Friday, November 28, 2008

2008 Turkey Burner

It was raining more often than not and if we were each left to our own devices we'd probably have stayed home. But the traditional ride on the day after Thanksgiving is, well, it's a tradition, and Matt, Mark and I had fenders on our bikes and snacks in our bags so we went out and east and up. We rode on nearly as many trails as roads and on at least one road, the road that went along the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River, that seemed intent on being more like a trail than a road. We talked and we rode and we rode until Mark declared that this was the spot to stop and snack so we stopped and snacked.

And then we rode home. We passed by steel-head fishers on Fish Hatchery Road and wondered if they were having luck. I commented that I was sure they were having some kind of luck, the sport is called fishing after all and not catching. Matt observed that we were having similar luck, our sport is called riding, not getting somewhere.

Sixtyfour miles doesn't burn off a whole turkey but it's a start.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Retro-Direct Revolution

I'm not going to try to convince you that a retro-direct drive bicycle is practical. While spending several late nights and early mornings at the shop, plotting chainlines and Frankensteining freewheels, some other notions were discussed. What if we made a system where the rider only pedaled forward, where a system of levers and pulleys derailled the chain from one cog to another? Sure, something like that could work and in fact does work, even when people do really crazy things like cram 11 cogs onto a cassette and then charge you $500 for a hunk of metal that you'll wear out in just a couple of thousand miles of wet Seattle riding, but hey this is progress and who am I to disagree?

Well, I'm the guy who right now engages a lower gear by pedaling backwards. I rode the RetroTrek the 18.5 miles home from the shop to Issaquah yesterday and the system is pretty dialed in. While a hunk of wood, a few bits of innertube, a little metal and an old derailler pulley got the drivetrain working great, it's going to take a bit more to rewire my brain and my muscles to get get used to this back pedaling thing. But I think it's good now and then to take a step back, to shift not only our gear but our direction and the way we travel in the world. We travel not only to arrive, but to find delight along the way.

My pal Dan got his retro-direct bike debugged as well and posted photos here:

Is there a place in a world that contains carbon racing bikes and Xtracycles, recumbents and fixie folk, for bikes that pedal backwards but still go forwards? I think there is. Because everyone who has hopped on my bike or Dan's, from Janet to Mark to DeadBaby Dave, has come back grinning with delight.

We may not have a retrodex or be mocked by BSNYC (yet!) but with Locktite on our pedals we are spinning backwards to the future.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Building a Retro-Direct Drive Bicycle

November is the slowest month in the bike shop and last Saturday night around 5:00 PM Dan, Donald and I were found ourselves in the shop with no customers. Some of the day's discussion had involved internal hub gears, including the old Bendix 2-speed kickback hub. "Yeah, those were nice," I said, "but what I'd really like to try sometime is a retro-direct drive." 'Yep," Dan agreed, "that'd be something." "What's a retro-direct drive?" Donald asked. "The internet knows," I assured Donald and a quick Google search later we were all reading the Wikipedia article and following the various links. On a retro-direct bicycle engages one gear and drives the bike forward, while pedaling backwards engages a second gear that also drives the bike forward. "Weird," said Donald. Weird but also fascinating.

By the time we read on Pierre's page that there are about 8 retro-direct riders in the world Dan and I had decided that we'd be the 9th and 10th. Edison said that to invent you need "a good imagination and a big pile of junk." We weren't inventing, we were just building and while Bike Works isn't exactly a big pile of junk, it is a treasure trove of parts.

Our first attempt, involving threading a single speed freewheel onto a freehub body holding a single cog and some spacers, didn't work. We figured out that we really needed two completely independently spinning freewheels. While Dan worked on re-spacing a rear wheel and scrounging for freewheels, I got a sweet Trek from the warehouse and located an idler wheel I'd spotted awhile back in the attic.

A threaded bottom-bracket cup is the key to getting two freewheels onto a single hub and only a Dicta freewheel works as the rear freewheel. Shimano, ACS and all the other freewheels we found have a lip on them for the removal tool and this lip prevents them from threading onto the cup. But the Dicta freewheels have clear access to the threads.

Saturday night Dan and I stayed until around 8 PM, getting a proof of concept drivetrain running. Our only Dicta freewheel was a 16 tooth, which was the same size as our forward driving freewheel. So our two-speed drive was drove the wheel with the same ratio whether we were pedaling forwards or backwards, but it did work.

