There’s no business like snow business

I woke up to fresh snow – not enough to ski, but enough that the door scraped through it upon opening.

This means it’s time to get the winter bike ready. It needed a new rear sprocket. I have written before of the value of a belt drive bike for winter – lower maintenance being #1 on the list. While there is less maintenance to do, when it comes time, the tasks are a bit different than on a chain-drive bike.

The sprocket on top is the old one. Note how the teeth have worn down to sharp edges, unlike the rounded profile of the teeth on the new sprocket below. Changing the sprocket is simple, according to the YouTube tutorial from Gates, maker of the belt drive system. There is an expensive-looking tool – the Gates SureFit Tool – sure enough, I found it on sale for €81.95 or between $133 and $150 US on three sites. It is totally unnecessary. It is for installing the part but not for removing the old one. Installing is the easy part.

While the tool is very impressive-looking, in anodized aluminum with a knurled grip (like the knurled stock on the Official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 shot Range Model Air Rifle made famous by Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”, or Jean Shepherd in “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” for the literary-minded among you) – it is completely unnecessary and would be a waste of your money. You can watch a second tutorial to see how to do the installation with the tool. (Photo from Rose Bikes)

What the tutorial doesn’t show or tell you is that before you pry loose the “SureFit fingers”, there may be a lock ring to remove. In the second photo, the putty knife is wedged under the lock ring. The “round lobes” on the sprocket and the opening of the lock ring are aligned with the indents on the hub shell referred to in the video. My lock ring pliers would not work on it, but it can be pried off fairly easily with a flathead screwdriver (which is also what you use on the “fingers”). The hub in the photos is the SRAM i-motion 3, which has been discontinued. The sprocket is the same used for Shimano hubs, which is what is shown in the video.

While we’re talking products, I don’t know as I’ve yet sung the praises of the seat pack I bought for the coast-to-coast tour last summer. It was the Evoc 3 liter (the large size) with Boa seatpost attachment as well as Velcro straps to the saddle rails.

Photo from Bike Closet

The bag can be rolled tightly and fastened with a clip to hold a few essential tools and spares, or unrolled to hold a complete rainsuit as well. It keeps things dry and takes just a minute to expand or contract to hold the load tightly without swaying. It is wedge-shaped – narrow at the front end so as not to rub on your inner thighs when you pedal and wider behind to increase capacity. To carry even more I used Velcro straps to attach other items to the outside of the bag. When open, things may slide out the back, so check the ground before closing up any time you move things in or out of the pack.

When the trip ended I thought I would go back to a smaller bag but, three months later, it’s still back there. I guess I like it.

While the winter bike is ready to ride, the snow tires did not go on today. There are two starts to biking winter here – the day I bring out the belt-drive bike, and the day I switch to studded snow tires. The latter usually comes at the end of December.

Ever wonder what a woolly bear caterpillar becomes? I did. It becomes an Isabella Tiger Moth. Photo from the Farmer’s Almanac.

Busman’s Holiday

Not really, but that sounds better than a “working vacation.” The British coined the term in 1893, referring to a bus driver taking a road trip for a holiday, so it was much like work.

My job includes paid vacation (not a big deal outside of the US). We used to be allotted our vacation at the beginning of the year, to use at any time. If we left the job before the end of the year, any pay that we had used before earning it would be withheld from our last check.

That system worked pretty well, which is why they had to fix it. Now we can’t use vacation until we earn it, so the year starts at zero. If we want to take a winter vacation, we have to save time from the prior year. And, we have a “use it or lose it” system now. If we accrue too much vacation, we stop gaining any new hours until we use up enough hours to get below the ceiling again – a definite incentive to go on vacation.

The pandemic has not been conducive to taking vacations, so last fall I realized I was going to have to use some hours this spring or lose them. I took a week in March for no specific reason. I often take a week in May to work on a home repair/maintenance project. This year the project is my own body.

It was a cold, dark, and wet April – not just by gut sense, but by the numbers. I spent much less time on a bike than planned. My dry erase board calendar for this week says “Ride” and “Ride more”. With six weeks until the coast-to-coast ride begins, there is work to be done. The “working vacation” means riding every day. As I haven’t ridden long distances yet this year, I clearly haven’t ridden long distances on back-to-back days.

At the age of 69, I’d be a fool to think I can “ride into shape” on the transcontinental tour. The 105 mile third day would ride me into the ground, not into shape. This week’s focus is on riding, not numbers. As such, I will start the week with no Garmin, no Strava, no bike computer. (Then again, since I don’t own a Garmin and I’m not on Strava, 2 out of 3 are no change from any ride.)

Sunday 55 degrees (13 C) and cloudy. It being Mother’s Day, I stayed home with family.


