SRAM


SRAM Corporation is a bicycle component manufacturer founded in 1987 in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The name is almost an acronym based on the founders names: Scott, Ray, and Sam. Starting with the invention of a twist-grip shifter for derailleur-equipped bikes, they went on to build more components, and then to acquire other bicycle component companies, including vid, RockShox, Truvativ, Quarq, Sachs, and Zipp.

SRAM is a major supporter of bicycle racing events.

Among their many products are multi-speed internally-geared hubs via their acquisition of Sachs. SRAM has announced in 2017 that they’ll be discontinuing their internally-geared hubs due to competition from conventional derailleur-equipped and electric bicycles.

Their first product was a twist-grip shifter.

SRAM has managed remarkable growth since 1988 by acquiring other bicycle component manufacturing companies including Avid, Fichtel & Sachs, QUARQ, RockShox, Sachs-Huret, Truvativ, and Zipp.

They have donated more than $10 million to improving bike paths and lanes throughout the world.

Shimano


Shimano is the world’s largest producer of bicycle components. Headquartered in Japan, with manufacturing facilities in several Asian countries, Shimano has nearly 13,000 employees. The company was founded in 1921 by Shozaburo Shimano. Shimano is also known for fishing reels. The company used to produce golf and snowboarding products until about ten years ago.

117 Advanced Bicycle Repair Tricks, Tips and Techniques

Copyright 2018-2021, Jeff Napier



Tools

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In this section you’ll discover tools you can buy, tools you can make, best practices, and unexpected way to use tools.

The drill press becomes especially versatile with a cross-slide vise like the one pictured below that you can get from MSC Direct for $60 at the time this book was written. Cross slide vises can be had for as little as $35.

With this, you have a shaper, vertical mill, even a lathe. To use this rig as a lathe, rotate the work piece in the drill press chuck, and press a cutting tool against it with the vise. To get tricky, you can mount the vise sideways, so you can cut along the axis of the workpiece. You may also need to get inventive to make adapters to hold your workpiece in the chuck.

When looking at purchasing a drill press, you want a tall work area so you’ll have room for large work pieces or a cross slide vise. You’ll want extremely variable speeds, especially slow ones. Finally, you’ll want a sturdy press, to eliminate chatter or flex that could reduce your precision.


An oxy-acetylene welding set is a good investment. The gas welding rig is generally less costly than shielded electric welding equipment, and much more versatile, especially since heating and brazing are often a big part of bicycle work.

You’ll want thin hoses and a small handset to do the precision work that bicycles require. Tank size can also be small, saving cost, since in the bicycle business, small quantities of oxygen and acetylene can last a long time.

You may find that the gas welding equipment is far more versatile than expected. Not only can you do actual welding and brazing, you can make your own tools, and you can heat and cut bicycle parts. Stuck bolts, pedals and cranks often respond well to heat. A bent Ashtabula crank can be impossible to remove. Cutting off the left side with a torch takes only a matter of seconds.

Gas welding can be dangerous in untrained or unthinking hands. The heat from the flame can set things on fire even two feet (60 cm) away, including humans. Dirty rags and puddles of lubricant, which are often found in bike shops, are easy to set on fire. Make sure only trained personnel use the welding equipment, and that you have adequate fire suppression equipment nearby.


You might also like to invest in a 4″ also known as 4-1/2″ disk grinder, and sometimes called an “angle grinder,” like the one pictured below. This one is from Harbor Freight, currently being sold for $15.

This is another one of those tools that you’ll use daily to do things like reprofile sprocket teeth, remove locks, and repair your tools.

You may believe that a power tool for $15 is going to be inadequate. I have used one of these very cheap tools for years, and it works fine. One could spend much more for the same thing with a name brand, and end up with a tool that’s not noticeably better.

This is also true of plug-in electric drills. Of course you’ll want one that can accommodate bits up to 3/8″ (10mm), and variable speed reversible. These can be had for under $30, and work just fine.

Cordless drills in the very inexpensive range tend to be low-powered, and have short battery lives, but for many bicycle repair operations, they’re completely useable. Furthermore, you’ll find that the time spent dealing with something that has to be plugged in is wasteful.

Don’t be afraid to stretch the use of your drill. You’ll find a wide variety of accessories makes life easy such as buffing wheels, mounted grinding points, and sideways cutting bits. You’ll even find an accessory for sharpening drill bits.

Perhaps one of the best places to spend more than the minimum amount for a tool is in a good set of drill bits. A set ranging from the smallest size you can imagine up to 1/2-inch (12 or 13 mm) will do nicely. Inexpensive bits not only don’t cut well right from the start, making it impossible to drill through anything but the mildest steel, but they dull quickly. Some even snap or chip at the slightest provocation.

When drilling, you’ll find that certain techniques help.

Except for small diameter holes, a slower drill speed than you might like will generally cut faster, and save the bit from overheating.

Press firmly and steadily. Place your body over the top of the drill when possible, so your eyesight is aligned and you can know you’re drilling straight.

If the bit isn’t cutting, don’t press harder. Sharpen it instead.

Drill a small hole first, then follow up with the full size you want.

If your small ‘pilot’ hole is off center, drill sideways to straighten it out right at the beginning. If you try to straighten it out once you’ve attained some depth, it will be much harder to guide it to where you want.

Speed up the drill when the bit is about to cut through, and press very lightly, so the bit doesn’t jam on the last bit of metal. Although it can be tough on a drill bit, you can reverse the drill for the last little bit before you break through. That will keep it from jamming.

Use a centerpunch to start your hole. This is a small, hardened, chisel-like tool that makes a conical depression. The drill bit won’t wander out of the depression. If you don’t have a centerpunch, a nail will do just as well except in hard steel.

When drilling steel, you might find a drop of cutting oil useful. This spreads the generated heat, protecting the bit from overheating, and lubricates the cutting action.

When drilling plastic, experiment with differing speeds, generally slow ones, to prevent the chips from melting and freezing, which can cause problems ranging from eccentric holes to frozen and even broken drill bits.


Whereas a bench grinder is also a good workshop tool, and serves different purposes, you’ll find the disk grinder more useful. The bench grinder is good for sharpening and modifying your tools, for quickly creating tool modifications, as well as making some bike parts fit that are otherwise too tight.

