The Mixte Fixie

15 03 2013

If you had told me 6 months ago that I would be building up a fixed gear, I would have laughed at you, but something (or should I say someone) has piqued my interest. And seeing his poetic flow of constant motion, whether accelerating past traffic or at a relatively pootling pace to stick with me on the Dutch bike, has made me curious in the ways of direct drive.

So I decided I was going to build myself a fixie, but there was one condition. The frame had to be a mixte, so the bike could be called (with a nod to Sister Sprocket) the Mixte Fixie.

Presenting the Mixte Fixie. The front wheel is temporary.

Presenting the Mixte Fixie. The front wheel is temporary.

The frame is a Canadian made Raleigh Challenger that had been sitting out in the yard at EBC since at least last summer. The wheels and all the components were completely rusted, but the frame itself was in good shape. Plus, it’s as tall as a mixte gets, which is important for this taller than average lass.

Cleaned up real nice.

Cleaned up real nice.

I built the rear wheel with an old school, unnamed track hub and white deep-V rims, and I have a rim to match for the front for as soon as I can find an appropriate high flange hub. I used one of the existing chainrings, not sure how permanent that will be, but the gear ratio and chain line were good, and the cranks are 165. The bike originally came with 27″ wheels, but the new wheels are slightly smaller 700C, so shorter cranks are a plus to help avoid the pedals bashing into the ground.

There's animal, vegetable, and mineral in that there bottom bracket.

There’s animal, vegetable, and mineral in that there bottom bracket.

I really wish I’d taken some “before” pictures of this bike, but the above pic of what I found in the bottom bracket will have to suffice. From the rust patterns on the components, it looks like the bottom bracket was partially filled with a rusty leafy buggy soup for some time. The original drop bars were solid rust, and the original wheels were on their way to matching, so it’s pretty cool that the frame itself is fine.

As I announced my new ride to my friends, the raving bike fiend, ever clever, christened it the “fixte,” which is probably going to stick as “mixte fixie” is a bit of a tongue twister that led to alternate pronunciations like “mixte fixte” and “mixie fixte.”

Looks like the Fixte label is sticking.

Looks like the Fixte label is sticking.

With the bike rideable, I did tiny laps around the shop floor until I was dizzy, getting used to the toe straps and braking. My confidence increasing and my patience wearing out, I took it to the relatively clear streets as the first flakes of the latest snow storm came down.

Dodging ice patches on the Fixte.

Dodging ice patches on the Fixte.

After only a half hour ride, and despite the discomfort of activating some muscles I usually don’t use, I think I’m going to like this. Coasting is over-rated. Too bad that with 6 inches of snow in the last 24 hours, I have no idea when I’ll next be able to take it for a ride.

So, Winter, Eh?

31 10 2012

Given the crazy weather in other parts of the continent right now, I’m going to refrain from the favourite Canadian pastime – complaining about the weather. But, yeah, it snowed, and it’s cold, and it could be a lot worse.

I put a studded tire on Porta-Bike in time for some late night riding in the fresh snow.

S’no problem.

Playing with my new front light.

A flic before crossing The Bridge.

Knowing that the weather in late October here can be a toss-up, back in early fall I committed to doing free bicycle tune ups, outdoors, as part of Sustainability Awareness Week on campus. That gamble sure didn’t pay off. I did have a tent & a heater, but I still couldn’t feel my toes after 4 hours. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t very busy, though I did fix about ten bikes (not including my own), gave a bunch of referrals and talked a lot of winter cycling.

Giving Porta-Bike a little TLC during one of the slower moments of Sub-Zero Bike Repair session.

I’ve been riding the foldie since it snowed because I found that the freezing temperatures have brought out some issues with the Globe (my other winter bike), and I’ll have to replace cables before I can ride it far. Not a big deal, I just need to find some time to dedicate to it. I also have another winter bike on the build, but I am waiting for rims to rebuild the wheels before I can launch it into the great Canadian winter. Stay tuned for more on that one later.

Oh Hail No!

24 08 2012

Long time residents of E-Ville may be familiar with “the most dreaded of all meteorological phenomena.” For cyclists in our fair berg, though, it’s not the Siberian high (that’s the coldest of the cold, for y’all in more southern climes), it’s the hail storm. And yesterday, we had a gooder. Golf ball size balls of ice tearing the leaves off trees and flattening gardens, marble size hail forming a white blanket on the ground, a cyclist caught in such a storm risks serious injury (though it’s the best argument for wearing a helmet ever).

