Kinky!

A couple of weeks ago, I started feeling like I wasn’t quite as strong in the pedals as I had been all summer.  It wasn’t much, just a nagging feeling that I was paying more attention to how my legs felt than I was to the passing scenery.  I could still go fast and coasting was just the same as it always was, but the pedaling took more out of me.  I was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with my health.  I even had to turn back early on one of my rides.  I never turn back early.  It was feeling like too much work.  And I prefer not to work too hard at my exercise.  That’s why I chose bicycling in the first place – so I could get my exercise sitting down!

Anyway, I was getting all worried that I was getting old and feeble and would have to buy myself a walker soon, start fighting over handicap parking spaces, and recite my health history and current medications to any hapless passerby, when something unexpected happened.  It got cold.  No, that wasn’t the unexpected part.  That came when I pumped up my tires, dusted the cobwebs off my Racekap and went for a ride in the frigid temperatures with my super-sleek hardtop on.  I was actually slower!  Slower?!  How could that be?!  Had I entered some alternate universe where the laws of physics were reversed?  Had all of the hot air spewing from the thick heads of global warming deniers somehow caused a strange thickening of the local atmosphere?  Had insidious mind control beams from my semi-naughty nemesis Kevin somehow penetrated my aluminum foil helmet?  Yes, the well-oiled rationality of my keen mind astounds even me… sometimes.  But no, it wasn’t these obvious conclusions.  It was this…

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This little booger!

It’s called a chain tube.  It guides the chain coming from under my seat (on the right) towards the chain-rings (out of the picture on the left).  It is supposed to guide the chain up and over that hump called the tunnel (where all of the steering gizmos are housed) in one smooth path with minimal friction.  I discovered that kinks are not conducive to minimizing friction.  Here’s a better picture…

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Makes my knees hurt just looking at it!

Perhaps you can’t see it very well but the tube has split in a couple of places and is completely collapsed – basically grabbing the chain as it passes through.  Yah!!

Well, I searched around town for a replacement but it seems that replacement tubing is something of a specialty item in the bike shop world.  I finally found a shop that had a clump of used tubing that they dug out of a workshop drawer and were willing to sell.  I figured that used tubing which was actually round was better than used flat tubing so I bought it.

After my last run-in with chain maintenance (imagine mud-wrestling on the garage floor with a pissed off, greasy python) I decided to try something a little different this time.  I found one of the chain’s quick-links and coaxed it to a convenient location at the middle of the cockpit.  Then I tied that python down – before I opened the link.  I suspect that this is where I went wrong last time…

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Baling wire leash tied to the frame

Ah, so much easier!  I removed the idler sprocket, opened the quick link, and slid the tube off.  Then I attached another piece of baling wire to the end of the chain and used it to thread on the new tube.  Easy.  Join the chain back together, attach the new tube to the sprocket shaft, install the sprocket, then stand back and unleash the python.

Woo hoo!!  Back to skating on asphalt.

The Short Crank

I’m tall.  Six feet and three inches tall.  And a disproportionate amount of that is in my legs.  I had a hard time fitting into a velomobile.  When I went for a test drive at Bluevelo, they did every trick they could think of in order to squeeze me into one of their machines – and I still skinned my knees on the inside of the Quest’s body!  If I was going to become a velonaut, it was going to require extreme measures.  As I started considering the benefits of orthopedic surgery, Ray came to my rescue with a way to gain a few more precious millimeters: shorter crank arms – 155 mm instead of my normal 175 mm length.

Now I’ve been bicycling all my life and the mantra of “if it’s not upright, it’s not a bike”, “if your not wearing Lycra, your not a biker”, “lighter means faster”, and “longer legs, longer cranks” were firmly wedged into my tiny neanderthal skull.  But I was already making a huge leap of faith going directly from upright racer to velomobile!  I didn’t even bother with the obligatory evolutionary steps through the domain of open recumbents first.  So if this neanderthal was going to sail straight off the edge of a flat earth in his low, heavy bike wearing cargo shorts, he might as well do it with short crank arms.

Well I ordered my short cranked Strada and waited.  And worried.  When it finally came, I made the seat and bottom bracket adjustments with trembling hands and exhaled a huge sigh of relief when I slid into the seat.  My knees didn’t rub.  Disaster averted!  I put on my cargo shorts, gave my short cranks a push, and over the edge I went.

I’m now nearing my eighth month of velomobile bliss.  My upright bicycle muscles have become recumbent and all of the promised gains of speed and energy economy have been realized.  The shorter cranks don’t seem to have had any negative effect at all!  But the real surprise for me was the fact that uphills seem easier for me now!  Sure, they’re a little slower but they aren’t the energy drains that they used to be.

The Strada is 3 1/2 times heavier than my road bike was and going up steep hills at slow speeds robs the velomobile of every advantage.  Yet it still seems easier.  How can that be?!  Part of it, I’m sure, is that the upper body is taken completely out of the equation.  No more stress to keep the body from inefficient movement, no more rigid arms and shoulders or pulsating pulls on the handlebars – just keep the feet going around.  But I’m convinced it’s more than that…

I used to be a fencer – the kind with a sword, not a shovel – and we did a lot of squats and lunges for that sport.  I can tell you that I could do half squats or half lunges all day long but don’t ask me to do too many full squats or lunges in a row or I’ll be falling over pretty quickly.  The point is that it takes a lot less effort to push the same weight (me) if the legs don’t bend as deeply – the same reason hikers take smaller steps as the mountain becomes steep.  In the same way, the shorter crank is allowing me to take ‘shorter steps’ because my legs don’t have to bend as deeply to do the same amount of work.  Also, the short cranks don’t seem to offer any disadvantages when they aren’t climbing.  In fact, I’ve come to believe that the shorter cranks may allow me to do the same work, with the same muscles, with less energy, all the time – but especially up hills, where the resistance is greatest.