This bench grinder, from Harbor Freight is currently being sold for $50.

Through experience, I have discovered that an eight-inch bench grinder gets things done significantly more quickly than a six-inch version, generally having more power.

Some bench grinders come equipped with small holders for water or oil so pieces can be frequently quenched to avoid building up too much heat. Since any old can or jar will do, this is not a feature worth spending money for. On the other hand, you’ll want good quality guards and tool rests. Keep your toolrests as close to the stones as possible. You don’t want your workpiece to suddenly slip between the toolrest and the stone.

Mechanics over the years have often injured themselves by not holding small workpieces adequately while using a bench grinder. You may find the heat suddenly transfers to your fingers or thumb, resulting in a blister. Worse, the piece may fly out of your grasp, once around the wheel and its enclosing guard and then right toward your face at 100 miles per hour (160 kph). So, hold workpieces suitably, such as in Visegrips, and work slowly and carefully. This is even more the case when using brushes rather than grinding stones.

If you have ever dropped or chipped a grinding wheel, discard it immediately. If one of these flies apart in use, it can cause a major injury.

Old wire brushes mounted in your bench grinder may start throwing bristles after a while. These don’t generally cause injury unless you’re not wearing eye protection, but they will make you cuss.

Speaking of injury, many bicycle mechanics don’t realize how inconvenient a small chip flown into an eye, or a burned finger can be until they experience it for themselves. Take my word for it. Always use ear, eye and skin protection.

One of the smallest investments you can make is a circular spoke wrench. This little gem saves you the time of finding the right spoke wrench for the wheel you’re currently working on, although almost all bicycle spokes have 15 gauge or 14 gauge nipples. It has enough heft, and is of the right ergonomic shape that once you get used to it, you’ll find this becomes one of your favorite tools. You may want to grind notches in the edge to quickly identify the 15ga and 14ga slots by feel.

Are you one of those people who feel using a ‘crescent’ wrench, more properly called ‘adjustable’ wrench is ‘unprofessional?’ You may want to rethink that philosophy. Here’s why: You can leave your thumb on the thumbwheel most of the time you use the wrench, and every time you place the tool around a nut or bolt, you can with a simple flick, close the wrench for a perfect fit. Then, at the end of the stroke, you flip the wheel the other way, and the wrench opens, making it easy to quickly reposition. With just a little practice, this becomes second-nature and very rapid. Ultimately, you have an open-end wrench that fits better than specific-sized wrenches. Furthermore, it is always directly available. You don’t have to search for that 9mm wrench. Hmmm, now where did I put that?

The ideal size for bicycle repair is 6-inch or 15-cm. Your author made a loop on his belt, and carried an adjustable wrench in that loop for years, saving what turned out to be countless hours that would have otherwise been spent finding the ‘right’ wrench.


The adjustable wrench isn’t a complete replacement for wrenches. You’ll still want box-end wrenches for particularly tight, or hard-to-reach nuts and bolts. But that gets back to the problem of keeping track. During a busy workday, you’ll find your wrenches don’t always spend their time neatly organized on a pegboard. Often, you know that you want a 10mm wrench, but it is hard to see whether one you’re looking at on the bench is a 9 or 11 mm. The answer: Color coding!

Most people do this quickly and easily with colored electrical tape, like this kit you can buy from Ace Hardware for $4.

Your author labeled his wrenches and sockets from 8mm to 19 mm for years with the following four repeated colors, but of course, you can use any colors you want:

8mm red

9mm yellow

10mm blue

11mm green

12mm red

13mm yellow

14mm blue

15mm green

16mm red

17mm yellow

19mm green


Cone channellocks: First, I have to explain my poor terminology. “Channellocks” are a specific brand of tongue and groove pliers. However, many people today refer to any tongue and groove pliers as ‘channellocks.’ This is similar to the way that Crescent, who first made the style of adjustable wrench we call ‘crescent wrenches,’ became the common usage name of the tool.

Anyway, what I’m talking about is taking any medium size quality tongue and groove plier and applying it to your bench grinder until the jaws are as thin as cone wrenches. You’ll find this is a quick and dirty tool for adjusting hub bearing cones. You’ll also find it useful for many other operations around the shop.


Another place to spend more than the minimum is with screwdrivers. You’ll want all the standard sizes and types, with the most common being a #2 Philips. This screwdriver may seem large for bicycle applications, but oddly, with the Philips design, the fit isn’t so much about size as the shape. Cheap screwdrivers don’t hold up well. As the tips become worn or misshapen, they’ll slip, and even sometimes ruin bolt and screw heads. Better quality screwdrivers also have better quality handles that won’t hurt your hands as you try to work with a frozen screw.

Just in case the need ever arises, you may want to purchase the largest variety of 1/4-inch hexagonal screwdriver tips you can find. For various bicycle applications, as well as other things that may happen in your shop, such as upgrading your computer, you may want a full range of Torx, Allen, and other configurations.

The hacksaw finds frequent use in a bike shop. Getting a good frame is essential, since the cheap ones allow the blades to slip and wiggle, which makes clean sawing difficult.

Even more important than the frame is blades. The cheap ones shatter or lose teeth, or simply can’t cut well. Not only is a shattered blade annoying, it can be downright dangerous. Make sure to get 12-inch blades. You’ll find that lends to a natural cutting rhythm that the 10-inch blades are too short for. Press lightly down on the forward stroke only, and use as much of the blade as you can. The inexperienced sawyer takes short rapid strokes, becoming tired quickly, and wearing out the blade too soon.


By the way, you may be like most people in that you don’t know the difference between a screw and a bolt. “Wait,” you say, “Of course I do. A screw is turned with a screwdriver and a bolt is turned with a wrench. Right?”

Sorry, wrong! A screw cuts its own threads in the thing to which it attaches. Screws are generally used with wood, plastics and sheetmetal. Bolts, on the other hand, have matching threads in the item to which they attach, such as a nut or a pre-threaded hole in a metal component.


There’s not much more satisfying than taking powerful, effective strokes with a 14-inch flat file, sometimes also known as a rasp. You’ll find yourself using this tool frequently in the bicycle business, especially if you do custom work. Trying to do the same thing with a little 10-inch or 12-inch file would be frustrating.