An hour after the storm, there was still a solid layer of hail cores on the ramp at BikeWorks North.

Here’s a shout out to Chris and the other cyclists who were on the High Level Bridge when the storm hit – I’m glad you’re OK. Having been caught in hail storms before, I’ll never forget the scary sound of the falling hail approaching as the front moves in. It’s the sound of “you’ve got a few seconds to take cover or else you’re going to get pummeled to a mush.”

Luckily, I didn’t have to leave work until after the hail stopped falling, but there was the accompanying deluge to deal with. All the leaves torn off by the hail clogged the storm drains, causing intersection after intersection to flood.

Every second intersection looked like this, making for a very challenging and wet ride home.

Of course I was on my road bike, which really hates getting wet.

Le Mercier is not an aqua bike.

I’m sorry Mercier, I’ll overhaul all your bearing systems again as soon as possible. The trick will be finding a Stronglight crank puller so I can do that finicky french bottom bracket.

Restoring a Canadian Classic – The ’46 CCM Loop Frame

15 08 2012

The Raving Bike Fiend had offered me this bike some time ago, knowing that I have a soft spot for loop frames, the ability to properly fix it up, and that my own vintage CCM, Poplar, was in extremely poor condition and I was spending more time fixing it than riding it. But with both of us living car free, transporting a non-functional bike cross town can get a little complicated. With a big trip on the horizon, though, he got his car rolling again and outfitted it with the necessities: racks for multiple bikes.

Keith loads up the ’46 CCM and le Mercier beside it to get me & my bikes home. This would be the first time in months that I’d stepped into an automobile.

The bike was given to Keith by another BikeWorks volunteer, whose grandmother was the original owner. In remarkably good shape, the burgundy rims still had their original white pinstriping, though the striping on the frame hasn’t fared as well over the decades and the white paint on the chain guard and fenders was particularly rough. It was missing a pedal, chain, grips, saddle and seatpost but still had all its integral components. However, the important question was how it looked on the inside.

The first step was to replace the missing components and get it ready for a test ride. Keith gave me a new old stock CCM seat post and I lucked out tremendously and found a Wrights leather saddle (history note – Wrights was an English manufacturer that was bought out by Brooks in 1962). With a brand new 1/8″ chain, it was starting to look like a whole bicycle again but started getting complicated when I went to install pedals.

I had found an appropriate set of 1/2″ pedals and had them ready to go when, after much grunting, swearing and penetrating lube to get the old one off, surprise! I discovered one side of the 1 piece crank was drilled 1/2″ and the other side was drilled 9/16″. WTH? Why would anybody do that? Did they start on the right side before realizing the left side was reverse threaded and needed a special tap? Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use the awesome pedals, I headed to the parts room to see if, by some major minor miracle, I could find a matched pair of mismatched pedals. Luck was on my side again, and you wouldn’t know they weren’t a pair by looking at them.

Keith had mentioned some concerns about the coaster hub, so I started the overhauls with that. Old CCM coaster hubs are fairly different than any other coaster hubs I’ve worked on, so if any of the parts were worn, finding spares would be an issue. Though very grimy on the outside, I was pleasantly surprised to find pretty clean lube and all the parts in excellent condition when I opened it up. When I tell people that hubs can outlast bikes if they’re taken care of properly, this is exactly what I’m talking about. This 66 year old hub was in better condition than a lot of 2 year old hubs I’ve seen.

A large part of a project like this is cleaning. There’s a nice cog under all that caked on grime, waiting to be exposed with degreaser and some elbow grease.

The parts of the coaster hub before reassembly. If you look carefully, you’ll see that every part, even the nuts, are stamped “CCM.” I don’t know why, but it makes my heart skip a beat in joy.

Reassembled and shined up CCM coaster hub. Made in Canada, patented 1937.

My next priority was to repack the headset, which felt a little loose. No surprise that the stem was corroded in place inside the steerer tube, but after much grunting, swearing and malleting, I got it out. The wedge part actually had rustcicles growing from it! I disassembled the headset and set the fork aside to clean the cups when I heard the sound of running water. It turned out the steering column on the fork was full of water, which was now running across the bench and onto the floor. At least that explained the rustcicles.

Despite the watery surprise on the inside, the races, cups and chrome were in beautiful shape underneath the grime. Also, this is by far the best photo of anything I have ever taken inside BikeWorks.

The headset itself was in fine shape, and I didn’t have any other issues repacking it. While I had the front wheel off, I repacked the bearings in it too, and like the back, it looked like it had been maintained regularly and would see many more decades of use.