Perhaps I am taking an unrealistic leap of reason in this – especially since too many variables were changed in my little experiment – but I think I can safely conclude, at the very least, that the short crank shouldn’t be feared.

Headlight Adjustment

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I’ve been twisting and tweaking my headlights ever since I got my Strada and have never been too happy with the results.  This week I decided to assert my superiority over them until they submitted to my stupid, terrible will.  Beware!  If you intend to grapple to the death with your headlights, watch out for their buddies the chain rings – they bite!

The first step is to line up your velomobile in front of, and perpendicular, to your closed garage door.  (ooh, big word for a neanderthal!)  Now adjust your velomobile’s position until the front wheels are about eight feet from the door.  That’s two and a half meters for you more evolved types.  Find some tape and turn on your headlight.  Mark the top of the headlight beam on your garage door…

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Then mark the floor just where the center of the tire makes contact…

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Now we will have some “repeat-ability” and an idea of what kind of changes we will be making.  (Add scientific head-bob here)

Now, flip the velomobile on its side, reach in from the foot holes and unplug the light.  If the horn is attached to the same strut, unplug that too.

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This is where I went wrong in my previous attempts – I tried to wrestle and tweak the light into submission while it was still inside the velomobile.  Bad idea!  So undo that screw on the right and remove the whole thing.  Easy!  Here’s what it looks like…

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Note the angle of the light compared to the strut so you can picture what sort of change you wish to make.

IMG_0674Also, sight along the strut to make sure that the light is pretty much parallel to the strut – you don’t want it illuminating the sidewalk!  If not, remove the light, and bend that bit of strut where the light was attached until it is parallel to the longest part of the strut.  Reattach the headlight, and adjust its angle until it matches the angle you pictured in your head earlier.

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At this point, I added a couple wraps of electrical tape on the edges of the headlight lens to reduce friction.  And squeaking!

Now put it back into the velomobile pushing hard enough to seat it in its hole without changing the light’s angle, and screw the strut to the frame.  Reattach the plug to the headlight but leave the horn disconnected for now.

Flip the velomobile upright again and align the front wheel with your tape on the floor.  Turn on the power and check out the effect of your adjustments on the garage door.  If the results are about what you were aiming for (and it’s dark outside) then it’s time for a test drive.  If not, flip it onto its side and try again.  (Unless you’re waiting for dark).  Repeat until you reach nirvana.

Then don’t forget to reconnect the horn!

My Strada has a high-beam headlight whose strut is attached to the other side of the interior frame.  To adjust it I had to flip the velomobile over on its other side and repeat the whole procedure.

The final measurements (tape to floor) for my Strada’s lights were…

High-beam – 20 3/4 inches

Low-beam – 16 inches

Yeah, go ahead and tape to these measurements at the very beginning if you trust me (ha!), but then you’ll miss all the fun of fiddling with the tape.  Your results may vary depending on your model and preferences so do the test drive and judge for yourself.

Remove the tape from your garage door and floor when you’re done – unless of course you want to keep them as a record of your special achievement.  I did!

Pedal Pusher

My rear derailleur was in need of a tune up before I took off on a longer ride.  The problem was that I needed to be in two places at the same time – at the back of the velomobile observing the derailleur while also sitting inside pedaling.

My solution was this…

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They call me Captain Hook

It’s just a piece of clothesline wire bent in two (for strength), formed into a hook, and attached to a four foot length of PVC with a pipe clamp.  Ta Daa!  Instant pedal pusher.  The hook is just a bit larger than the pedal’s spindle and the hook opening is smaller so it clips on and doesn’t come off so easily.  It works best for me if the hook’s opening is upward because I tend to turn the pedals with a lifting motion.

I realize that somebody, or perhaps a lot of somebodies, may have thought of this already.  If so, my apologies.  I thought I’d post it anyway…

Just in case.

Squeak Squeak

So I was driving down the road the other day and noticed that a mouse had hitched a ride in my velomobile.  There was a tiny squeak at first but as the day went on it became louder and more insistent. I don’t mind hitch-hikers but I do wish they wouldn’t complain so much.

My mouse was in the steering tiller and complained every time I twisted it.  The squeak was now accompanied by a resistance to turn which reduced my silky smooth driving style to a series of pathetic stutters from one over-correction to the next.  Now, I’ve always been an exceptionally lazy patient man, but something had to be done.

Serial NumberAs soon as I got home, I put a generous amount of oil on the steering joint inside the Strada, gave the tiller an authoritative twist to help the oil penetrate, and let it sink in overnight.

The next ride started out fairly quiet but slowly the mouse revealed its continued presence.  What’s worse – the steering stutter was back and becoming much more pronounced.  It was starting to get downright dangerous at high speeds!

Back at the garage, I squirted more oil and gave more twists but it didn’t seem to help a bit.

Suspension StrutsThen, with a flash of utter genius it hit me – “I’ll bet the steering joint is connected to something else, and maybe it’s that ‘something else’ that’s squeaking!”  I know, I even astound myself sometimes.  So I took the front wheel cover off and looked into the hole where the steering rod comes out.

This is what it looks like in there…

Stearing Lever and Strut

I know, just the kind of place you’d expect to find a mouse

That big metal thingy on the left is the bottom of the steering mechanism.  Get a long nozzle for your lubricant and give it a good soak.  And don’t forget the metal thingy on the right where the steering rod attaches – that’s minnie mouse.  That solved the problem but I gave all of the little ball joints on the outside of the body a squirt for good measure.

Ah, back to the zen-like state of blissful silence and silky steering.  I was so impressed by the results that I even tried the same treatment on Cammie.  It didn’t work.