You may also enjoy a large rat-tail file for removing metal in non-flat situations. Finally, a few smaller files will find occasional use.


Having a large vise fastened to a sturdy workbench that is bolted to the floor is a great asset in a bike shop. Ideally, the table will be lower than a typical workbench, to accommodate the height of the vise itself.

Your author rigged up a vise with a longer handle, a thumb set screw that would allow the handle to be locked in the middle, and large steel balls at either end. The center lock, and the weight of the balls allowed for spinning the handle, to quickly close or open the vise.


An air compressor is also valuable. It is not essential to a bike shop, and may be one of the later things you’d invest in. First, you want customers, then you want inventory. Only then should you focus on tools you can do without. However, when the time comes, your author recommends a compressor capable of at least 150 PSI (pounds per square inch). That’s the maximum pressure the compressor will reach. Because the compressor cycles between a lower pressure and the max pressure, you’ll want a maximum pressure in excess of any tires you’ll be filling, so that when the compressor is at the low end of its cycle, there’ll still be the pressure you need. Volume is less important. That’s how many cubic feet per second (CFPS) that your compressor can deliver. That’s because most bike shop operations do not use great amounts of pressure. That’s more for painting, sandblasting and filling motor vehicle tires. However, if you do painting, a bigger compressor will be needed.

Unless you can hide your compressor in a basement, another room, or outside the building, you’ll want to make sure it is a fairly quiet one.


Many bike mechanics use workstands, also known an ‘repair stands.’ The most common ones are made by Park Tool Company. The quality and cost vary considerably. You’ll want one that’s sturdy enough and with a big enough base that it won’t wobble or fall over. You may want to bolt it to the floor.

An interesting alternative is ropes, chains or cables hung from the ceiling. At the lower end of the ropes are padded hooks. The ropes should be attached to the ceiling about eight feet apart.

You normally hang a bike by putting one hook around the handlebar stem, and the other under the seat. Ideally your ropes will be easily adjustable, so you can vary the height of the bike to suit your preferences.

The disadvantage with ropes is that the bike is not solidly held. It can swing back and forth. This is easy to get used to, and soon the problem is entirely forgotten. The advantages, besides much lower cost, are that you can access the bike from both sides, and are very unlikely to damage the bike.

Workstand clamps can easily damage paint. Some can even squish frame tubes.

If you do use a workstand, the best bet is to mark, then raise the seat pillar so the bike can be held by that, rather than a fragile, painted frame tube. Don’t forget to lower the seat back down to your mark when finished, or you’ll get some surprising comments from your customers!

Your author had five workstands in his first bike shop that were practically deadly. Manufactured by park many years age, these things had pneumatic jaws. When the mechanic stepped on a pedal, the jaws would close around a seat pillar. These things were very convenient, since you didn’t have to adjust the jaws with one hand while holding the bike with the other. But they had two problems.

If a tool as small as an 8mm wrench dropped onto the pedal on the floor, the bike could be released. Your author once did just that and discovering that the bike was falling, he quickly reached out to catch the bike, grabbing it, unfortunately, by the chainring, which punctured his hand in a neat row of holes spaced a half-inch apart.

The other problem is that if a mechanic were to get a hand pinched in the jaws, which would be easy to do, it could be crushed. Fortunately, that never happened. It is easy to understand why Park discontinued these workstands.


Dremel Tool: This is also known as a 1/8″ grinder, or sometimes “die grinder.” You probably won’t use it often, and when you do, you may find the tool cuts too slowly. On the other hand, a 1/4-inch die grinder can be quite useful. These are available as air-powered or electric tools. The air-driven ones are much less energy efficient, but light in the hand and therefore easy to control. The electric ones have a heavy rotating armature that creates so much gyroscopic force that precision control is difficult. 1/4-inch die grinders usually have a chuck accessory so they can be used with 1/8″ Dremel and other accessories. Mounted stones, burrs, brushes and burnishers of all descriptions can be had to accomplish anything from polishing to engraving.

One use to which die grinders have been put is to remove the chrome plating from screws that have a layer of brass underneath, making decorative gold bolt heads. An old classic centerpull brake by Mafac called the “Racer” had such bolts. The bike mechanic with time on his or her hands might engrave the handles of a pocket knife or other items with bicycle logos.


Cleaning parts is a big part of bicycle repair. At its simplest, you can get some non-toxic, non-flammible parts washing fluid, pour it into a shallow pan, then go to work with a brush.

On the other extreme, you can rent a big parts cleaning system from a company such as Safety-Kleen. Their system involves a metal sink that sits on top of a barrel of environmentally-friendly solvent. It has a pump that pours a never-ending stream solvent through a flexible pipe. Periodically, a Safety-Kleen representative changes the barrel of solvent, so your system is always reasonably clean. They have a small machine that barely fits a full-size bicycle wheel. They also have a larger machine in which you can place most of a bicycle. So, for a quick and dirty washing, you can just set the whole bike on the sink, then wash the chain, rear derailleur and sprockets in one messy but efficient operation. The rent for the larger machine is only slightly higher, well worth the difference. Because the sink is larger, it is easy to keep yourself cleaner in the process.

You don’t need to rent from Safety-Kleen. You can get your own sink and solvent. This is a mistake! Cleaning the machine and maintaining the solvent turns out to be time-consuming and undesirable work.

While the machine itself is nice, the process is greatly enhanced with a simple hollow brush at the end of a hose that you can get from Machine Mart, like the one pictured below.

In the past, most mechanics didn’t wear gloves. They spent considerable time trying to get their hands clean at the end of the day, often ending up still dirty, and with chapped skin. Now, most mechanics wear gloves.

You can get by with the very thin gloves such as you can buy at a drugstore. But, you’ll be much happier with gloves that are 9 mil thick that you can get from hardware and tool supply stores. These thicker gloves seldom tear, and can be reused many times.

Your author removes them quickly by turning them inside out. Then, he partially inverts them, places his mouth over the opening, blowing air in, to restore the gloves to their original shape, ready to wear again.

Techniques

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Brazing

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For many years, all the top bikes were made from steel alloys and brazed. Brazing is a process that you might think of as hot gluing, very hot. But not so hot that it crystalizes the steel, and so can be stronger than actual welding.

