Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chain Cleaning And Lubing: How To Ride More Efficiently, And Look Good While Doing It.

I used to wonder why other cyclists were staring at me all of the time.  I just put it all down to my snappy riding attire and natural good looks.  It turned out, however, they were staring at my chain, big rings, and cassette, wondering how (and why) they were always so clean.  So, I told them.  Then, I asked them why theirs were always so dirty.  Blank stares quickly followed.

Thus began what would become one of my regular roadside chats with other cyclists about the care and feeding of their drivetrains.  Beginning with an operational lesson on how a clean crankset, cassette and chain are much more efficient and ending with a word about the money they would save by proper care and maintenance of said components.

So, for the Public’s viewing pleasure, below is an article I wrote for another on-line site on how my regular routine of drivetrain cleaning and maintenance developed into a sure-fire winner, and became the envy of riders from San Diego to Santa Barbara. 

In The Beginning, There Were Dirty Chains

Editor’s Note: In cases of an extremely dirty chains, cassettes and cranksets, a complete clean-up with a water hose and degreaser precedes the following regimen.

When your chain is dirty, use a good quality degreaser to get all of the muck and black crud that builds up off the drivetrain.  You can either us a bicycle specific cleaner (like Finish Line Citrus), or you can use a simple, household cleaner.  I use Mr. Clean in a spray bottle and a rag I don't plan to keep.

Raise the rear wheel off the ground.  I use a stand bought for $20.00 from In-Cycle.

Spray the rag with cleaner (or spray the chain) while turning the crank backward by hand squeezing the lower run of the chain with the rag.  Continue this until the rag comes up with no black streaks on the rag after successive cleanings.  Don't forget to wipe off the cassette and both big rings with cleaner, too.  While being careful not to get pinched, with the cleaner and rag, keep rotating the crank backwards and clean the grime off the jockey wheels.  Again, repeat until the rag comes up clean with no black streaks.  Wait 10 minutes for everything to dry.

Now, lube the chain with a bicycle specific chain lube (I use Tri-Flow).  Don't get the spray kind, as it gets lube all over the place, makes a mess, and wastes chain lube.  Get one with a pin-point applicator that allows you to put the lube where your chain needs it - On the inner rollers.  Run the chain backwards slowly while putting one drop of lube per roller.  Then, run the crank backwards 10-20 times evenly distribute the lubricant.  Wait 10 minutes for the lubricant to seep into the rollers. 

Now, use another clean rag on the lower run of the chain while running the chain backwards to clean off the excess lube - About 10-20 revolutions of the crank.  Do the same with both big rings and the derailleur jockey wheels. 

Now you can run the chain forward, while shifting through all the gears and both large and small rings up front.  This will evenly distribute the necessary amount of lubricant left on the chain.

You are now ready to ride.

After Every Ride.

Run a clean rag against the chain (lower run, cranking the chain backwards by hand) after every ride, till no more dirt appears on the rag.  Do the same to the cassette, big rings, and jockey wheels, too.  Following this after-ride regimen will keep excessive lubricant from attracting grit, while eliminating accumulated road grime, thus allowing the chain and gears to last a long time. 

*Editor’s Note: Lube every 300 miles or so, more if you ride in wet or dusty conditions.

A chain should always be clean enough to grab with your hand and no dirt or grime comes off after touching it.  Yes, they need to be that clean.  Dirt and grime add drag to the chain and gears, making pedaling that much harder and wasting energy.  Excess lube also attracts sand and grit, which wears down components (also making it harder to pedal), and costing you money in the long-run (your knees will happier too, as you will not be putting out extra watts (energy) to turn the crank).

This is post-ride, just before the usual wipe down.

One of my wheelsets after the post-ride wipe down.  Clean enough to touch - As they should be.

When I eventually changed out, via an upgrade, the cassette, derailleur and chain, the pedal effort was so low afterwards, that it was like being pushed from behind.  That was proof enough to me to keep the chain, gears and rollers clean, and it has made all the difference in my pedaling effort, and ultimately, my riding. 

I had no idea how much energy I was wasting with that worn out, dirty, unlubricated chain.

Getting into this routine will not only make pedaling much more efficient, but you will save a bundle of money on chains, cassettes and big rings, too.  And, your clean drivetrain will be the envy of your fellow riders.