The headbadge has seen better days, my guess is because of a basket. Notice how the paint is unevenly faded where parts of the badge have chipped away.

After all of that was reassembled, I could finally put on my grips. I wanted something special that would still be appropriate to the bike while fitting within my next to nothing budget and vegan values. I decided to go with cork stained to match the saddle, as described in Lovely Bicycle and in the subsequent comments.

Two light coats of all in one Minwax stain/sealer on plain light beige cork. I then used a layer of double sided tape to keep the grips in place.

The last major thing to do was the bottom bracket. After finding all that water in the steerer tube, I was really worried about what awaited me in the bottom bracket, especially considering the bike had been sitting outside with an open seat tube for an indeterminate amount of time. Bugs, leaves, sand were some of the things I expected, but all I found was enamel that had chipped off of the inside of the bottom bracket shell. There was a very small amount of pitting starting on the races, but it should be OK with diligent maintenance to keep it from getting worse.

The last step was take it for a late night test ride!

The wolf was also excited about this old school bike and wanted to take it for a test ride too.

All these repairs took several nights, and I had been riding the bike back & forth to the shop without grips & overhauls, but that first guilt-free ride when you know you’re not pushing your luck by getting on an unfinished bike is something special. The bike is heavy and clunky, and I think I may need to look at the coaster brake again because it occasionally makes an unhappy noise, and the saddle squeaks like crazy, but  it’s still a joy to ride. Upright, lady like and attention getting, the bike turns heads and I’ve gotten many compliments on it from random strangers. Because the frame isn’t bent, it handles much better than Poplar, and the gear ratio feels just right. The tires are in fair condition, but I know I’ll have to be on the lookout for appropriate replacements. The wheels could also do with a truing, which I’ll do when I replace the tires.

I don’t care how late it is, I need to test ride this baby.

I fix enough bikes to know that some are more satisfying than others. This one was off the scale. I’m sure at least one of you wants to know if and what I’ll name this bike. For something that’s survived so well intact and potentially still has a long life ahead of it, it feels kind of presumptuous to give it a quirky moniker. But as I reread this post, an underlying theme of luck comes up, so I think I may use that as inspiration for a name.

The Femme Bike Mechanic

29 06 2012

Bike shop culture is changing (though not fast enough if you ask me)! No longer a boys club, women are stepping up and fixing bikes, and doing it our style.

How to spot a femme bike mechanic:

  • Purse is super heavy because it’s full of tools and tubes, you know, just in case.
  • Wardrobe is chosen on the basis of how well the clothes will hide bike grease. Skirts are chosen on the basis of how easy it would be to test ride an oversized diamond frame while wearing it.
  • When teaching people how to mount a tire, uses an analogy about pulling on tights or pantyhose if they get frustrated.

When this happens, it’s not a bother, not even a little.

  • Has a personal nail brush stashed at the shop.
  • When getting ready for a BikeWorks dance party, nail polish is chosen on the basis of how well it will camouflage the dirt under the nails.
  • Speaking of nail polish, possesses colours that were chosen to match bikes to touch up paint first, and go all matchy-matchy second.
  • Despite the above, still knows which hand cleaner’s the best.
  • Can recommend a saddle that’s actually comfortable for a woman.
  • At the salon, requests a haircut that will look good after being windblown on a bike – “My bicycle is my blow-dryer.”
  • Never scoffs at the idea of putting a chain guard, fenders, kickstand, etc. on any bike.
  • Bike shorts under skirt.
  • Gets a little irate every time someone walks into the bike shop and asks for advice from the dude she’s helping and ignores her.
  • Gets slightly more irate when greasy-handed, apron-clad, and the sole person in the shop, someone walks in and asks her where the mechanic is.
  • Knows every trick for increasing leverage but never strips a bolt.
  • Talks about spoke nipples, lube, and male and female parts without blinking.
  • Like gender pioneers in other male dominated fields, has to be twice as competent to get half the respect.

So, to all the dudely dudes out there turning wrenches, get ready, because the ladies are coming to shake up the bike shop backrooms!

My Pants Are Falling Down and Other Spring Stories.

10 04 2012

Ahhh spring… the season of rebirth, the season of returning warmth, the season of random intense snow storms. For the record, I think that the morning of the latest storm was the worst riding conditions of the winter, and I was very grateful that I still had the Globe set up for winter riding because walking or transit would have been way less fun.

You know it's coming down hard in E-Ville when you can't see the other end of the High Level bridge.

