The simple things

April 30, 2002 — 3 Comments

Yeah, I know, I haven’t been posting much.  Actually, I haven’t been on my computer much except for work-related stuff.  I’m trying to occupy myself with things that require a lot of concentration–my ability to focus has apparently decided it needs a little space.  Hopefully the separation is only temporary.

One of the things I’ve gotten back into lately is biking. No device drivers on a mountain bike.  No httpd.conf files, no relational errors, no unexpected quits or kernel panics.  Wait…no…my bike had a kernel panic when it got hit by a car a few years ago.  Wait…no…I had a kernel panic when I got hit by a car while riding my bike a few years ago.  So yeah, no kernel panics.  If I could figure out a way to attach my pedals to Moveable Type, I’d be blogging a lot more often these days.

My bike, a 1993 Bridgestone XO-1, is a collector’s item.  It’s not worth thousands of dollars or anything–they’re just odd beasts and not a lot of them were made, and mine’s in relatively good condition.  It’s a road bike that takes 26” (mountain bike) tires–a sort-of-reverse hybrid (the way hybrids should be made, in my opinion).  It’s not unusual for me to walk up to my bike when it’s locked on the street and find a small crowd of people standing around looking at it.  Bike geeks, for sure, but I like bike geeks–I spend most of my free time in Portland, Maine at the bike store.

This was the first bike I’d ever built up from scratch.  I found the bike bag, a pseudo-briefcase that clips onto the rack, from England.  All in all, my bike has a lot of love, thought, and time put into it, and it’s hard not to get a little of that back each time I pedal somewhere.

Last week, a desire to improve the braking performance on my bike had me buying new cantilever brakes.  Then I figured while I was at it, I might as well replace the brake levers too.  And while the handlebar tape was off, hell, why not rebuild the entire bike?

So I did, over the course of two days, lots of grease, and only a little bit of frustration.  I put a new small chainring on, got some new pulleys for the rear derailleur, treated my leather saddle, replaced the chain and the headset bearings, polished her up real good…the works.  And when I was done, the new brakes I bought completely sucked ass.

They howled.  Loudly.  The slightest pressure on the brake lever and I could make my bike sound like it was disemboweling a live cow.  Brake squeal is a fairly common thing and there are well-known remedies.  I tried them all: toe-ing in the brakes (angling them on the rim), sanding the rim, sanding the brakepads, trying different brakepad compounds.

Futzing with brakes is not fun.  It’s the only part of bike maintenance that I loathe.  One, I’ve never really been good at adjusting brakes.  Two, it’s a lot of trial and error, and it’s the frustrating kind of trial and error–the kind where you’re really just repeatedly shooting in the dark until something works.  Three, my fingers almost always manage to obtain a blood blister or stab myself numerous times with a brake cable in the process.

Anyway, after a full day of futzing with the brakes, I took it to the shop at which I bought the brakes and levers and said “here, fix this.” And they did.  I feel somewhat vindicated in that it took them–seasoned bike mechanics–a good 45 minutes and 7-8 test runs in the parking lot to get it working right.

So now I have my bike back and I’m riding again.  And importantly, I’m stopping again.  Quietly, quickly, and with little effort.

3 responses to The simple things

  1. Not being much of a bike mechanic, I always let the brake sound just come and go, and it usually goes away eventually.  But I like the brake sound.  In the city, it functions as a horn, and also as a reprimand to hapless jaywalkers; the louder the squeal, the closer the call, and the greater the look of fear as they realize that they just stepped out from between two vans without looking, just like Bigbird always warned them about, and almost paid for it this time.  I like to think that such a sound and adrenaline moment might contribute to more carefull jaywalking in the future.

  2. I’ve found that in life, brakes are the one thing you don’t want to mess up. I once owned a bike that didn’t have any brakes at all (I was about 12 and I patched the bike together from spare parts around the homestead). i did a lot of coasting.

    I remember this vividly because I lent said bike to my not too bright friend (I’m one to talk, it was MY bike). I told him to be carefull because it didn’t have any breaks. Long story short, he was going a little too fast and stuck his foot in the front tire to stop.

    I’ve never seen such a face plant in my life. I spent the next 15 minutes scrounging around in the warm summer twilight for his front teeth.

    I got brakes real fast.

  3. yep…brakes. adjusting them is absolutely the most annoying part of bike tweaking. i have a vivid memory of fixing some with my brother, he obviously thought i said “now” when he test-squeezed the rear brake lever as my finger was between the pad and the rim.

    i think i hit him quite hard.

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