Monday 80 (27 C) degrees, bright sun, 25 mph wind gusting to 40. I was glad to have the weight of a steel bike under me so I didn’t blow away. My first day of the year over 50 miles, which grew to the first day over 5 hours of riding. Soles of my feet burning by the end, just like old times. Tailwind for the last 10 miles, which saved me.


Tuesday I met a friend for coffee to tell her about my retirement party and ran a few errands, so by the time I was on my bike it was 90 degrees (32 C). The wind was down to 15 mph. Late enough in the day to settle for an old classic – the Paoli Ride. The ride to Paoli was a classic when I first rode it 48 years ago. The A&W Two-Tyred Wheelmen rode there regularly. They were sponsored by A&W and met at a local root beer stand for their rides, enjoying a frosty mug at the end. While I never rode with them, I adopted the tradition and often rode to root beer stands – once I rode 60 miles for a root beer. When I told them they were the first root beer stand in 60 miles, they were unimpressed. Sometimes while riding to Paoli we would stop at the old Same place for pizza, served by Tim and Kathy Same in their gazebo after the ride.

Driveway to the old Same place

In the hardware store I saw a guy with a t-shirt that said “I like my puns intended”, so I told him about the standup comic I saw with a monologue of puns. He was desperate for one of his jokes to get a laugh, but no pun in ten did.

I rode through the arboretum, where we usually go on Mother’s Day to see the lilacs. Mother’s Day was early this year and the blooms are late. The magnolias are dropping but the crabapples (which bloom before the lilacs) are just beginning to bud. These sandhill cranes seemed to find plenty to eat. I also saw a few turkeys – the birds, I mean.

Wednesday The air conditioning is on. How many days ago were we needing heat? The “windows open” season was really short this year. I hope it returns. Over 90 degrees. Wind down to 15-20 mph. Rode the Wednesday Night ride with friends. Heat stroke for one, but he made it to the end.

Thursday It dropped below 90. Too cold for a ride 😉 Began gathering tools and parts for the trip, making a list and checking it twice. Actually, I was wrong. My indoor/outdoor thermometer stopped responding. It was hotter yet.

Friday Today was supposed to be an early ride. Replace the chain, adjust the front derailleur cable, and head out on the bike that is going on the trip with me. I’ve been riding the other bike for weeks. I was derailed by unforeseen problems. It wasn’t a cable problem, it was a shifter problem. I disassembled the shifter (which required removing the bar tape I thought I had saved earlier this spring, so I could remove the lever). Putting everything back together, the cables (both front derailleur and brake) magically became too short. This was not the quick job it started out to be. It is now over 90 degrees again, I feel like an idiot, and my whole house is shaking due to the huge machine out front tamping the sand back into place after replacing the sewer main and laterals. This is the third time the street (I use the term loosely, as there has been no pavement for weeks) has been dug up. We are getting new gas, water, and sewer lines, then new pavement, curb, gutter, and sidewalk. They are not burying the power lines because that is somehow too expensive. Since power lines are smaller and more flexible than the other three, and the ground is already dug up, there is a logic here which escapes me.

Surprise! The bar tape that I like so much (but whose brand name I don’t know, having gotten it somewhere on sale) is so good that, after removing it to take the shift/brake lever off, I was able to rewrap it. Being late enough to decide not to go for a ride, I started packing.

Saturday A beautiful day. Still under 90 degrees when I got home from a long ride. After 4 days of record highs and record high lows ( a datum that I didn’t even know they kept), today was a day to wander in the countryside and sing along with James Brown:

Sunday A week of firsts for the season: first ride over 50 miles, first ride over 5 hours, first consecutive days of long rides, first week over 200 miles. First time I feel like I can make it across the country. When I no longer go to work 5 days/week, will I still have a Sunday Feeling?

A humbling experience. Forty miles into the ride I was feeling worn out. I briefly considered a shortcut home, then realized that, any other time, a shortcut would be reasonable. But with five weeks until I’m supposed to be strong enough to ride across the country, I opted to stop for lunch instead. I made it back but “fun” would not be the word for the last 20+ miles. That paragraph above about feeling I can make it across the country? That was written early this morning. At least I have five more weeks to be ready.

Wisconsin (as I’ve said here before) used to have the best system of secondary (county) and tertiary (township) roads in the country. With thousands of small dairy farms needing milk picked up every day, roads had to be maintained for the tankers. With the consolidation of the dairy industry and general decay of our infrastructure, the roads are no longer impressive…but today I must have encountered a township flush with cash. Instead of potholes filled with gravel (as I encountered later in the day) , or slapdash chipsealing, or ribbons of squishy tar-filled cracks, I rode on several miles of new asphalt. I was in bicycle nirvana this morning.