The snow came down so fast it just obliterated every distinctive feature on the ground, but it wasn’t too bad to ride through where it hadn’t been packed into treacherous mounds of ice.

In the winter, there are many commuters who ride this path every day. Even with the snow erasing all traces of where the pavement ends and where the gravelly puddles begin, the regular riders have memorized where the path zigzags.

The nice thing about spring snow is that it’s easy come, easy go, and it melts almost as fast as it comes down. And in no time at all, it’s clear for summer bikes and summer clothes (meaning a lot of the same clothes as I wore in the winter, but less of them at any one time). With my recent weight loss, though, I was not looking forward to having to put away the long johns, because it meant I would have to deal with this:

So, without extra insulating layers, even the skinniest of my skinny jeans are constantly falling down. Also, check the summer bike! Transend makes its first appearance of the season. (PS, nice to see Rast getting up again.)

Um, yeah, so if anybody has any good vegan weight gain strategies (I’m having trouble with this 4 meals a day thing), I’d love to hear them. Food’s cheaper than a new wardrobe, right?

Wardrobe malfunctions can’t ruin the feeling of the first spring rides though, when the loss of of the drag & friction of extra clothing layers & metal tire studs make riding seem effortless. Transend is a heavy bike though (in fact, the heaviest I own), and since it’s not clear enough for the road bike yet, I yearned for a bike that balanced swiftness and utility. In other words, it was time to revive Marjory.

For those of you that don’t know, I crashed my 1982 Canadian-made Raleigh Lenton, dubbed Marjory Stewart Baxter, last fall, and I was very sad. I’d been putting off fixing it all winter, mostly because of the logistics of getting a non-functioning, non-rolling bike to EBC.

While it is possible to bend a steel fork back into shape, I chose not to try because it was bent so badly in two different directions - backwards & splayed, and because a reasonable replacement was available.

I decided to take advantage of of a nice break in the weather to borrow a cargo trailer for some errands, and would haul Marjory into the shop on my last trip. If all went well, I would be done fixing her before it got too late, and be able to ride her home. What I wasn’t planning for was Transend falling onto a cinder block while I was unloading the trailer, breaking an integral plastic bit of the fender stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this had happened until I was on my way with another load, when the now dangling stay was sucked into the disk brake rotor in a series of thunderous whacks, followed by a massive outburst of profanity.

I was in a very dark alley, and I had to take off my front light to assess the situation. I did not like the prospect of pushing the crippled bike and trailer, actually, considering where I was and what time of night it was, it was out of the question. I’m a good scout though, so I had another option – I always carry some zip-ties in my purse.

Zip ties are the duct tape of bike repair. I can't count the number of times that a zip tie has been the difference between me walking or riding home.

After limping back to EBC with Marjory in tow, and already late, I switched into bike mechanic triage mode. Knowing how unlikely it would be to find the replacement part for Transend at the bike co-op, I decided starting with Marjory was the best bet for having a working bike the next day. The fender was mangled beyond repair, but the the rest of the switchover of the fork & headset went off without a hitch. The colour of the new fork is almost a perfect match, and though not quite as stylish, it’s not fucked, which is the most important part.

Marjory Stewart Baxter rides again! AKA obligatory crappy early morning hours photo. Also, the new fork is not bent, it's just at a weird angle. I freaked out a little after I initially saw this picture and double checked.

I rode her home triumphantly, and quickly walked back to the shop to turn my attention to Transend, the silver beast. As expected, I couldn’t find a replacement part, so I re-secured it with zip ties which kept the fender off the tire until I hit the first bump on the way home. At least I had one working bike.

Sometimes, when you’re fixing bikes, the most frustrating situations are simple repairs requiring a part you can’t find. After checking my neighbourhood bike shop without any success, I figured a trip to a shop that sells lots of Giants was in order and took the long slow ride to Western Cycle, where they not only had the part, but they insisted on installing it right there and not charging me for it! Thanks a bunch guys! For someone who’s used to being the one on their knees, getting dirty, fixing someone else’s bike, it was a treat to be able to keep my hands clean for a day.

Spiders & Bikes

21 10 2011

What is it about spiders and bicycles? Do bike frames also make good frames for webs? Is that why I’m constantly finding so many of my arachnid friends hanging off of two wheeled transport?

This spider was busy spinning a web from the brake housing... the grips... the shifter...

I’ve seen bikes with dozens of spiders hanging on. I’ve seen spider eggs hatch and hundreds of tiny spiders burst out of a random crevice in the bike. I’ve had to gently distract arachnophobic riders while I moved an 8 legged stowaway to safety.