Just remember to tell them how you do it.

*Stay tuned for the companion article: How To Keep Your Bike Looking New

Monday, September 23, 2013

More Random Observations From The Passing Scene

Disc brakes are coming to road bikes.  Know it.  Learn it.  Live it.

If there were only one RIGHT way to make a bicycle, then we would have one bike being made by one company.

6:00 AM is not the ONLY time to go out and ride.

In most cases, for most riders, plain water is completely sufficient.

Shaving your legs is a complete waste of time, unless that kind of thing turns you on.

You have two tires on your bike.  So, carry two, spare tubes.  And a pump.

A clean bike is a happy bike.  And, for some reason, it intimidates fellow riders, too.

Road Rage is real.  Carry a camera if you ever need to prove your case.

Learn to “Bunny-Hop” over road hazards.  It can save your ass, someday.

Using a mirror does not make you a “Dork.”

A guaranteed way to change a red light instantly is to either clip-out, reach for your water bottle, or both.

There is nothing wrong with saving money on your riding apparel.  The key is to not look like you did.

Lighter and more expensive does not always equate to better and more durable.

For a truly liberating experience try riding at night - With proper lighting and reflective clothing, of course.

On a bicycle, aerodynamics are not as important as you think they are.

Downshift for stops, and upshift as you get going again.  You do it in your car, so why are you not doing it on your bicycle?  Your knees will thank you.

Chris Horner just won the Vuelta a Espana: At age 41!  Doping allegations preceded the victory congratulations. 

Professional riders are completely spoiled.  The following quote was by Marianne Vos regarding the recently cancelled stage of the Giro della Toscana due to road traffic on the course: “Cycling is dangerous enough without traffic on the roads!”  Welcome to our world, Ms. Vos.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Joy Covey: Bicyclists And Motorists. A Truly Sad State Of Affairs.

 Joy Covey: 1963-2013

In case you have not heard via your news source of choice, former Amazon Executive Joy Covey was killed in Northern California today while riding her road bike.  She was only 50, and leaves behind an 8-year-old son.  While her death is indeed tragic, what is mortally sad are the reactions to her death on various news comment sections regarding her accident.  I used to be a bit more optimistic rather than a pessimist regarding bicycles and motor vehicles working and playing well together.  However, from the on-line comments regarding Ms. Covey’s death, and how bicyclists are viewed as less-than-nothing cretins, apparently all may have already been lost. 

Apparently Ms. Covey was hit by a vehicle which had turned left in front of her, with no fault being attributed to her riding.  This, sadly, has drawn comments of ill-will, and basically "Good Riddance” comments being posted on public news forums.  Other sick jewels of discontent included: “Run them all down.  Less stupid people in the world.”  “Damn cyclists think they own the whole g** damn road.”  “They need to get off the roads.”  “Bicycles and cars were not meant to share the road.”  “I’m glad she got whacked riding a bike.  I hate those obnoxious f**kers thinking they own the road.”  “They should be riding single file to the right of the road, and better yet, on the sidewalk where they belong.”  “Bunch of bike Nazi’s!”  “Cyclists cause most accidents.”  “Bike riders should not share the road with vehicles.  Too, too dangerous.”  And those were some of the “Cleaner” ones that I could share.  I am not making this stuff up folks.

I too have seen some of the errant cyclists which seem to draw the ire and contempt of impatient motorists.  However, these are not the majority, and it is a shame all cyclists are lumped into the same pile of resentment.  I have seen completely dangerous bonehead motorists on the road, however, I am mature enough to not lump all drivers into a single, solitary pile of condemnation.  If you peruse any article on Ms. Covey’s death, you will be sickened by the cold, evil comments about her and all cyclists in general.  See, the respect I, and many of us give to motorists, is not being returned in any way, and it appears this will not change anytime soon, either.   

