Category: How To

One of the problems I consistently run into while bike commuting revolves around hunger. I have a sizable breakfast every morning before I get ready to leave my place. I pack a good lunch with a few smaller snacks to make sure I have enough to eat during the day. But I always hit a morning snag. I have tried eating a larger breakfast before I leave for work, but then my stomach is way too full and it is uncomfortable while on the bike.

And then I thought of a solution – bring a smoothie. But that brought up a new problem – how to keep it cold. Finally, I feel I have solved this problem.

This morning, I made a smoothie as I prepared my lunch for the day and poured it into one of my many water bottles.

While I finished getting ready for my morning commute, I put the water bottle in the freezer. Once I was ready to go, I grabbed the bottle and dropped it into my insulated water bottle holder that I picked up at a local REI store. These things are a great investment, especially if you spend any amount of time outdoors in the summer – or if you just live in Arizona.

Once I got to work this morning, I pull out the water bottle, and my smoothie was still frozen like a smoothie should be. It made for a great morning-starter instead of the usual coffee.

I recently swapped out my other bars on the Xtracycle because I needed them on my tandem. So I went with this beach cruiser bar that I had. But the only problem was that it was way too big. When ever I had to get on or off the bike, my leg would get caught.

So what I did was cut down the bars about 7 inches on each side…right where the bars started to bend. I reinstalled the grips and place the bar on the Xtracycle.

I then took the excess portion of the bars that I just cut and made them into footsies.

When I drilled the hole into the footsies, I tapped it and installed a screw to prevent it from falling out or moving around too much. I then installed some grips that I had laying around.

Last year, I had the opportunity to write a how-to article for the good folks over at C.I.C.L.E. Since then, I have amassed a small collection of hardware (about $15.00 worth) that makes a truly universal homemade headset cup press and crown race installer.

The parts of my handy dandy headset press:

The parts of the basic press include a selection of large washers, a piece of 3/8″ threaded rod (sometimes referred to as “allthread�?), a pair of flange nuts and two thick nylon washers to reduce friction between nuts and press-washers.

Don’t forget the nylon washers — it makes things a whole lot smoother:

As in the previous article, I must set out this disclaimer — I didn’t invent this…the concept of a homemade cup press has been around for a long time. I’ve seen versions using only washers and versions using sections of PVC pipe as cup adapters. However, I have discovered a piece of hardware in the plumbing department of my local home-improvement store that really makes this setup a piece of cake to use — some type of copper reducing fitting. Here is the heart of my system:

These little beauties taper down from about 2″ down to about 7/8″. Since they’re made of copper, they are way softer than the typical cups you might find in a vintage or modern headset — even lightweight aluminum cups. And, they are universal — they’ll fit the tightest vintage 1 inch threaded headset…oddball 1 1/4 inch headsets from the mid 90s…modern 1 1/8 inch headsets…heavy-duty One Point Five downhill headsets…even old one-piece bottom bracket cups (Ashtabula) found on cheap beach cruisers and old BMX bikes!!

The press is set up like this: grease up and place the headset cups in the top and bottom of the frame’s headtube. Grease and insert the copper fittings and stack appropriately-sized washers on top of those copper fittings. Pass the allthread through the headtube, slip the nylon washers down onto the washer stacks and thread on the two flange nuts. Here is a picture of how the assembly should look:

Then, it is a simple matter of cranking the nuts down with an appropriate wrench (sometimes you will need two wrenches if the cups are really tight). The copper fittings help to keep the headset cups straight as they enter the headtube. Go slowly — sometimes the washer stacks will slip to one side and they should be pushed back into place with your fingers. Crank those cups in until they bottom out and you’re done!

