Gift guide for the bicyclist who has everything

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That’s right, nothing. Why buy shit for someone who already has everything?

Okay, you came here for more than that. Number one is time. Interpret that as you wish. Offer to do something for them to free up their time for a ride. Invite them on a ride that you plan as elaborately as you choose. You could draw up a route and make maps and cue sheets (or the electronic version thereof if you’re a modern person). You could make it a “choose your own adventure” day, in which you pick a direction, head out of town, and turn when a road looks inviting. You could pick a destination and treat your friend to a meal at the end, or stop for snacks along the way (if you have a safe place for the bikes).

So you want stuff? Save your old toothbrushes and give them to your friend. They come in handy for bike cleaning and can get pretty dirty. Rags are always handy. Old flannel sheets make soft rags. The gathered and stitched edge of a fitted sheet makes a handy tool for cleaning between freehub cogs. An old spoke works to lever out chunks of dirt (which tend to build up between cogs if you use wax lube). Q-tips work in some places.

We need to eat and drink on the road. What is your friend’s favorite? You won’t be buying them a case of bananas (and some of us don’t like bananas, despite the stereotype). In the old days I carried figs and dates. There are various bars out there. Some are almost good enough to eat the bar instead of the packaging. Find out what your friend likes and get those. Nothing worse than a whole case of tasteless cardboard. Electrolytes are necessary. I’ve said before that I consider Gatorade only for pouring over a winning coach’s head, but your friend might like Gatorade. I’m a Cytomax fan, but it keeps getting harder to find.

I do not receive payment for any of these recommendations. They are based on my personal experience and preferences.

Some people like gels. I think the single serving foil or plastic packs are a waste of resources, and it’s hard to use them without getting your hands and jersey pockets sticky. Buy gel in bulk, if at all. Hammer gel comes in quart size bottles that you can pour into a smaller bottle to slip into a pocket. Gummies can take the place of gels and powders. I’m a fan of Clif Shot Bloks in the margarita flavor – both for the taste and the extra sodium. They stave off incipient cramps and you can carry a two month supply on a long tour more easily than drink mixes and gels. They come in a sleeve of six (pictured) and in boxes of 18 sleeves.

Bike polish is handy. I used to use the same paste wax I used on cars. It is tricky to get out of nooks and crannies (e.g. the joints on lugged frames). A liquid polish works well and helps repel dirt.

Chain lube is always handy. Find out what your friend likes and get a bottle. Cleaner/degreaser is another handy thing to have around. Avoid aerosol spray products. NEVER clean bike parts with gasoline. Pump bottles, especially if the product is available in bulk to refill the bottle, are a good choice.

Does your friend do their own repairs or at least roadside emergency repairs? Tools are always a good gift. Good tools are expensive and should last for years. The Silca T-Rachet and Ti-Torque Kit is an excellent tool to carry along and newer bikes often have torque specifications. (We used to just tighten until it felt right.) It is expensive.

Is your friend someone who works on their bike, or do they take it to the shop for everything except pumping up the tires? The need for tools beyond tire levers and an on-the-road multi-tool is variable. Some specialized tools that are handy for the home shop include the third hand tool (due to the need for a third hand while making adjustments to rim brakes), cable and housing cutters (get good ones), spoke wrenches, chain master link pliers, and a shop stand (to hold the bike while making repairs). Beyond that depends on what the person has and does. Good tools are an investment. Cheap tools are a disposable waste.

Coffee and beer have become associated with bicycling. IF your friend drinks either, consider a pound (or 12 oz, since that’s how it’s often sold) of coffee or a six pack of beer – either a favorite or a selection. Find out what they like. If they grind their own coffee, buy whole beans. If they don’t grind their own, consider a burr grinder as a gift. As to beer, some people would love a hearty stout in the winter, while others won’t drink anything they can’t see through. Some drink nothing but IPAs, while others drink that only on a hot summer day, if at all.

If all else fails, a gift certificate to a favorite local bike shop works. Your friend is bound to need something some time, the local shop is a great place to start, and they can choose what they want when they want it.

Some people don’t need anything, and what they want is too extravagant to consider as a gift. Go back to the top of this post and think of how you can share your time with them.

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.


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):


‘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.


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 – 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