Tuning up

I have turned in my notice at work. I’ve told you in these pages that I’m doing it again. That requires tuning up – both me and the bike. Four years ago I wrote about training. I won’t do it again. Write about it, that is. Doing it – training – is even more imperative when 70 is right around the corner.

In one of those “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” moments, I decided to replace my cables for the coast-to-coast trip. I figured I’d do those before the season, since there could be some stretching and adjustment needed. I’d replace the chain closer to the ride date, and mount fresh tires for the trip. So it was in March that the bike first went up on the stand…

When I put the bike up on the stand, I realized it was dirty. No sense putting clean parts on a dirty bike, so cleaning comes first. If you’re going to clean anyway, you might as well take off some parts to get at the dirt…

Calvin and Hobbes, copyright Bill Watterston 1993

Cable fishing

One of the more fun aspects of owning a bike with internally-routed cables is actually routing those cables. If you’ve ever tried it, you know I’m being facetious. Park Tools makes a kit for the job. Unfortunately, their expensive tool does not work on some bikes. One of their options is a plastic sleeve that goes over the cable end and attaches to a guide. Another is a thin cable with a magnet on the end to thread through the tube and attract your cable end. The problem there is that the opening at the end of my chain stay is smaller than Park’s guide and magnet. A third option is a magnet to run along the outside of your tubing to attract and guide the cable. The problem there is that high quality cables are stainless steel and therefore not magnetic. What to do?

I fabricated a series of tools from old spokes that accomplish these and other tasks.

Here are the tools. How they work will follow.

Trying to route cables using your old housing but you don’t want to redo your bar tape and the cable won’t go? The tool at the top will do the trick.

You are looking down at the brake/shift lever from the front. Hood is peeled back at lower right. Cable is coming from lower left and going under bar tape and into (unseen) housing at the thumb. The tool holds the cable down and guides it into the next opening. (It wants to go straight up, not make that bend.)

Trying to route through the tiny hole at the back of the chain stay? Superglue and thread.

Leave the old cable in place and cut it at the bottom bracket. Remove the top half. Thread the new cable to the bottom bracket. You might need the tool above to get it under the bar tape. Go to the bottom bracket where you now have both cables. Put a drop of Superglue on the end of the old cable. Spread the glue a bit. Wrap thread tightly around the end of the cable. Let it dry. Place cables end-to-end, put a drop of Superglue on the end of the new cable, wrap thread tightly, let it dry. Now go to the exit hole at the back end of the chainstay. You will use the old cable to guide the new one through the chainstay. Gently pull the old cable through, guiding the new cable into the chainstay at the bottom bracket. Keep pulling (and gently feeding the new cable) until both come through. You should have enough cable that you can cut above the Superglue before threading into your derailleur.

Rear brake cable travels along the top tube with no problem, but now you can’t get the end out? Try the hooks.

There’s the cable sitting in the top tube. (Looking down from above) Now what?
The middle cable hook sits on the bottom of the tube. The cable will slide onto it and you can lift it part way. The bottom hook will lift it out of the tube.

No patents on these tools. No cost beyond some old spokes and time with a file and pliers. Feel free to make some and try it yourself! The tools you need may vary with your bike. If you have a few old spokes, play around until you make the tool you need.
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New brakes, new year

Happy 80th birthday, Joe McDonald! I wasn’t going to write a new year post, but this seems a fitting question to start the year.

It was time to change to the studded tires for winter. The day I would have spent doing that, I was working on my daughter’s bike. Its needs were more pressing. Ice arrived this week. Since the wheels were coming off anyway, I checked the brakes. The front disc pads were worn so I put on a fresh set. There was no space between the pads. I lubed the hydraulic pistons and reseated them. There was barely space for a putty knife, much less the brake rotor.

I decided to sand the pads to try to make space. Hand sanding had no effect. I wore the first pad on the power sander smooth with no effect so I switched to a coarser grit. I could almost mount the wheel. I moved on to a mill bastard file and could mount the wheel but not turn it. The angle grinder finally removed enough material for the brakes to work. The space was still minimal, but I was tired of futzing. A test ride was in order.

I started out thinking I might ride around the lake. I realized it was 56 years ago today that I started my first every day job. 358 days later I had my first day off. To commemorate the day, I rode to my childhood home, then to the start of my paper route. I rode the route, surprised by how much quicker it was without having to deliver 100+ papers along the way. I found one of the streets had been renamed. To come home I completed the circumnavigation of the lake. The shallow bays are frozen. Tundra swans swim in the open water. While I had filled my bottle with warm water, it was frozen before I got home.

I’ve replaced pads on these brakes a few times. This was the first time that the pads were the same brand as the brakes. I don’t think I’ll make that mistake again.

By the way, I did celebrate the new year with a glass of champagne at midnight – GMT.