Even today, a thin springy steel frame is considered by many as superior to aluminum alloy or various composite fiber frames because it returns almost all the energy you put into flexing the frame. Compared to steel, aluminum creates heat and returns less energy when flexed. So, if you want to build or work on steel bikes, brazing is usually the way to go.

The biggest trick in brazing is to keep the temperature of the steel low enough to maintain its strength. Steel melts around 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, but brass, the alloy most often used in brazing, melts at 1,600 degrees.

Another option, used in the finest lugged frames, is silver brazing, also known sometimes as ‘silver soldering.’ This melts at 1,200 degrees, so is less likely to overheat the steel, but doesn’t have as much strength.

The brazing technique most commonly used in bicycle shops to augment, repair or create steel alloy frames involves an ordinary oxy-acetylene welding set. A slightly larger tip than would be used for welding is used, with a neutral or very mildly oxygenizing flame. Some people use a rosebud tip, which has several smaller flames, to spread the heat.

The frame intersection is brought up to the temperature at which brass will melt, then a stick of brass, called a “rod,” is introduced at an edge. As the stick melts, capillary action sucks it into the gap between the lug and the frame tubing.

Because the brass will not flow over, and will not stick to an oxidized surface, the parts are cleaned just before brazing, and flux is used. Flux is a material that smokes at brazing temperatures. The smoke is harmless to the brazing but keeps the oxygen from the atmosphere away. Flux can be applied in paste form to the pieces to be brazed, as well as a coating on the brazing rods.

Brazing is at its best when flowed between two surfaces. A sandwich of steel, brass, steel is remarkably strong. The ideal gap between the two pieces is 0.020 inch (1/2 millimeter).

Second best is fillet brazing. This is more of a welding process, but done at a temperature below which the steel would melt. You control and build a molten puddle where two steel parts are to be joined. Once cooled, you have a large area of contact built around intersections. With grinders or rat tail files, this can be smoothed to look very appealing, like a vintage Schwinn bicycle.

You can build a very nice and strong lugless frame by starting with pieces that fit well together. The tubes should be mitered nearly perfectly. These can then be flow brazed, so that wherever they are tangent is fastened. That, by itself, would not be sufficient to hold a bike together, so you then build fillet brazing over the flowed brazing for much more area of contact.

Going lugless is the ideal solution for when lugs are not available, such as a bike with unusual components or angles.

This process works well for much more than bicycle frames. It can be used for bicycle trailers, circus bikes, human-powered machines, unicycles, and even bike repair tools.

In making your own tools, ordinary welding is often sufficient. But there are times when brazing is superior, such as when joining hardened metals. If you weld a socket, bit of hex wrench, or knife blade to a handle, welding could kill it. However, when brazed, the steel will not lose its strength.

You’ll find a trick when lighting your torch, and another when shutting it off avoids a big mess. If you light a pure acetylene flame, big fluffy flakes of carbon are formed that float around. When they land, they are hard to clean up.

So, don’t do what so many welders do, which is to open the acetylene valve and light the torch, then add oxygen. Add some oxygen right from the start. Start with what’s called a ‘carburizing’ flame, one that’s mostly acetylene, but the bit of oxygen will eliminate the carbon output.

When shutting your torch off, the same is true. Don’t close the oxygen valve first. Instead, reduce the oxygen, then shut off the acetylene. With practice, you can learn to make a remarkably loud pop when turning off your torch. The pop has a function. It keeps your torch tip clean.

Do not close your torch valves more firmly than necessary. If you do, you can grind ridges in the valves, which makes it hard to adjust the flame.

Mitering

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If you are working with cylindrical tubing, as is often the case in bicycle technology, quality mitering becomes important. If you have a lathe, you can get cutters of the same diameter as the the tubes you want to fit a miter to. Set a tube you want to miter on the tool post, and use the compound rest to set the proper angle. Then just push the tube against the rotating cutter.

You may not have the money to buy large diameter milling-type cutters, let alone a lathe.

An in-between approach is to mount a proper diameter cutter in a drill press, and mount the tube you want to cut on the press’s table.

Better yet, you might enjoy manual mitering. You can take some six-inch sections of soft wood, and cut groves into them, so that you can sandwich them around a tube, and gently squeeze the whole works in a vise.

Then, using the largest rat-tail file you can find, you’ll find you can quickly learn to miter tubes quite accurately. Don’t be afraid to check your work often to make sure you don’t cut too much material.

Frame Alignment

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A bent frame can cause steering, stability, and chain alignment problems. You can perform the following frame alignment checks:

1. Stand so you can see the head tube and seat tube at the same time. They should be exactly parallel.

2. Tie a string from one dropout around the head tube, and down to the other dropout as pictured. The measurement from the string to the seat tube should be the same on both sides. Most frames can be cold set, which means ‘bent,’ so that the dropouts are properly aligned. Bend one side in or out, then the other. Suddenly, a bike that was difficult to ride without hands becomes easy.

In the photos, this is shown on a frame with no components. The test can be done equally well on a fully-equipped bike.

3. You can lay a straight edge against the sides of the bottom bracket, and measure the distances to the seat tube and down tube. An alignment problem here is not easy to repair and can cause driveline miseries. Fortunately, this type of alignment problem is rare.

A quicker version of the test can be done with the crank arms themselves, by measuring their distances to the tubes near the center and again at the outer ends.

Bent Back Headtube

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If you have a bicycle that’s been in a collision that bent the headtube back, the best bet is to replace the frame. However, some people experiment with bending the headtube back. This can be done by placing a long steel bar in the head tube and applying pressure without heating the frame, called ‘cold setting.’ To avoid distorting the headtube where pressure is applied by the bar, leave the headset cups in the headtube. If it is a type that doesn’t use conventional headset cups, and if the diameter is correct, you can insert temporary headset cups, or create some tight-fitting flanges on a lathe for the purpose.

You may wonder where to get a bar sufficient for this procedure. One common bar is used in conventional freeweight lifting. Another candidate is an axle from a rear-wheel drive car.

