Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The results are in...

... and I didn't even place in the top three this year. Oh well, I got a cool bike out of the deal and there's always next year. You can go here to see the other bikes and the judge's comments.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bringing Home the Bacon

Well, another year has gone by and another conversion contest is in the books. This is my third year entering a bike in the fray and one of the best builds I think I’ve ever produced. It certainly pushed the limits of my skills and forced me learn a few new ones, as each conversion has. For the path-racer build-off, I bent wood into fenders; last year’s “Re-Cycle” allowed me to walk in my father’s shoes and showed me just how far I could stretch a buck. This year I had to find a way to up the ante again, and I feel like I succeeded.

For this build I was hoping we would be assigned some sort of utility bike; a bike with a purpose. I was quite happy when it was announced that we would be putting together “Grocery Getters”. All kinds of visions started popping into my head. There were racks, trailers and massive cargo carriers buzzing through my brain. It was time to narrow things down and formulate a plan.

A suitable donor bike seemed the best place to start, so the hunt was on. I didn’t have to look far. Tucked away in the corner of my garage was the perfect frame. It was a nice aluminum Schwinn frame and fork from the early 90s that was given to me and seemed to fit the bill nicely. The frame had clean lines, thick stays, and eyelets on the dropouts for mounting goodies. It had also been powder-coated a nice shiny black. Further exploration in the depths of the garage yielded wheels, cranks, bars, fenders and pretty much everything else needed to put a rolling chassis together.

The growing pile of parts was taking on the look of something a little retro, so I decided to run with that. I figured that wooden racks would look nice against the sleek, black framework. I settled on red oak and set about sketching a design. On the back, I wanted something with folding sides to hold re-usable shopping bags and the front would sport a six-pack rack.

Due to the loads the bike would be required to carry, brakes front and rear were a must. I also added a rear view mirror. I figured that turning to look over my shoulder while loaded would be an open invitation to lose my balance and hit the pavement. Lights would also be a requirement. With daytime temperatures reaching 118F here in the desert, grocery runs would need to happen after dark if I wanted to make it home without hard-boiling the eggs!

While assembling the base bike I had a major stroke of luck. The frame did not have horizontal drops, so I figured I would need a half-link to make the chain length come out right. To my surprise, and relief, everything went together the first time with no issues! The 40/16 gearing and chain-stay length worked out perfect and the chain came out just right without any tweaking. Score! The rest of the bike went together without issue and before long I was riding around the neighborhood.

Now putting a working bike together is not really a big deal for me, but cabinet maker is not really high on my list of skills. I’ve done some basic projects in the past, but this was going to be much more difficult. My folding design was inspired by of all things, a folding shelf we used to have in the bathroom of our old house. I set about cutting, sanding, drilling and gluing. After a few struggles and false starts, I was quite happy to see a nice set of racks emerging from the mess pouring out of my garage. I was also happy that I was finally able to unearth all of my woodworking tools and put them to use!

I was now at the point of fabricating mounting brackets, finish sanding and varnishing. I have to admit that I had some help at this stage; my soon-to-be nine year old nephew spent the day with me. As I was working on the front mounting brackets, he was in charge of sanding the slats on the rear rack. We then varnished the front rack together, painted the brackets, wrapped cork on the bars for grips, and called it a day.

A couple of days later when I was getting ready to put the finish on the rear rack, I could see that he had done a pretty rough job of sanding. There were still quite a few saw marks and deep scratches. I grabbed the sander and started to smooth things out, but then something stopped me. By removing the imperfection that he had left behind, I felt like I was removing his contribution to the project. I put the sander down and just varnished it as-is, leaving what I now refer to as “memory marks”.

After final assembly the fun really started. Loading up the bike and going for a ride. I have to admit that I did some of the shopping for the test load in my pantry and made quite a few substitutions. While not exact, I think the spirit of the shopping list (as well as the weight!) was fulfilled. Here’s what I ended up with:

8.8 pound bag of dog food (I feel gypped)

10 pound bag of kitty litter (they didn’t have a 5 pounder, but it makes up for the dog food)

1 gallon of distilled water (we didn’t need the milk)

1 pint of cottage cheese (no use for the half & half)

12 rolls of toilet paper (didn’t have an 8-pack, so I went with two 6-packs)

1 loaf of bread (bread we use)

1 pound of pasta (my wife’s Italian so we always have pasta on hand)

2 6-packs of soda (already had enough beer… did I just say that?)

