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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Torque

Back in the day, we tightened bike parts until they felt right. Torque was measured by the sensitivity of your hand. My brother used a torque wrench to put together sports car engines, but I never used one on a bike.

Then along came carbon fiber. Tighten too much and it could crack. Tighten too little and things could slip or maybe cause a pressure point that would lead to a crack. Suddenly, bike parts came with torque ratings and ¼ inch drive torque wrenches became necessary.

My first torque wrench was adjustable. When you reached a pre-set torque you would feel and hear a click. It didn’t stop you from tightening more (unlike my plumbing torque wrench, with a clutch that slips when you hit the preset torque). At higher torques, the click is definitive. At low torque, it is sometimes too subtle to notice, or maybe it is inconsistent. At any rate, I bought a deflecting-beam torque wrench. That sort relies on your eyes to watch a scale. A little more foolproof, but also a large tool.

Along came Silca (purveyors of the greatest tire pump ever made. My Silca Pista is 47 years old. I have replaced the rubber chuck a few times. I have lubricated the leather washer multiple times and may have replaced it once. The hose finally leaked and I replaced it after maybe 30 years. After 40+ years the gauge broke. I replaced it. While virtually indestructible, it is also eminently repairable – kinda like components from that other Italian company.)

Filling my tires since 1974

The Silca T-Rachet and Ti-Torque kit is a pocket sized ratcheting torque wrench with multiple bits (hex bits: 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6mm; Torx bits: t10, t20, t25; 2mm Phillips head bit). The whole thing weighs 220 grams (including case) and measures 120x70x30mm. It fits easily into a jersey pocket or an under-saddle bag.

T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque kit in case (tape measure for scale)
Case open to see parts
From bottom: ratchet mechanism, attachment to make ratchet handle a T, main body, extension
Handle and body assembled – the attachment goes on the left
Torque scale – there are markings for 0-2-4, 0-3-5, 0-4-8 on different sides

Need to make a repair on the go and don’t want to guess at proper torque? This tool has you covered. Retail price is $120, which might make you squirm. Shipping is free, it is sometimes on sale, and (if it is anything like the pump) you might be able to will it to your children.

The warranty isn’t bad, either (though it only covers your lifetime, not that of your children):

SILCA LIFETIME WARRANTY

‘Parts covered by the SILCA Limited Lifetime Warranty are guaranteed to be free of defects in materials or manufacturing for the lifetime of the user. In addition this coverage, SILCA Limited Lifetime guarantees all hard parts to remain functional for a period of 7 years beyond the original date of purchase. This coverage includes wear and fatigue related failures or damage to these parts, but does not cover damage related to abuse, modification, or non-use related failures such as dents, impacts, running over with car, etc..’

And no, for the old friends out there, this is not about our late friend, known only to his parents as Tiberius.

Plumbum

Plumbers are called that because the Latin word for lead is “plumbum” (thus the atomic symbol Pb). Before my time, water lines were lead, because it is flexible. During my time, the joints in cast iron drain and waste pipes (the “DW” of “DWV” – vents are another story) were made of oakum (oil-impregnated hemp) and lead tamped into a hub. One pipe fit inside of the hub of the other and sat on the bottom of the hub. Once the joint was ½ filled with oakum (tamped in with a yarning iron), one melted lead in a crucible (or a ladle if using a small amount) and poured the molten lead into the joint over the oakum. After a few minutes to cool, one pounded the lead into the joint with a set of caulking irons (one beveled to match the inner edge of the hub, one beveled for the outer edge, and one flat for the middle). This was much of the craft of plumbing. If one had sense, one wore a respirator while melting lead. We also soldered copper tubing for vents and smaller drains, as well as all water lines.

Lead was removed from some solder years ago. When I was working it was still legal to use lead solder – 50% lead/50% tin) for drains but not for water. People used it because it melts at a lower temperature and is therefore easier to use in larger joints. Rather than take the chance of grabbing the wrong spool, I never used lead solder. (Also because lead in the environment is not a good thing, even if not being added to drinking water lines. In theory, lead in a soldered joint should not get into the water once in use. In a caulked waste line, it is even farther from the water.) Lead-free solder contains silver (and several other metals) and is more expensive. Don’t tell my boss I always used the high-priced spread.

It is a craft rapidly disappearing. My toilet was leaking. The toilet seals to the waste pipe with a wax ring. Usually, a slow drip that only occurs when (or just after) you flush the toilet is caused by a leaky wax ring. Replacing it is simple.

I pulled my toilet and found that the joint between the closet flange (the thing the toilet is bolted to) and the closet bend (the pipe that it attached to and which hauls away the waste) was, itself, loose and leaking. I pulled it off (which should not be possible) and found no lead or oakum in the joint. Some dried crud (which may have been old plumber’s putty – made for sealing the drain to the bottom of your sink, not for sealing a toilet drain) fell out. I was amazed that the toilet hadn’t leaked long before.

I no longer have access to a yarning iron, caulking irons, a ladle for lead. I don’t have lead and oakum lying around. This called for a plumber. But wait! Aren’t I a plumber? Not any more. One of the plumbers I called (a big service company) had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently the craft has died out in their firm. I found a guy who trained under an old friend of mine (a retired plumber my age) and he came to the rescue. (Truth be told, I called him first and he was busy for a couple weeks and advised calling the Big Guys.) The trade as I knew it is not dead yet.