The concern with repairing a bike that has a bent-back headtube is that the frame will fracture, generally right at the intersections. Sometimes the fracture is small and you won’t see it. Then, after a hundred or a thousand miles, the frame may fail, possibly injuring the rider.

A brass sleeve can be built around the areas that are weakened. This is done by building up brazing material, keeping the temperature low enough to avoid significant weakening of the steel, but hight enough to get good adhesion. Then, using die grinders or rat tail files, you can optionally file it down, ending up with a smooth look, as you’ll see in the old Schwinn bicycles.

Dropout Alignment

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When dropouts are out of alignment, the wheel bearings suffer. Dropout alignment can also affect steering, riding efficiency and cause driveline problems. Fortunately, dropouts are easily checked and repaired. In the pictures below, you’ll see dropout alignment gauges being used. This tool is not necessary. The test can be done equally well with nuts, bolts and flat washers.

Fork Alignment

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A slightly bent fork can make a bike nearly impossible to ride without hands. It will also cause undue waste of energy as the rider works to maintain stability.
You can check a fork for alignment with the following tests:

1. Lay the fork on a flat table with the dropout touching the surface. Lay a straight edge across the back of the fork crown. The straight edge should be parallel to the table.

2. Draw a straight line on a surface. Lay the fork on the surface so that the steering tube is perfectly aligned on the line. The distance from the line to each dropout should be the same.

3. Lay a straight edge against the steering tube. You should not see a gap. Look especially at the front side, where a bend is most likely to be seen.

Bent Wheel

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Many bike mechanics try to align a bent wheel entirely by tensioning some spokes and loosening others. This is useful only for slight bends. Anything more, and the tight spokes are sure to pop before long. Furthermore, a wheel that’s pulling hard against a warped rim is weaker.

You can repair a remarkably bent wheel if you follow these steps:

1. Loosen all the spokes a few turns. Go around the wheel a few times, loosening each spoke only a turn at a time. Start at the valve hole, so you know where to finish.

2. Once all the spokes are loose, find the most bent area, and do your best to assess where the bend starts and ends along the perimeter of the wheel. Put soft blocks under the rim where the bend starts and ends, then step on the bent area, pressing it back into shape. You’ll have to press it beyond the correct amount, since it is likely to mostly spring back. Once the wheel is nearly true, tighten and adjust the spokes.

Keep in mind that most aluminum alloy rims are prone to work hardening. This means that when the metal is bent, it crystalizes, and after being bent severely or a few times, it is likely to fracture, a very dangerous situation in the case of bike wheels.

This is a good technique to know when out on the road, where a bent wheel could otherwise end a ride.

Flat Spot

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Flat spots are common and annoying, but often repairable. So, don’t throw that flat wheel away!

Keep in mind that most aluminum alloy rims are prone to work hardening. This means that when the metal is bent, it crystalizes, and after being bent severely or a few times, it is likely to fracture, a very dangerous situation in the case of bike wheels.

A mild flat spot can be fixed by loosening the spokes in the area of the flat spot, and tightening all the others.

More severe cases require more severe treatment.

1. Disconnect all the spokes in the area of the flat spot.

2. While holding the wheel in one hand, bang on it hard with a soft mallet held in the other hand, until the flat area now protrudes outward a millimeter or two too much.

3. Reconnect the spokes, and true the wheel in the normal way.

Kinked Rims

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When a bicyclist hits a curb or a pothole with under-inflated tires, or without balancing on the pedals, but instead sitting with full weight on the seat, a rim can become kinked. The repair is so simple you’d think there must be more to it. All you do is hit the kink with a hammer to bend it back into position.

There are a couple of caveats.

Most modern rims are made from an alloy of aluminum. Too much bending of this material can cause a fracture, which in the case of a bicycle wheel can result in a serious letdown.

You can also use large pliers to squeeze the kink back into shape. If you do this, make sure to pay attention to the other side of the rim, so you don’t squeeze it also, resulting in a pressed in area, the opposite of a kink. One way is to offset the pliers so that the pliers press against the bottom bend of the non-kinked side. Another is to place a cloth covered piece of wood under the jaw of the pliers. This is good too, to prevent leaving plier jaw marks on the rim.

Spokes

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Overlong spokes that stick through the top of the spoke nipples will cause punctures. Var and other companies make tools to slice off the top of spokes. These usually don’t work as well as you’d like. A better approach is to use your 4-inch disk grinder on these spoke protrusions. Another approach is to knock them off with a small chisel and hammer.

Hozan, Var and others make spoke threaders. These tools will turn a long straight-gauge spoke into the length you need. The threads are pressed out from the spoke, much like extruding a shape with modeling clay. The tool is too slow and inaccurate to make a full set of spokes, but is good to manufacture one spoke in a pinch.


Two roadside repairs for spokes are worth mentioning:

1. If you need to replace a broken spoke, but don’t have one of the right length, you can use a longer one by bending an l-shape in it, like pictured below. This will work as well as a spoke with a proper head.

2. You can hook a spoke into a nearby crossing to help support a rim.

You may find that spokes start breaking on the right, freewheel, side of a rear wheel. This indicates fatigued spokes. Those that have not broken will soon, so all spokes in that wheel should be replaced.


A quick way to diagnose wheel problems is a pinch spoke check. Turn the wheel around and with one hand on each side, squeeze each outermost spoke crossing. The spokes should all be about equally flexible. This will quickly identify loose and broken spokes. The experienced technician can also feel overly-tight spokes.

More than once, your author has seen beginning bike mechanics make a big production out of truing a wheel. The mechanic will remove the wheel from the bike, remove the tire and tube, then place it in a truing stand. This is not necessary for minor adjustments, as long as you trust that the rim strip is in good order. Simply leave the wheel on the bike, and use the brake pads, or a cable tie temporarily applied to a fork blade or seat stay as an indicator showing where the wheel needs to be trued.


Using tire levers, you run the risk of puncturing the inner tube. In most cases, there is no need to use tire levers. Instead, after removing all the air from the wheel, step on the wheel with both feet as shown in the picture. The valve can be anywhere but at the top of the wheel. Lift up on the tire and tube at the top, then press sideways over the edge of the rim. With mountain bike tires, this is very quick and easy. With some of the thinner wheels, this process is more difficult. With practice it is amazingly easy.