I counted 5 spiders on this bike, as I tuned it up.

I don’t get why some people freak out so much about spiders – I think they’re pretty cool. But I’ve seen it happen enough times that I won’t mention it when I find spiders on someone else’s bike, lest they become so afraid of encountering a spider on their steed that they give up cycling altogether. I just quietly move the spiders outside and keep on working.

Spiders like all bikes - they don't discriminate.

It’s not just idle bikes they latch onto, either. I remember one time I was out riding on Highway 16 with a friend when I discovered a large spider hanging behind my handlebar, spinning in the wind like some miniature practitioner of some extreme sport. I don’t know where it came from, but I stopped and climbed down the ditch to deposit it in a safe place, much to the worry of my companion, who thought I’d blown a tire.

Spiderman, hitching a ride on Porta-Bike.

In the past week, I’ve noticed way more than usual, on maybe half the bikes I’ve worked on. It doesn’t really bother me, it just makes me curious. After all, it could be worse – yesterday I saw I bike who’s owner was complaining that a magpie had destroyed the saddle – and you know what? With what I saw and what she told me, I tend to agree!

Has anybody else noticed spiders’ fondness for bicycles?

Ironic epilogue: After publishing this post, I went out to get a snack, where a little kid in a Spiderman costume knocked over my bike.

Hauling Stuff

8 06 2011

I have been working what seems like a tonne of events all over the city with Edmonton Bicycle Commuters lately, doing free mechanical checks on bikes. Sometimes, this also involves getting all the tools, stands, signs, supplies and propaganda to the site on an EBC trailer.

Marjory is easily up to the task of hauling 50 pounds on a 5 foot trailer.

Now that it’s Bike Month, the frenetic pace of events has increased for everybody associated with the utilitarian cycling scene in E-town, scenes like the one above will be repeated almost daily.

Meanwhile, to thank Marjory for all her hard work, I’ve got her a special treat: a set of white wall Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. Pictures coming soon!

A Brief Public Service Announcement on Locking Your Bike

27 05 2011

Sometimes I’ll see a poorly locked bike, and I’ll want to leave a note for its rider about how to properly secure it, but I never do because I worry that said note will attract the attention of opportunistic thieves.

Today was a little different though, because the bike in question was an ECOS bike, one of the fleet of bikes I maintain for the the University’s bike library, and guess who recently organized all the spare keys? The bike was locked over the handlebars, with a brake cable being the only thing actually securing the lock to the bike. (I forgot to take a before picture. Sorry.)

So, thanks to a spare key, let me demonstrate how to properly lock your bike:

The U-lock goes through the frame, wheel and bike rack. If this bike had a quick release back wheel, it would also need to be secured with a cable or additional lock.

Locking your wheels as well as your frame may seem like overkill, but this is campus, next to an LRT station, and the entire area is littered with bike carcasses from riders who didn’t bother to lock the wheels they wanted to keep.

In retrospect, I should've included some introductory niceties.

So I wrote the cheeky note. It turns out it wasn’t necessary because the lady who rented the bike came for it as I was leaving. I introduced myself to her and explained what I had done and why. She seemed quite surprised by the whole encounter, and I’m worried I might have scared her, even though we were both smiling by the end. Hopefully I’ll see her again when she returns the bike and we can have a laugh about the whole episode.

Heart Shaped Lugs

13 02 2011

A couple of weeks ago, a woman named Effie came into BikeWorks dragging a lovely magenta 1980’s Miele road bike with bright yellow bar tape. Previously owned by her mother, the bike was in pieces, and (huge props to her) she had brought it on the bus so she could fix it up for her sister.

I rarely fawn over road bikes, but I thought it would be an appropriate time to share a few details of a classic Canadian steel frame.

I'm not the sort to get fixated on lugs, but how could anyone not adore this?

There's a lotta love in this frame.

We spent the afternoon tuning up the bike and making it rideable again, including adding a blue tire that was the only one in the shop that fit.

Miele means "honey." So sweet. Also, yellow floor at EBC plus point & shoot camera makes for color variation in pics. This one best represents the actual frame color.

I sure hope Effie’s sister uses this bike and appreciates all the work & love her sister put into it. Not only is it a looker, it’s a quality bike, the kind that can last a lifetime. It’s also the kind of bike that can inspire songwriters (check it at 0:20, and the biggest difference between his bike and this one is the bar tape).

Here’s hoping everyone feels some bike love this week!