And just who are these obnoxious riders drivers love to hate, you ask?  Well, I have to single out Fixie riders, and their unfortunate afterbirth: The Critical Mass.  Blocking any road to profess ones “Freedom” is complete nonsense at best, and complete anarchy at worst.  Even when not in a Mass, darting in and out of traffic at-will seems to be their mission in life.  And, another group which seems to not be winning any hearts and minds are the Road Racers.  You are not about to win the final stage of the Tour de France.  Slow down, ride smart, be courteous, and above all, obey all traffic laws.  It is not universal across the United States, but in my state it is “Same Road, Same Rules.”  Ride with this in mind, and you will not only save your own skin, but you may, just maybe, make a convert out of a driver or two. 

While it seems I have generalized these two types of riders, well, by simple observation, you too can see they are the biggest offenders and producers of the angst the rest of us receive from motorists.

It is a sad state of affairs when we cannot show each other even basic human respect and kindness.  There are an awful lot of angry motorists’ out there, and the really freaky part is these people are your co-workers, friends, and yes, even family members.  They are your grocer, banker, lawyer, teacher, doctor, young and retired, alike.  The anger cuts straight through the cross-section of society.

I pray our relations with motorists change, and soon, however, I am not going to hold my breath.

It just seems something detrimental happens to a person when they get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.  Cyclists, please don’t help them by riding irresponsibly.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Riding Around Southern California

Riding around Southern California (SoCal) is really not as easy as one might think it would be.  Sure, we have the sun, beaches, movie stars, and lots, and lots of roads, but being the so-called “Car Capital of the World” is a unique, double-edged sword.  Why?  Well, if for one second you think the minds of said car culture are going to magically change to accommodate cyclists, well, you would just be flat out wrong.  It is, in fact, very dangerous to ride a bicycle in the greater Los Angeles area.  And, that is not just because of the awful, ill-maintained street surfaces we have to ride upon.  It is a bit more than that.  To paraphrase a TV commercial I saw when I was a child, “It’s the People.” 

In the modern world which we live, many are unfortunately ingrained with a massive ME complex.  Thus, anyone else around is no longer viewed as a human being, but as an object to be pushed aside so one can get to where they are going, to do what they think they must do, for whatever reason they feel the need to do it.  Yes, even we mild-mannered cyclists are some of those “Objects” which are to be pushed aside for convenience, sake.  And, the chaos is not getting any better.  Old, young, licensed, non-licensed, insured, non-insured, American, non-American, English language competent, non-English language competent, intelligent, stupid, and everything in between, in SoCal, we have got them all.  Put all of this mish-mash together in one place, and it is not IF a cyclist will be hit by a motor vehicle, but unfortunately, it is a WHEN type of situation.

Being born and raised in SoCal, I have learned where to ride, and where not to ride, plus when to do it, and when not to do it.  There are ways, however, one can ride in the greater Los Angeles area and actually enjoy doing it.  And riders should enjoy the experience, as we have some pretty darn good attractions here.  The roads suck ass, but we have good scenery, and for the most part, decent weather.  The keys to enjoying the offerings of SoCal on two wheels are common sense and a good map in electronic or paper form.  The map will show you how to get where you want to go (in addition to showing routes of interest), and good common sense will aid in telling where you want to be, and don’t want to be, traffic-wise. 

The City of Los Angeles: A giant, concrete jungle.

Downtown L.A. Post Office, Main, corner of Alameda & Cesar Chavez Blvd. Out of frame to the right is Union Station and Olvera Street.  Out of frame to the left is the World Famous Philippe's.

Take the actual City of Los Angeles, please.

The City of Los Angeles (L.A.) is an expanse which takes up a lot of real estate in SoCal, without a lot of overall benefits to its population.  It is over-crowded, the roads are complete crap from a design and maintenance standpoint, and the automobile absolutely rules, no matter what any bicycle group, club, or coalition makes claims to, otherwise.  I have ridden in the city many-a-times, including the Downtown areas.  If you want bent wheels to go along with being run-over by a motor vehicle (repeatedly), then by all means, ride in the heart of the city.  The pothole situation is so bad, they even have a “Pothole Hotline,” whereby citizens are urged to call in to report these gargantuan sized problems, to only then be completely ignored by city officials.  Neat. 

Famous Green Street in the City of Pasadena.  Bumpy surface, no bike lanes, and vehicles make for a very exciting ride.
While the City of Covina provided a very nice bike lane, the car door arc into said lane, combined with 50 MPH traffic,  is not for the faint of heart.