Installation without tire levers is even easier. Put just enough air in the inner tube for it to take its donut-like shape. Feel around the inside of the tire in case a puncturing object is still stuck in the rubber. Do this carefully, so you don’t puncture your fingers if you find something.

Lay the tube into the tire, then insert the valve stem partially into the valve hole in the rim. Slip the far side of the tire entirely onto the rim with your thumbs or fingers, starting at the valve, and working with both hands to the opposite side. The tire should slip over the edge of the rim more easily than you’d expect.

Repeat the process for the close side of the tire. Make sure you haven’t put too much air in the tube.

Push the valve down into the tire momentarily to make sure a fold of inner tube isn’t caught under an edge of the tire. Then pull the valve out of the hole to its full extension.

Put only a small amount of air in the tire, then inspect the tire all the way around, on both sides, to make sure it is all seated properly. Bring the tire up to its full rated pressure, as shown in vulcanized print on the side of the tire.


While there are new glueless patch kits on the market, most don’t work as traditional cold contact cement patch kits. Even fifty years after they have existed, many people don’t know how to use these properly. They try to light the glue on fire. It doesn’t work that way. Others will apply the patch before the glue is dry. That makes sense, since that’s the way most glues work. But not patch glue. It is a contact cement. It sticks best when fully dry.

So, find the puncture. Remove the oxidized outer layer of rubber with sand paper, not the metal scraper included with many patch kits. That thing can cause more holes. Apply glue over an area larger than the patch will cover. Let it dry fully. Then remove the backing from the patch, being careful not to touch the surface, which would contaminate it. Apply the patch over the hole, and press it on firmly. Voila, you’re done!


You don’t see many sew-up tires, also known as ‘tubulars’ these days. They are still incredibly light and efficient. These tires don’t clinch onto the rims. Instead, they are glued on. The inner tube is sewn entirely inside.

Some sew-ups can be incredibly tight when new, being almost impossible to stretch onto a rim. You can step on these, then pull up to stretch them several times before installation.

Sew-ups can be patched much like ordinary inner tubes. First you must identify the location of the hole. Inflate the tire, and set it in a bucket of water if you don’t hear where the air is coming out.

Peel away a portion of the tape on the inner side of the tire covering the course threading that binds the edges together around the inner tube. Cut these coarse threads with a small pair of scissors. Cut only enough to access the puncture. Apply a patch as described above, then using thick canvas thread, re-sew the tire around the tube. With practice, you’ll know how tight to make the stitching. Too loose, and the tube could bulge between the threads and wear a new puncture. Too tight, and the tire will be narrower in that area. You’ll find an ordinary needle, even a large one, is hard to push through the original holes in the tire casing. You’ll find that a triangular needle works better. Rather than pushing the needle through with your fingers, or even with a thimble, grasp the needle with pliers.

Derailleurs

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For best results, adjust derailleurs in this sequence:

1. Shift the chain onto the largest front sprocket.

2. Shift the rear derailleur to the smallest sprocket. Check the cable tension. If it is loose enough that you can flex the cable back and forth in the open stretch along the down tube more than 1/2-inch, loosen the anchor bolt, pull the slack out of the cable, then retighten the anchor bolt.

2. Turn in the limit screw on the rear derailleur until it can no longer shift onto the largest sprocket. Back off the screw, to just where shifting into the large sprocket is quick and easy.

3. Adjust the high gear limit screw so that the derailleur no longer shifts onto the smallest sprocket. Then back off until it shifts into high gear easily.

4. Repeat the process for the front derailleur. Keep in mind that the outer edge of the front derailleur should be a few millimeters above the largest chainring, and that the front derailleur cage should be parallel with the chainrings.

5. Adjust the index shifting with an adjusting barrel at the shifter or the derailleur until the shifting is as clean and correct as you can manage.

6 Test ride the bike to be sure your settings are correct under the pressure of actual riding.

If shifting isn’t clean, you might first check that the cables are working freely. If shifting is still not good, it may be because the chain or sprockets are worn. Other possible causes are a bent dropout, bent derailleur or loose pivots. If any of these are the case, then all the adjusting in the world won’t help. Furthermore, if you actually get a worn or damaged system to shift properly, it will probably fail in short order. So, parts replacement is usually required to get things working right again.

However, there are some things you can do. You can bend the tips of the front derailleur cage inward to more closely focus the position of the chain. You can bend the middle portion of the cage outward to prevent rubbing.

If a chain wants to fall off a chainring or the largest rear derailleur sprocket, you can spin the sprocket against your disk grinder, or a large flat file held at an angle, reshaping the teeth to an angle that’s more likely to hold the chain. This takes practice, and is not recommended unless you have replacement sprockets handy.

If the chain falls between chainrings, they are bent, the spacing is too wide, or one is install backward. Bent chainrings can be bent back with judicious hits with a hard mallet. Be careful not to hit the teeth.

Chains

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If a chain skips, the diagnosis is surprisingly easy:

If it happens once per revolution of the chain, you have a stiff or damaged link.

If it happens once per revolution of the chainwheel, you have a problem there. This is rare.

If it happens once per revolution of the rear wheel, you have foreign matter stuck between the sprockets, or a defective sprocket tooth.

Most chain skipping is random. This is usually caused by a worn chain and smallest rear sprockets. They wear together. As the chain lengthens, great pressure is applied to the sprocket teeth, since the chain no longer contacts them all concurrently. Now, all the load is applied to one tooth at a time, and so the sprocket will wear to match the chain. However, the chain will continue to lengthen as the pins and bushings in the links wear.

You can measure a chain for wear. The links have to be exactly 1/2-inch apart. It is hard to see this wear in one link, but twenty four links should be exactly one foot long. Anything visibly beyond that, and the chain is worn out.

On some modern bikes, the sprockets are made of such durable steel that wear is slight, so only the chain needs to be replaced. On many bikes, when you replace a chain for wear, you have to replace the freewheel, or at least its smallest sprockets as well, or the problem only gets worse.

The good news is that the chain wear problem progresses slowly, and is only noticeable when pulling hard against the smallest rear sprockets.

Chains should be periodically checked for damage. They usually break only when under the greatest load, such as pulling hard up a hill. This can be a serious let down for a rider who is not expecting a sudden loss of resistance.