For the real drivetrain, we ordered three 22 tooth Dicta freewheels from J&B. One for me, one for Dan and one for the first person who is going to read about this on the internet and want us to build one up for them. The freewheels arrived today. I had my camera handy, some very cool Newk bar ends and a top-tube pad that happened to be perfect for the bike.

The pictures show how things go together. The bike is still undergoing refinement. The chainline needs work and the bike wants to throw the chain. Joe had a good idea to add a larger inner chainring to help keep the chain on, but I'll probably swap the cranks and come up with a better idler arrangement in the next couple of days. But as you can see from the video of the bike in the stand (Joe is turning the cranks while I do the narration), the retro-direct drive works.

And yes, it's pretty strange to ride. When I get the drivetrain more solid, I'll take it further than just around the block.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Bike Geek's Day Off

Monday is the one day of the week that Bike Works is closed, so it's the one day of the week that I'm pretty sure I won't be working. But even when I'm not working, I'm still a full-time bike geek. So I emailed some of the usual suspects and convinced Matt Newlin and Brad and Thorvald Hawkins to join me on a trip to Bainbridge Island.

The 6:10 AM ferry gets us to an island still dark and fog-shrouded, so we decide to wait for Pegasus to open at 7:00 AM. Young Thorvald has quite a way with the coffee shop ladies and after he and Brad packed away a not-too-hot hot chocolate, we were on our way.

Our route was the kind of variant of the Chilly Hilly route that you make up as you go along, kind of paying attention to a map, mostly just rolling through the fog. We found our fair share of roads that end at incredibly picturesque enclaves and repeated proved that the answer to the question "how lost can you get on an island?" is "quite."

Brad and Thorvald, who it must be noted lack the goat-like climbing ability exhibited by Mr. Newlin and myself, had to take a morning ferry back to Seattle but still got to have the thrill of riding the entire length of Toe Jam Hill Road. Matt and I managed to continue a very vague circumnavigation of the island, ending with a trip to the wonderful museum/shop that is Classic Cycle. After lunch, we hopped the ferry back to Seattle and stopped by the Bikery.

Now I'm sure that there are people who spend their days off as far as possible from any reminders of their day-to-day workday world. I guess I'm not one of those people. And I guess I'm living in a pretty good place to be a bike geek.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pictures from the Coroplast Fender Party

Saturday night we hosted a coroplast fender making party at Bike Works. Using the basic instructions that I've posted here, Matt Newlin made a really nice set of fenders for his Bianchi.

Matt's Fenders

Jimmy Livengood couldn't make it to the party, but he'd dropped off some biggish sheets of scrap coroplast earlier this week. Jimmy works at a tradeshow/exhibit booth design and construction house and thus has access to some leftover coroplast pieces that are bigger than the scrounged campaign signs. I cut up some of a big piece of black coroplast to make a nice front fender for my Kona Explosif.

Kent's Front Fender

Davey made a ukulele case.

Davey's Ukulele Case

Jayanthi made a rear basket for her Miyata, while Mark made fenders.

Melanie made a couple of drawer organizers.

As the saying goes, a good time was had by all. We still have a lot of signs and zipties at Bike Works and I'll be doing a couple of more coroplast parties later this month with the folks from The Bikery and Sustainable Ballard.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Coroplast Construction Party -- Sat Nov. 8th, 2008

Here in the United States of America it's election time and tomorrow we'll all find out if Tina Fey will get to go back to just working on 30 Rock or if she'll be busy on Saturday Night Live for at least the next four years. I've been a fan of Ms. Fey for quite a few years but I'm really hoping she'll be back down to one job in a day or so...

But something else happens once the election is done. All those campaign signs that are all along the roadside are supposed to go away. I give the campaigns a couple of days to pick up their signs but any that are left past that point I figure are free for the taking. So I take 'em, at least some of them, the ones made from coroplast. And I make things out of them. Bike things. Things like fenders, panniers and handlebar bags.

Join me at Bike Works for a fender making party on Saturday, November 8th. Drop by between 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM, and I'll walk you through the basics of how to turn old campaign signs into fenders, which you will surely need for riding through the rainy season! I've already laid in a stash of over 1000 zipties and I'm going to harvest some signs but I sure encourage you to bring your old campaign signs, zip ties, and/or colored duct-tape. We'll definitely be making fenders but we'll probably make some other cool stuff as well. This event is totally free but we will have a jar there to accept donations to Bike Works youth programs.