Not to only pick on L.A. as the only place to be avoided when one is on two-wheels (including motorcycles), as there are also plenty of other municipalities in the Southern California area which take no mind of the conditions of their roads, too.  I don’t know how it is in your communities, but here in SoCal, sensibly laid out roads, with decent surfaces, are not on most cities civic radars.  

Typical riverbed trail in Los Angeles County.  This is the San Gabriel River Trail. Amazingly, it has actually had a recent repave.

The Los Angeles River Trail. The northern portion is not too bad, and has one running right next to both Highway 5 and 134 at times.  To the right, out of frame, is Griffith Park.

The Santa Ana River Trail is a prime example of a bike path done right. From the City of San Bernardino, to the City of Huntington Beach, it is very well taken care of.
While we are beginning to see more bicycle dedicated lanes and paths, most are simple after-thoughts trying to address a current problem via outdated methods.  This describes our river paths to a tee.  They are part of a State and County flood control system, and therefore, don’t really lead anywhere people want to go.  They run mostly through industrial areas and neighborhoods you would dare not be caught in at night, and are sketchy during the day due to gang activity and the homeless (true story, folks).  The only benefit of the river trails are they give us a place to ride free of the dreaded automobile.  And, some are better maintained than others.  Most river trails began life as a service road for Flood Control vehicles, and were nothing but a piece of bumpy asphalt or concrete with a yellow stripe down the middle.  Over the past decade many have been paved, with added paint striping and adequate signage.  However, as good as the effort to make them palatable to cyclists, one can tell they are still after-thoughts on the minds of Civic Leaders.

One trail of note: The Santa Ana River Trail.  Los Angeles County could take a few pointers from the Governments responsible for that trail.  It is the nicest, well kept, smooth, and scenic trail SoCal has.

A recently completed portion of the Pacific Electric Trail in Alta Loma. 

A former railroad bridge on the Whittier Greenbelt Trail.

A new phenomenon on the scene are old railroad right-of-ways.  These are strips of land where a railroad track used to exist and has since been converted into a pathway for cyclists, walkers, runners, and a host of other activities.  While they are a nice addition to the recreational scene and tend to possess the newest pavement, landscaping, lighting and signage, they are not without their unique problems.  First, being they are in fact old railroad right-of-ways, they run through the under-belly of the landscape, so do not expect too much in the realm of scenery.  Second, they are extremely truncated by a plethora of grade crossings.  Two, local examples are the Pacific Electric Trail and the Whittier Greenbelt Trails.  While both are extremely nice paths, they suffer from far too many road traffic interruptions ruining what would otherwise be excellent, top-notch trails.

Glendora Mountain Road is similar to all of the mountain roads in SoCal: Very narrow.  Don't try this on a weekend.

A portion of Highway 150 west of Ojai.  Again, not much room for both vehicles and bicycles.

Our local mountains are a nice place to ride, however, we again find the same problem of attempting to accommodate bicycles on a road network designed for motor vehicles only.  Sure, they can plant “Bike Route” signs, and even paint anemic, useless to motorists “Bike Lane” markings, but the roads are so narrow, that the chance of contact from a vehicle are almost guaranteed.  Not only are the Tourists up there, but so are the Racers on both two and four wheels, all out to test their skills, and more often not, their luck.  I only ride the mountains on weekdays, as the amount of vehicle traffic on the weekends makes riding at those times an extremely dangerous activity.

A portion of a beach trail through Huntington Beach.  While sand on the trail is generally not too bad on city boardwalk's, the pedestrians are.

Here is a portion of beach trail just north of Ventura.  It is unique, as there is water, rocks, a wall, the bike path, and semi-trucks buzzing your shoulder at 70 MPH.  Yes, that is Highway 1.

And, don’t forget our beaches!  Beach paths possess their own, unique mix of scenery and monotony.  While they are generally smooth and visually interesting, the amount of sand kicked up on them from pedestrians makes them often a sketchy ride, at best.  And, as for the aforementioned pedestrians, they absolutely hog the beach trails, and rarely move for cyclists - They treat it as their own, personal walking, jogging, and skating path.  Once you have had the beach ride experience, you will be glad you did, because then you can say you did it, and will vow to never do it again. 