Now, all that remains is to assemble the rest of the headset and ride away into the sunset…but wait! What do you do about those stubborn fork crown races? Well, back to the plumbing department — you’ll need a length of PVC pipe and a plastic endcap. Bring your fork with you to make sure the pipe fits over the steerer. I wound up using a piece of 1 1/4″ thinwall pipe for this fork. Wrap the bottom 2 inches of the pipe with electrical tape to keep it from splitting, slip the crown race down, slip the pipe on and pound it down with a hammer like so:

When the bottom of the pipe becomes mushroomed and beat up from pounding, simply saw off a half-inch and rewrap with tape. I’ve used this same pipe for about 10 headsets…it’s steadily getting shorter, but the whole thing only cost about a dollar. Remember also that if you have to hit the pipe more than 5 or 6 times to seat the crown race, it’s better to take the race off and “dress” the base of the fork’s steerer with a needle file to remove excess paint and weld splatter — the crown race should just pop on and should NOT require brute force.

There, you’ve saved a bunch of money by doing it yourself — no expensive tools required, no trip to the bike shop. Doesn’t that feel great?

Most of you read my post about my new Brooks B17 Saddle that I purchased for my Swobo Sanchez. One thing that I didn’t care for is the breaking in period, 3-6 months seems too long for me. It also may take me longer since the Swobo Sanchez is not my only ride, I have to constantly switch rides since I’m a bike tester. I was reading Sheldon Brown’s method of breaking in a leather saddle, the fast way:

The easiest and fastest method to break in a new saddle is with a liquid leather dressing, such as neatsfoot oil, Lexol, seal oil (a French favorite) or baseball glove oil.

You can just pour the oil on and rub it in by hand, or for a more drastic approach, you can actually soak the saddle. The easiest way to soak a saddle is to turn it upside-down on a sheet of aluminum foil, then form the foil up around the saddle for a snug fit. Pour in a whole 4 ounce can of Neatsfoot oil or whatever oil you prefer, and let the saddle soak for 30 minutes to an hour. Pour the remaining oil back into the can, and wipe the excess oil off with a rag or paper towel.

Does anyone else have any other methods to speed up the breaking in process?

As bike commuters, we rely on our bikes to get us to and from work without breaking down. A few simple maintenance tasks done periodically help ensure that there will be no ugly surprises midway through the commute.

Washing Your Bike – If your bike commute includes muddy offroad paths, salty slush or other grime, the best thing you can do for your bike is to wash it every now and then. A couple tricks here: don’t use high-pressure water sprays or you will contaminate the bearings in the bottom bracket, hubs and headset; also, use a gentle detergent (preferably something bike-specific). Use a soft scrub brush and lather that bike up from top to bottom. Next, using a fine mist or gentle flow from the hose, rinse the bike completely. Bounce the bike on its tires a couple times to shake off the excess water and then dry it with clean rags. Finally, you can use a car-type paste wax to give that bike a real shine. Our main man Moe suggests an even better final step: Finish Line’s Pro Detailer Bike Polish.

Dirty bike before:Oooh, that's DIRTY!

Clean bike after:Now THAT'S shiny!

Tires – check the pressure before you ride, preferably the night before. You don’t want to have to mess with pumping up a tire if you’re running late to work. When you check your tires’ pressure, give them a good inspection, looking for embedded bits of glass or metal and checking for overall wear. If you suspect a slow leak, better go ahead right then and change/patch the tube…this sure beats a mid-ride tube change!
Pump it...pump it up!

Chain cleaning – the most crucial thing you can do is to make sure your chain is clean and well-lubricated. No fancy tools are required for this, either! While many chain-cleaning tools and methods exist, I have found that the most effective (and quick) way to do it is to dampen a rag with chain cleaner (I swear by Park Tool’s Citrus Chain Brite – easy on the hands and the environment), wrap it around the installed chain and turn the cranks backward, keeping pressure on the rag and rewrapping to clean areas periodically. Cleaning the chain
While you have the degreaser out, wipe down the cogs, chainrings and derailleur pulleys (if applicable) to remove the built-up gunk.