12 ounces of honey (that reminds me; I need to make some Meade)

6 cans of tuna (raided the cupboard for that one)

2 boxes of red-beans & rice (I hate tuna helper… it doesn’t help)

Seeing as how I didn’t get all of this at the market today, I felt obligated to load the whole mess on the bike and ride it around the neighborhood for a distance equal to going to the store. I have to say, riding in 113 degree heat with fifty plus pounds of stuff hanging off of a bike is quite the adventure. Actual bulk seemed not to matter as much as weight distribution. Heavy on one side is not a good thing. Redistributing the goodies helped immensely.

My hunch about the mirror was also confirmed. I have a tendency to veer to the left when looking over my shoulder to check traffic; this was amplified by the weight of the load. Using the mirror eliminated that problem. The need for brakes was also confirmed when some bonehead decided to make a left in front of me. The cantilever brakes functioned well in the panic stop, but with that load pushing the bike I found myself wishing I had discs!

All things considered, I really like the final bike. It rides great and meets the intended goal in every way. I also picked up some mad wood working skills along the way and pushed out of my comfort zone again…and I bled a little bit but hey, that’s just me when I get around power tools and sharp objects!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Good Day on the Bike

The last couple of years I've been terrible when it comes to getting mileage in. My rides have been shorter and the time in between them longer. The main reasons have been poor health and lack of time, but the truth is I just haven't made it a priority. I've built a lot of very cool bikes, but I have been remiss when it comes to actually useing them...

I decided this year was going to be different. I've really focused the last few weeks and the result is that in the first month of the year I will have 25% of the total mileage I logged for all of last year and mileage is what it's all about, right? After today I'm afraid I would have to say... wrong!

Today I had every intention of getting out and doing a major ride, but plans change and I ended up going to Rio Vista Park with Debi and our eight and one half year old nephew, Bryson. The plan was that Debi would knit and read her book while Bryson and I did a few laps around the park, then when he got tired he would hang with her while I cut loose and went for a "real" ride. We loaded up some snacks, the bikes and one child, and headed for the park.

After finding a nice ramada by the lake and parking Debi there, Bryson and I started our journey. He was riding the BMX bike Santa had brought him a little over a year ago and I was on my folding fixed gear. As with our past rides, I had my GPS on the bike keeping track of the distance and recording our track so we could print it out on a map afterward; he likes to have a record that he can show it to everyone.

We cruised around looking at all of the people, the ducks, the other bikes and everything else you see on a sunny Sunday in the park. At first, all I could think about was how many miles I was not going to get in today, but after following him around for a while that feeling started to melt away. We talked about how to cross roads safely and pass people on the trails, we worked on balance and control, we talked about the different kinds of bikes, but most of all, we had a good time.

Now, don't ask me why I though he was going to tire quickly so I could take off on my own; experience should have told me that wasn't going to happen. When we went for a ride on his birthday in July, he set a goal of 10 miles and darned if he didn't do it! Last week he did over 7 miles with me one afternoon. Well, today he blew both of those numbers away; the little sucker cranked out 14 miles and we have the GPS track to prove it! I never got to my solo ride.

So, do I regret not getting in the miles I wanted to today? Absolutely not! Today mileage took a back seat to something much more important. Today I got to share my knowledge and love of the sport with a child; a child that accomplished something that most adults can't do. What can be better than that?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Help! I can't stop building...

Well, I’ve been pretty bad about posting new material on the blog, but fear not, here comes another build. I hope you find this new project worth the wait!

I usually like bikes that make a statement… you know, have a little flash or scream “LOOK AT ME!” at the top of their lungs. This time, I decided to keep it simple, basic and to the point. I wanted a true track bike; something I could ride at a velodrome, should I ever actually make it to one.

I started with a Scattante SSR frame from Performance; a clean, well built steel frame. You can have any color you want as long as it’s black, and it comes without the decals applied; perfect for a clean look. The fork that they sell with this frame has a 40mm rake, too tight for me, so I opted for a Nashbar carbon fork at 43mm; it still steers fast, but it's not twitchy. It also comes with no decals…sweet!

