-40 in it somewhere, so it's tempting to put it on your chain if you don't have anything else, but it's a solvent, not a lubricant.

"What do you mean my chain is worn out? It looks fine to me!"
 Yes, chains do wear out. And no, you can't tell just by looking at it. Here in the shop we have a nifty tool that measures chain wear, commonly referred to as "stretch". Chain wear is dependent on multiple factors, including how many speeds the drivetrain has, frequency of lubrication, and riding conditions and style, but expect to get around 1,000-1,500 miles out of a chain. I know this sounds like a lot, but say you ride 50 miles a week, not that much for a daily commuter. That's only 20-30 weeks, not even a year. We try and replace chains before they are 100% worn out, because after a certain point they start to wear out the rest of the drivetrain, especially the freewheel or cassette (the rear gears) but eventually the the chainring(s) as well. This starts getting expensive. If you replace your chain in a timely fashion, the rest of your drivetrain will last much longer, and shift much better. If you're serious about chainwear, get one of these.

 Want more info on chain maintenance? Click this link.

"I have those weird French valves on my bike. What's up with those?"
Which brings us to tire inflation. Seems like a no brainer, and it's definitely not complicated, but there are a few things to know. The valve on the right is a Presta, sometimes known as a weird French valve. It's a pretty simple device, but is disproportionally baffling to many people. The key is the little nut at the tip. Whether you want to put air in, or let air out, unscrew this nut all the way, do your thing, then close the nut.
As for actual inflation, the problem most people have is not checking their pressure often enough. If you're riding regularly, I tell people to check their tires at least every 2 weeks, though once a week is better. Take a look at the sidewall of your tire and find the pressure in PSI. Trust me, it's there somewhere. Most will give you a range, some only a maximum. If you're riding on the street, go for the max or 10-20% less if you want a little more cush. You own a pump, right?

And that's it! Well, not really. There is an almost infinite amount of stuff to know about bikes, but that covers a few of the more common maintenance issues we see here in the shop. If you ever have any questions, feel free and stop by, and we'll do our best to help!

Here are a couple of links if you are interested in learning more about bike maintenance.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

North Portland Booze Cross Ride

The view Northwest from the bluffs.
This past Sunday the toughest members of Team Metropolis braved the scorching sunshine for a loop around North Portland, the idea being  to ride as much dirt as possible. In preparation, I filled my flask and donned my thickest gloves. After a late start to hopefully avoid any lingering ice, we headed West bound from Mississippi over the Going Street bridge for a quick loop through Overlook Park then on to our first stop at the Bluffs. The roster included myself (Nathan, AKA "the Mayor"), the Schwartz, Johnny B, the Hymanator, and Lil' Snacky.

Enjoying our first stop for warming liquid refreshment.

 Part of the plan was to explore some new routes and fill in the paved gaps in my planned route. The other part was to partake in some fine but sensibly priced bourbon and have a leisurely ride.

Johnny making Lil' Snacky's Surly Troll look like a bmx bike.
 After a few minutes of dicking around it was time to move on to our next stop. We rode the short bluff trail and dove back into the neighborhood, zigzagging down dead end streets in an effort to find more dirt. The route called for riding along Skidmore Ct, which I knew from past experience was an awesomely muddy few blocks, before taking the pedestrian bridge over Going. I spotted a promising looking option at the end of Prescott, running parallel to Going, so we took it.

We survived the hobo jungle!
Alas, after 200 yards of portaging and bushwacking, the detour ended in failure. On the plus side, we didn't get any flats from blackberries or rusty scrap metal, so that's a win. Undeterred, we turned back and resumed our trek. After crossing the bridge, we turned left on Blandena, and back onto some sweet unpaved Portland roadway. A shortcut down Wygant took us behind the Addidas campus, from where we crossed Greeley to Willamette.

Once on Willamette, we headed north to the dog bowl, where we portaged down the steep side. All of us but the Hymanator that is, who used his superior brainpower and 29x2.3 tires to find a rideable path to the bottom. Once there, we took a quick nip and roamed around a bit.