Instant Bike Lane. Add a stripe, and municipalities think it is sufficient for vehicles and bicycles to safely co-exist.  Hah!  The City of Rancho Cucamonga thinks it is just peachy.

And in the City of Riverside, they do Bike Lanes correctly.

As for my local rides in the San Gabriel Valley, I avoid main arteries like the plague.  Most have no provisions for bikes, and if they do, it is the single, white-stripe, barely-two-foot-wide variety, far too narrow to be of any use to cyclists (that is also where most of the debris are conveniently deposited, courtesy of our motor vehicle brothers and sisters).  And, if there is room for a decent bike lane, it is the kind not wide enough for a parked car and bikes, plus the arc of a car door opens right into the bike lane.  Smart.  I, therefore, stick to residential roads as often as I can to actually have a chance of returning home alive.

Another case in point was a ride some friends and I planned from the San Gabriel Valley to Knott’s Berry Farm.  The round trip would be an easy fifty-miles (50), include a photo-op in front of the entrance, plus some of their awesome berry pie and coffee.  Sounds pretty easy, right?  Well, yes, and no.  First, a route had to be selected which would not only include varied terrain and scenery, but most importantly, not include heavily traveled, high-speed (in excess of 40 miles per hour) roads.  See, the truly sad part was having to keep caution in mind when doing the trip – It was not a simple point and shoot.  That is how bad traffic and drivers are here in SoCal. 

In short, we did the ride, the route was fun and challenging, the pie and coffee were great, the company enjoyable, even though we almost got plowed into by inattentive drivers on numerous occasions.  And, each and everytime we were almost hit by a motor vehicle, we were firmly (and legally) ensconced in a marked Bike Lane.  Blinking lights, bright clothing, hand signals, and obeying all of the traffic laws by cyclists are completely meaningless to most motor vehicle drivers here.

If done correctly, you too can cycle SoCal and enjoy the attractions.

So, is it really all that bad? 

Yes, and no.  See, while this may read like an apocalyptic, sell your bike, and hide in the basement piece, it is really a call to awareness if you plan to cycle in Southern California and expect to live long and prosper while doing it.  There is a lot to see here, and though we are basically one, huge metropolis, the terrain and scenery are varied enough to keep a rider very well entertained.  Basically, just be aware that others are not aware of you, and if by some miracle they are, they flat-out don’t care if they run you off the road.  Just be vigilant and stay out of their way as much as possible.

To put it all into perspective, while you may want to experience our mountains, beaches, bike paths, and everything in between, what you don’t want to see is the inside of an ambulance, or visit one of our fine, over-crowded emergency rooms.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bicycles In The Airline Industry.

A basic airline working bike.  Basket is rated to 50-pounds. 

Bicycles, thankfully, come in many different forms with many different purposes.  There are bikes for racing, recreation, exercise, and they can even take people to work.  There is, however, a very special class of bicycles, with a purpose many people are not even aware of: The bikes that work for a living.

These "Working" bikes have been used in some pretty creative capacities, including pedal-cabs, bulk-haulers, parcel delivery, various vendors (my favorite is the rolling Espresso machine), messengers, mail, and in law enforcement.  There, however, is one, little known, niche that working bikes also fill, and that is in the capacity of  Physical Plant support.  

Many of these types of facilities are so large that walking does not make sense, and powered carts are not always practical.  Enter the working bicycle.  One example is the bike in the above photo, sent to me by a friend of mine who is a supervisor at United Airlines (formerly Continental Airlines) Houston, Texas maintenance base.  The base is large and intricate enough to make a bicycle a very useful tool. 

24-Hours a day, 7-Days a week, the maintenance base never sleeps.

While bicycles are not usually seen at airports, the sheer size of many airline maintenance facilities makes them an asset.  Not only are they used to transport personnel, they also make excellent parts fetchers, as well.  While three-wheel bikes are also used, the majority are the ever-popular two-wheeler, with a front basket.  And, they are not just any baskets, either, as many are rated for up to 50-pounds of capacity (having worked in aircraft maintenance myself, trust me, they need it).  The bikes are almost exclusively of the single-speed, hub-braked, steel framed variety for honest simplicity, and low maintenance, as the aircraft are complicated enough on their own to maintain.