You DON’T want to remove the chain unless you absolutely must for two reasons: today’s modern chains don’t like having their pins pushed in and out. Maybe this is why so many chains come with a “powerlink?-type breakable link? Second, removing and soaking the chain in solvent washes away important lubricant deep within the chain’s rollers. Once it is cleaned away, it is nearly impossible to get fresh lube into those tiny crevices!!

Here are my favorite chain-care products — Park’s ChainBrite and White Lightning wax lube:
ChainBrite and White Lightning

Once the chain is clean, apply lubricant to each roller…the fastest way is to backpedal the bike and drip lube as the chain passes over one of the derailleur pulleys. Everyone has his or her favorite lube (my favorite for years has been White Lightning) – the important thing here is to apply it liberally, let it soak in and wipe away the excess. This entire process – cleaning and relubing — takes less than 10 minutes. I try to clean and lube the chain every 100 miles or so unless I have ridden in the rain (which is pretty often here in Florida), in which case I add some lube when the chain has dried off.
Adding some lube to each link and roller of the chain

Brakes – obviously, your brakes are very important pieces of equipment (except maybe for our brakeless fixed-gear riders out there)! Routine maintenance consists of periodically inspecting the pads for embedded abrasives (glass, gravel, etc.) and wear as well as adjusting the cable tension and brake-pad-to-rim alignment. Use a sharp tool, like a dental pick, to remove crap from the brake pads:
Cleaning the crap out of the brake pads
Also, you may want to clean your rims’ brake tracks periodically. This is easy: dip a piece of Scotchbrite-type scrubber sponge in rubbing alcohol and use it to scrub away any brake pad residue or glazing on the rim.

Derailleur adjustment – this isn’t as complicated as it looks or sounds. In fact, it is much harder to describe than to do! Indexed shifting systems work best when cable tension, high and low stop screws and pulley angle are all spot-on. For a great tutorial on the ins and outs of adjusting your shifting system, the best place to go is Park Tool’s online repair database.

For those commuters with Shimano’s Nexus internal hubs, nothing could be simpler to adjust! It’s easy: shift into 4th gear (applicable for 4, 7 and 8 speed Nexus hubs). With the rear cover removed, look for two red dots (yellow on the 8 speed hub). They should line up perfectly with each other. If they are misaligned, turn the shifter-side cable adjuster clock- or counter-clockwise until those dots line up. The below picture shows what the two alignment points look like when they’re lined up (highlighted by the yellow arrows):Nexus hub with alignment points highlighted
Replace the cover and you’re done! Otherwise, maintenance of these hubs is a non-issue – many people suggest “riding it until it is broken? and then replacing it. For those adventurous souls out there who itch to rebuild the guts of these hubs, a great resource is Sheldon Brown’s online Nexus hub service manual.

Bolts and other threaded fittings – resist the temptation to periodically tighten every bolt and nut on your bike. This is asking for trouble – broken-off heads, stripped threads, crushed components!

Do, however, ensure that when you install new components or build up your bike initially that you grease all threads liberally. This prevents stripping and also allows the bolts to reach their proper tightening torque. You should also pull out your seatpost and quill stem (if you have one of those) a couple times a year and smear a bit of grease on it before replacing it…nothing sucks worse than having to hacksaw and drill out a frozen seatpost or stem!

Also, consider replacing hardware with stainless steel bolts and nuts. Seeing as how rust is the enemy of bicycles, replacing crucial hardware with the “good stuff? makes a lot of sense. A great source for metric stainless steel hardware is Bolt Depot (free goodies with every purchase, too!).

Finally, for our fixed gear friends, chain alignment (chainline) and chain tension are of the utmost importance, especially if you’re running brakeless. The best tutorial for both is, again, Sheldon Brown’s website (chainline and chain tension).
Proper chain tension

So, come up with a schedule for these routine tasks – your bike will thank you, your boss will thank you for showing up on time and you will have a few less things to worry about on your daily commute.