The view from the dog bowl, looking Northwest over Swan Island.
Unfortunately, there are lots of little bits of trail in the bluffs area, but none of them connect or really lead anywhere. That was about to change. After riding up the far side of the bowl, we took the runner path along Willamette Boulevard to University of Portland. Some twists and turns through the U of P campus brought us to Van Houten Place and the descent into a toxic waste zone. The  McCormick and Baxter Superfund Site
(sometime known as Pirate Town) is 42 plus acres of rugged unpaved goodness.
The Hymanator in search of creosote. I'm pretty sure he succeeded.

The Schwartz, trying to not get tetanus.
After a little more liquid refreshment and some soft surface riding, we struck out north along the river. Unfortunately, there was more walking than riding, as the beach was either deep sand, or loose, coarse gravel.

Amazingly, we didn't find any corpses.

 Fortunately, by now the weather was (relatively) warm and the sunshine was plentiful, so our stroll on the beach was quite pleasant. Lil' Snacky tried valiantly to ride through the deep sand, but even her 2.2 tires weren't up to the task. Much cursing ensued. I was dared to drink a half full bottle of orange juice washed up by the river, but I declined.

We crossed under the bridge, and hiked along the shoreline of the small cove just to the North. There are a few semi permanent residents living on boats moored just off shore. For some reason, I failed to take a picture of 2 Rascals hidden under a sheet of plywood at the top of the short trail leading up from the beach.

Here, we got back on our bikes and took a short detour along the train tracks before heading back north on what is often known as the "hobo path" a half mile of single track that takes you to the St Johns industrial zone adjacent to Cathedral Park. The Hymanator took his leave of us after he ran out of bourbon, claiming he had to take care of his child. Sure, drunky. Your child. Probably just wanted to go to the liquor store.

 We cut through Cathedral Park under the St Johns bridge before cutting back North on Decatur, a muddy track that appears to have been bombed by the Luftwaffe. Our next destination was the wilderness of Pier Park, where we hoped to avoid any dangerous confrontations with the semi-feral disc golfers who infest it's boundaries. Johnny tried to show off his sweet cross skills by riding up a super steep and rooted bank, but failed to impress us. I was unable to document his humiliation with a photo, as my battery was dangerously low. After a lap around the park,we escaped unscathed and headed Northeast in an attempt to loop back around for home.

A jaunt along N Fessenden brought us to the Peninsula Crossing trail where we headed North before heading over the pedestrian bridge by the sewage treatment plant which brought us to the Slough Path that runs along the bank between the Coloumbia Slough and PIR. We continued all the way to N Vancouver, crossing under N Denver along the way. By this time it was pushing 2 pm, and I felt tacos were in order. Javiers! I thought. Just the sort of cheap greasy spoon a ride of this magnitude calls for. At this point the group split. Myself and Lil' Snacky peeled off to get fish tacos (I know, probably not the best choice at a place like Javiers) the Schwartz and Johnny B to get on with their respective days. Mission accomplished! Now I need to spend some time filling in the paved parts with sweet gravel alleys and shortcuts.
 Here's the route in case you care.  North Portland Booze Cross Route

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Right out of the gate!

 A Blog, you say? How cutting edge, how truly avant garde. Yep, nobody ever accused us here at Team Metropolis of being anything other than on the very leading edge of media and technology. At this rate, you can expect us to start talking about how those new fangled "v-brakes" and "threadless headsets" are truly revolutionizing the mountain bike world. And don't get me started on the magic of compact discs!

In case you can't tell, that's a pizza box.

What does that picture have to do with any of this? Nothing, of course. I just thought it was funny. And that is the real reason anyone reads blogs in the first place. Cheap laughs, and running the clock down at work. So yeah, we'll try and keep this amusing, but the real purpose is to separate you from your money, and expand the ever growing Metropolis Global Empire. So expect shop updates, but also hard hitting photo journalism essays on the latest Team Metropolis bicycling exploits. If I don't get totally bored with this in the next two days, I will post about our recent urban cyclocross adventure through North Portland. Here's a sample in the form of a photograph.
The Schwartz, gettin' awesome.
So, I'll talk at you all real soon, unless I get bored in which case just forget this ever happened, ok?