For the rolling bits, I laced high flange Formula hubs to Mavic MA3's with 15 ga. stainless spokes. The bar set up is a Nitto B-123 on a Cinelli XA stem, and finished off with Benotto Cello ribbon. I acquired a well worn Sella Flite From a friend (the one who is now in possession of the Re-Cycle) and clamped it on a carbon post. The no-name cranks I picked up on Ebay are running a 48 tooth ring feeding a 16 tooth cog on the rear. The gearing is a little taller than I'm used to (about 79 inches), but it's lot of fun to ride.

I added a front brake setup that is easily removed; just 2 bolts and it drops off to make the bike track legal. The brake really is necessary for riding in the traffic around here and doesn’t detract for the over all look of the bike.

I really did try to keep this one low key and stealthy, but in doing so, I created a bike that seems to get more looks that just about anything I own. I guess less really is more…

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And the Winner is...

Well, the results of the FixedGearGallery.com build contest are in... and I took third place! Here is the link to the contest page.

When I submitted this bike I really didn't expect to even place. For me, this year was more about doing something to honor Dad than to win anything, so this was just icing on the cake. I also gave the bike to Will (the guy I mentioned in the story) today. He seemed genuinely touched to get it and promised to ride the heck out of it!

Oh, and here's one last thing that anyone who knew my father will understand. It cost me $25 to enter the contest and $9 to build the bike. I won $125 putting my profit from this venture at $91. Dad, I think I made my 4%...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

2008 Fixedgear Gallery Build Contest

Well, another build is finished and submitted. The theme for this years contest was an "Open Build", meaning that you could put together any kind of bike you like as long as it is a conversion of an existing bike. The spending limit was much higher this year, but I decided to take a different tack and see just how little I could spend. I was very happy with the result!

Here's my my write up, as submitted to the judges. Enjoy!

With this year’s contest being an open build, I had some trouble narrowing down my theme. I had grand plans of doing something completely over the top (I won’t say what my plan was, as I might still use it in a future contest) but after weighing all of my options, I decided to take a little different approach, go back to my roots and build a rolling tribute to my Dad.

To understand this approach, you need to first understand my father. He was the king of making something from nothing, taking whatever he had on hand and fabricating whatever it was he needed. The man was the consummate junk collector, never throwing anything away that might have a future use. He was the living embodiment of “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”… and he had acres of treasure! He would re-cycle his treasure into all kinds of interesting vehicles and machines; he was green before it was cool. In my case the apple didn’t fall far from the tree; I also collect ‘treasure’, but in the form of bikes. There are bikes in my living room, bikes in my office and no cars in my garage because the space is taken up by, you guessed it… bikes!

With the second anniversary of my father’s passing on the horizon, I came up with the idea of putting together a bike in the fashion he would have chosen. I wanted to build something using bits and pieces from my treasure trove, spending as little money as possible. I decided to build a “Re-Cycle”…

The first order of business was to find my donor bike. I settled on an old Diamondback mountain bike that was given to me just to get it out of the way. I figured starting with a free bike was a great foundation for a cheap-as-possible build. I had already done some work on the bike with the intension of dumping it on Craigslist so it was in pretty nice shape and sported a lot of usable parts. I dug through the garage to see what else I had that I could use to cut the budget. My search yielded cranks, pedals and a nice seat… score!

After stripping the bike down to the bare frame, I surveyed the pile of parts growing in front of me and formed a plan. I knew I needed to do something special to set the bike apart, but what? The first things to jump out at me were the wheels; why not try a different spoke pattern? I poked around the web and found something that caught my eye. It was a 3-leading, 3-trailing pattern that formed a 3 point star in the center. Being a wheel builder I had the tools, and with any luck the skills, so I took up the challenge.

I deconstructed the wheel and recalculated the spokes for the new pattern. Reusing the old spokes required that they be clipped and rethreaded. After spending an evening reworking spokes and re-spacing the rear hub to the new chain line, the wheels went together without a fight… and man did they look cool!

Next on the list was the frame prep. Using stripper left over from last year’s path racer build, I took the frame and fork down to the bare metal to get a clean slate for the paint. I considered removing the braze-on for the brakes and shifting, but decided to keep them. I wanted to keep brakes on the bike and, in the spirit of future recycling, leave the option for the next owner to restore gears if he so desired.