Ideally, you can clean a chain, then visually inspect both sides of every link. This is not easy, so a quicker inspection may suffice. Looking at the top of the chain as you turn the crank backward, watch the chain go by. You should not see any link pins sticking out one side or the other farther than the others. If you do see such a link, consider replacing the whole chain. It is likely that whatever caused the slipping pin will happen to other links as well.

Cranks

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The three most common types of cranks are cotterless, Ashtabula, also known as ‘American,’ and cottered.

You seldom see cottered cranks any more unless you work on antique bikes.


Photo by Flyingdutchman63 [CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These used round pegs, called ‘cotters’ with flat sides that wedged against a flat in the spindle (axle) surface. With time, the crank cotters, which are made from a soft steel could become corroded or distorted. The first effort at removing a cotter should try to preserve it.

1. Loosen the nut, then tap the cotter sharply with a small hammer. Ideally, it will pop loose. You can remove the nut, and the cotter will fall out.

2. If that doesn’t work, try tapping directly, but gently, on the threaded end, knowing the threads and therefore the cotter will be destroyed. If it is important to preserve the cotter, you might try penetrating oil, and wait a day or a week.

3. Failing that, use an air impact hammer, described in the next section about seat pillars, or drill a small hole entirely through the cotter. Then follow that with a larger hole, so that a small impact will cause the cotter to collapse inward, and become free. It is important to make sure your hole is drilled through the center of the cotter. If it goes sideways, you could damage the crank or the spindle.

Ashtabula cranks are one piece in the shape of a dog leg. They are made from steel, and so are rather heavy, but inexpensive and common on American-made bikes. Normally, they are removed by disassembling the bearings from the left side. The bearing cone and locknut are left-threaded.

However, these cranks are easily bent when the bike falls over. It is possible that a crank will become so bent that when the bearings are disassembled, the crank will not come out of the bottom bracket shell.

If you believe a crank is too bent, you can remove the pedal, put a long, strong pipe on the crank, and bend it back outward. Since the metal is fracture prone, consider the crank a lost cause, and replace it with a new one.

Another approach is to simply cut the crank off just outside the bearings, with a cutting torch. If heated quickly, and cut smoothly, no damage will occur to the bearings or the bike’s paint.

The most common type is a ‘cotterless’ crank. These, like the cottered cranks, consist of three pieces, two cranks on a central spindle. (Note that automotive terminology has reversed the usage of ‘axle’ and ‘spindle,’ as used in bicycle nomenclature.)

To remove cotterless cranks, you use a ‘cotterless crank remover,’ also known as a ‘crank puller,’ or ‘crank extractor,’ such as this one by Park Tool Company that you can buy from Walmart.

This tool has a hollow outer threaded nut that engages fine threads in the center of a crank. The threads seem to be there merely to hold a dust cap, but their main purpose is to support the cotterless crank remover. Remove the nut or bolt found under a dustcap that locks the crank to the axle. Once engaged, this outer threaded nut has an inner screw that presses against the spindle. When the inner screw is turned, it presses the crank off the spindle. Ideally. When using a crank remover, make sure the outer nut is fully engaged in the threads so they won’t be stripped.

Sometimes, the threads are too damaged to accept the crank remover. Sometimes, despite your best effort, the crank remover cannot do the job.

If the threads haven’t already been damaged, heat the crank quickly with a large torch flame, being careful not to affect the paint on the bike, then try the tool again. The crank may almost fall off, since heat expands the crank including the tapered opening in the crank where it meets the spindle.

How much heat is right? You want enough to cause the crank to expand, but not so much as to melt the aluminum alloy. Put a dab of grease or oil on the crank periodically as you are heating it. When the lubricant smokes, you are at the right temperature.

A special tool can be purchased that looks like a tapered fork. This tool is applied between the bottom bracket assembly and the crank. It is hit with a hammer and may force the crank off the spindle. When used at room temperature, it often doesn’t work, is awkward to use, and can cause damage to the bearings.

The thing to do is to heat the crank rapidly with a torch, then apply the tool. If you don’t have the special fork tool, you can simply tap on the outside of the crank with a mallet or hammer.

Pedals

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The left pedal is left-threaded, meaning you turn it clockwise as you are facing the bike to remove it.

At first, you might think that pedal threads are traditionally wrong. If a pedal becomes loose, it will naturally unscrew while riding. That’s dangerous. However, if it were the other way, especially if you had foot restraining devices such as toe clips, and the pedal’s bearings were to jam, the pedal wouldn’t unscrew. Instead, your foot would be subjected to tremendous force and you could be injured.

Normally, pedals are tight in the cranks, but a good solid application with a wrench will break them free. If that’s not sufficient, you might tap on the end of the wrench with a hammer. Failing that, a day or longer soaking with penetrating oil if you have it, or a thin oil such as WD-40, may free up the corrosion.

If not, you can heat the end of the crank to expand it, including the threaded hole, then the pedal should unscrew easily. In the case of aluminum cranks, overheating and melting the metal is possible. So, use a torch with a large flame to heat it rapidly, but test by putting a drop of oil on the crank periodically. When the oil smokes, you have reached the maximum safe temperature.

More than once a bicyclist has stripped the pedal threads by letting a pedal come loose, or by trying to put a left pedal on the right side or vice versa. There is a repair kit for this called the Eldi Pedal Tap/Bushing Set, available from Universal Cycles.

This kit contains thin steel sleeves threaded on the inside and outside. It also has some taps, drillbit-like-things, that expand the hole, clearing out the damaged threads, and then rethread the hole to a larger diameter. You then thread a pedal into a bushing, then thread that into the crank, and you have a repair that’s stronger than new. Unless you have a good slow-turning and easy to manage power tool, the best bet is to turn the taps manually. It will be slow going until the threaded portion engages the crank.

These threaded sleeves are sometimes incorrectly called ‘helicoils’ named after the manufacturer of similar threaded sleeves for machine and automotive use.

Accessories

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Aluminum kickstands are usually secured with a steel bolt. Due to its low location and large size, it is prone to water and contamination. By applying grease to this bolt upon installation, you’ll avoid the stuck kickstand bolt problem that is very common in older bikes.