Gluing together plastic drain tubing and snapping together plastic water lines are totally different skills than in my day when we soldered copper and poured lead joints in cast iron. (Okay – in new work I didn’t use lead. We used “No-hub” pipe which fastened with neoprene seals inside of a stainless steel collar applied with a torque wrench. We did still pour lead for repairs and setting toilets.) Damn! I must be old.

Probably more than you want to know about plumbing. If your eyes didn’t glaze over, thanks! We turn on the tap and assume water will come out. We flush the toilet and assume shit will disappear. We seldom think about the before and after. Just doin’ my part…I got stories would make your hair curl, but discretion is the better part of valor;)

“An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” John W. Gardner, in Excellence: Can we be equal and excellent too?

RIP Robert Marchand

I’m a little late hearing the news, but Robert Marchand has died at the age of 109. Marchand died, according to the Washington Post, on May 22, 2021.

From CapoVelo.com – Marchand sets the hour record.

I first heard of him when he set the Hour Record (distance riding a bike for one hour) for the >105 age group in 2017. After setting the record he said, “Now I’m waiting for a rival.” The Post says a coach told him to give up cycling in his youth because he was too small. He kept busy, as a truck driver in Venezuela, a logger in Canada, and a firefighter. He took up cycling again at age 68 and rode from Paris to Moscow at age 81 and set the 100km record in the over 100 age group. (Multiple sources include the same information word-for-word. The Post is credited because we saw it there first.)

Marchand, a longtime supporter of the French Communist Party, lived alone until last September when he moved into a senior facility. The director of the facility said he continued riding his exercise bike 20 minutes/day until the week before his death. His coach, Gerard Mistler, said he owed his longevity to a healthy lifestyle, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, and enjoying wine and chocolate. (From GrandFondoGuide.com)

The right tool for the job

My father used to say “It is a poor workman who blames his tools”. (The saying, or variations, seems to date from the 13th century or before.) Maybe that’s how he justified using mostly a monkey wrench and a Vice Grips on nuts and bolts. I don’t recall him ever buying a tool. I was 18 before I realized that nails come from the hardware store. Before that I thought they came from the baby food jars in the garage. If the nail I needed wasn’t there, I went to the scrap lumber pile beside the garage, pounded a nail out of an old piece of wood, pounded it straight, and used that.

The flip side of that is “Use the right tool for the job.” I have favorite tools in all of my endeavors.

For cooking, it is the 8 inch French knife. Mine has a walnut handle that feels right in my hand. It is not the greatest of knives – it is stamped steel, which holds an edge well but doesn’t take an edge well. Forged steel is better, but this knife has been my companion for almost 50 years, since shortly after I no longer got paid for my knife skills, and my funds were limited (and I could get a massive discount on this particular brand due to my employer selling them). A KitchenAid stand mixer is probably my next favorite kitchen tool. Not used daily, like the knife, but pretty handy when I do use it.

Favorite plumbing tools include the Sawzall, which does what the name says. It will cut through framing, even with nails. It will cut pipe (better for removing old pipe than cutting new pipe, but it will cut copper, steel, cast iron, or plastic in a pinch). The ½ inch right angle drill will fit between studs and has enough torque to get through anything – mishandled, it can do damage – more to you than to the material. Add a Forstner bit (or the Plumber’s Self-feed Bit Kit) and you can make 2″ and larger holes in no time.

Pipe cutter image from Ridgid Tool (think of that as a 4″ diameter pipe to get an idea of scale), Drill image from Milwaukee Tool.

The hammer drill makes quick work of concrete when you could spend ridiculous amounts of time with a regular drill motor and a carbide bit, only to make a dent. The no-hub torque wrench is a simple and elegant tool – a T-handled wrench that tightens the couplings on cast iron pipe fittings and never overtightens. The cast iron pipe cutter beats the hell out of trying to saw through cast iron. It has a chain that wraps around the pipe, with cutting edges (vaguely similar to a chain saw) that bite into the iron. As you tighten it, the pipe suddenly snaps with a suitably straight end. (Torque wrench image from my toolbox.)

For winter biking I have written about favorites before (links to three different posts). The face deserves special consideration. Down to 20 degrees (F) I just use a tight-fitting, windproof cap that covers the ears and fits under a helmet. From 20 down to about 5 or 10 I add a silk balaclava that covers the chin and cheeks and can be pulled up to cover the nose and mouth if needed. From +5 to -20 it is a merino wool balaclava that covers the nose and has a breathing hole for the mouth (and if it is borderline too cold you can breathe inside of it to warm yourself instead of letting that heat escape). A pair of ski goggles gets added at this juncture. You can easily pay $200, $300, or more for ski goggles. Mine fit over glasses and currently sell for about $35 (Outdoor Master is the brand). I can’t find a justification for spending 10 times that much to get the brands the pro skiers wear. Colder than -20 degrees and I switch to a fleece balaclava that is otherwise way too warm. That seems to work to -30 and I haven’t ridden colder than that. I could probably fit the silk balaclava under the wool or fleece one to get colder. These temperature ranges may vary depending on the wind (and you – I see folks in goggles and balaclavas when it is barely freezing).

Ready to face -5 Fahrenheit (-20.5 C – you’ll have to convert the rest yourself)

Since we’re talking about serious cold, this is the weather to read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire”. Full text is available here and it is a quick read. It is the story of a man, a dog, and a brutally cold day in Alaska.

Since this guy didn’t make it into the last post, I thought I’d add him today.

Now it’s your turn. What do you do and what is (are) your favorite tool(s) to do it with? Tell us in the comments.