Next was the color choice. Again I went back to last years build; I had left over almond spray paint that screamed to be used. This did help to keep the cost down, but in the end I had to spend five bucks on one more can of paint to get good coverage… the first cash spent on the project. For the decals, I decided to again draw inspiration from the path racer and use the same red. I figured this kind of tied the two bikes together, making them family. Using my father’s “J-bird” trademark, I designed and printed up a set of waterslide decals to complete the look.

With paint done and wheels at the ready, all that remained was assembly. The bike went together quickly and easily. There were a couple of things that required some creative thinking; the grips and the seat post. Lacking a set of grips for the bars (and not wanting to spend any money), I again drew from last year and hand wrapped them with left over bar tape. The look was pleasing and to tell you the truth, I like the feel better than the rubber ones. The second problem took a little more thinking.

The bars and stem were black and looked nice, but the seat post was bare steel… it stood out like a sore thumb. Anyone who’s ever painted a seat post and then shoved it down into the frame knows that just ends up getting scraped up and looking like crap, so that was not an option. I needed to find a cheap way to stain the post (note: black sharpie doesn’t work!). The solution was found in my shooting supplies; a tube of gun bluing paste I use for touching the finish on old guns. Gun barrels are steel, the seat post was steel… should work, right? I cleaned and prepped the post, then applied the paste; worked like a charm. With the last detail taken care of, the build was complete. The total cost of this year’s bike… $9.00 ($5.00 for paint, $4.00 for decal paper).

Now that the bike is done, the pictures have been taken, and this submission finished, there remains only one more task; giving the bike away. With this bike being inspired by my father, I feel like the proper way to complete the circle is to pass it. So, in the spirit of my father I have chosen a deserving recipient.

I work with a young man who is trying hard to build a life for his family, sometimes at the expense of his own sanity. One of his outlets is riding, a passion he hopes to someday share with his now infant son. He has been looking for a bike he can use to pull a child trailer around the neighborhood, and this one fits the bill nicely. My treasure trove also includes a trailer (again, given to me for nothing) that, after a little refurbishing, will complete the set.

I really think my father would be proud…


Here are a few more shots of the bike:

The donor bike

De-constructed wheel

My spoke cutting and threading station

Threading a spoke

The finished front wheel

Home made Re-Cycle decal

Dad's trademark

Hand wrapped grips

3-leading, 3-trailing spoke pattern

The finished beast

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A New Arrival in the Bird House

Well folks, the day is finally here. Brace yourselves... I'm actually posting something new!

There are a lot of changes in the wind for our family. It seems that everyone we know, and many we are related to, have been popping out babies! OK, some have yet to pop them out, but you get the idea. Before you get the wrong impression let me tell you not to worry... Debi and I are not getting in on that act. We love the fact that we get to play with all of these little bundles of joy... and then promptly hand them back to the parents when they are not so joyful!

There is, however, a new arrival in our home. It's a bouncing baby bike!

Not what you expected, right? Haven't you been paying attention? This is a BIKE blog! Let me tell you how this one came about.

I've been looking at this touring frame on Nashbar.com for a couple of years, but could never justify the purchase. I've always wanted to build a touring/commuting specific bike and had my old Bianchi set up for it, but it just wasn't the real thing. Don't get me wrong; the Bianchi is a very nice bike, but it's just not the same.

Well, a few weeks ago I was looking at the frame again on the Nashbar site. It normally sells for about $300 for the frame and fork, and was on sale for $225. Again, I just couldn't justify it at that price, but the rusty littles wheels in my brain started turning. I work for Performance Bike and get deep discounts on company branded items. Performance owns Nashbar... the frame is a Nashbar branded item... shouldn't I get a discount on the frame? I figured it couldn't hurt to ask!

The process took a little while, but was well worth it. Jay (my boss) sent a few emails to someone in the head office that handles employee purchasing, they hooked him up with someone over at Nashbar that handled them over there, and so on until I ended up on the phone with what turned out to be the woman of my dreams. The price she quoted me was... wait for it.... $45! Can you believe that?

Well, I could feel the credit card in my wallet heating up, so I whipped that little sucker out and started reading her the numbers. I figured I'd better jump on it quick before she figured out she had dropped a decimal point or something! The final total with shipping and tax was $63.10.

After a couple weeks of digging parts out of the garage and making raids on Ebay, what you see is the final result. With the price of gas going up exponentially, it's not going to take too many months of commuting on this bike to break even. Now I just have to get my butt in good enough shape to actually do some touring...