Most aluminum kickstands are universal. They are extra long, needing to be cut to the right length to fit each bike. You’ll find that the amount to remove is fairly consistent with most ordinary bikes.

You could be gentlemanly (or gentlewomanly) and saw it off nicely with a hacksaw. Or, you can clamp the kickstand in a vise, with just the portion you want to remove sticking up above the jaws. Give it a good whack with a hammer to break it off, and your kickstand is adjusted.

One of the best, although not necessarily elegant ways to secure lighting or cyclometer wires, or brake and derailleur cables is with ordinary cable ties. These can be had in a variety of sizes and colors such as these that you can buy from Del City.

You’ll be asked more than once to remove a lock with a forgotten combination or lost key. You might try the big bolt cutters, but cables often fray in their jaws, and some of the bar locks are just too tough. The answer is your handy 4-inch disk grinder. It will quickly remove locks, as well as other large and bulky accessories.

Handlebar grips can be frustrating to remove unless you use one of these two techniques:

1. Blow compressed air against the inside edge of the grip. The air gets between the grip and the handlebar, and the grip will slip off strangely easily. It might even blow off without being touched.

2. Using your cone channellocks or a pedal wrench, lay the tool against the inside edge of a grip, then bang on the tool with a mallet. Make sure to avoid leaving scrapes on the handlebar.

Many chrome-plated accessories, as well as any chrome components can be de-rusted with dry steel wool. Use a fairly coarse grade, and wear gloves. You’ll find that unless the rust is quite thick, it wipes away quite easily, and entirely.

Seat Post

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Removing a stuck seat pillar, more commonly known as ‘seatpost,’ can be frustrating if you don’t know these tricks:

1. Soak the accessible area with penetrating oil. Lacking that specific oil, using a thin oil, such as WD-40 will often work. Patience is also helpful. If you can wait as long as a week, the oil may work surprisingly well. You might think that the seat pillar is stuck all the way down, and the oil couldn’t possibly reach the worst area. Actually, the bulk of corrosion happens near the top, where the oil will penetrate.

2. Depending on the design at the top of the seat pillar, and assuming the reason it’s stuck isn’t because the seat pillar was too large in diameter for the seat tube, you might try tapping it down with a hammer first. A mild impact at the top won’t hurt most seat pillars, yet it may break the bonds of corrosion. Then, you can reinstall the saddle, and twist and pull the seat pillar out.

3. Use an air impact hammer. These things, also known as ‘muffler cutters,’ can be had for as little as $10 at Harbor Freight.

The tool is used most often for cutting through sheet metal, but many attachments are available. There is a moving weight inside the tool that rapidly hits an attachment. Some of the attachments are chisels. Others have blunt ends. You’d use a blunt-end tool against the top of the seat pillar to remove it. If the seat pillar is still resistant, or if there is no expanded top, you can use a chisel attachment to cut partially into the pillar, so you can then get a bite on it with a blunt tool. This will ruin the pillar, but save the bike. Your author has never seen a seat pillar in over 15,000 bikes that was so stuck an air impact hammer couldn’t remove it.

The air hammer is great for removing other stuck things as well. For instance, the cotters in old-fashioned cottered cranks were often so corroded, or sometimes physically distorted that the only way to remove them besides drilling, which took too long, was to blast them with an air hammer.

Drilling a Seat

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You have probably seen those solid plastic saddles that are the bare minimum bicycle seat. They are usually a bit too hard to be comfortable. Some of those seats can be drilled with large holes, typically 1/2-inch (13mm) in diameter in a pattern. The edges of the holes can then be chamfered (rounded) with a countersinking bit, Dremel tool, or otherwise. For best results, drill only the wide portion of the saddle. Too meany holes near the horn may cause the saddle to fracture. When you’re done, you have a nice-looking seat that weighs less than any other seat money can buy.

Bearings

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More and more, bicycles are using sealed bearings, self-contained units that are press fitted into hubs, bottom brackets, headsets, and even sometimes derailleur pulleys.

The older cone-and-cup style bearings should be manually overhauled periodically to clean out tired lubricant and inspect for damage. This is true even if they are ‘sealed’ since the seals on this type of bearing are less than ideal. The most frequent place you’ll find damage is on the bearing cones. They are case-hardened, so that the outer surface is very durable. However, the outer surface can break away, revealing softer metal underneath. Bearing components in this condition only get worse with time, eventually leaving the rider stranded.

Many components containing these bearings use thin metal cages than rotate with the balls in a group. The cage imparts very little friction, and is there only to make assembly easy. Other cone-and-cup bearing assemblies use loose steel balls. You’d find it frustrating to keep these balls in position while reassembling the device. Therefore, grease is used to hold the bearings in place during assembly. Many mechanics like white lithium grease not only because the lithium particles make a good lubricant, but because the grease is white, it is easy to see that the balls are properly positioned.

All the older style freewheels used what seemed like a thousand 1/8-inch steel balls as bearings. Most actually had 78 balls. These, like bearings elsewhere, should be cleaned and lubricated from time to time. To disassemble an old-style freewheel, bang gently on one of the holes on the top of the core with a small blunt punch and hammer. These holes will turn a plate that is left-threaded, so your goal is to turn it clockwise to remove.

Do this over a rag, as all the bearings will fall out. Clean, then reassemble, sticking the bearings into their races retained by grease. Leave space for one or two balls in each race. Take care of very thin metal shims in the core of the freewheel because they are easily damaged. The freewheel, which normally doesn’t need bearing adjustment, is adjusted by adding or removing shims. In some models, the pawls (flippers) need to be held down with a thread during assembly. The thread is then pulled out. Finally, screw the top cover back on, and set it tight by banging gently with a blunt punch and hammer.

Most rear derailleurs use simple sleeve bearings for the pulleys. These should also be disassembled, cleaned and lubed now and then.

Rapid Diagnosis

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Many bike mechanics have to work with the public when it comes time to assess a bicycle for repair. Some of the mechanics worry about how to handle the situation. They may not know exactly what to look for, and how to present what they find. In many cases, the mechanics miss noticing important problems that the customer should know about before leaving the bike for repair. For instance, if the shop sells a tune-up, without realizing a wheel is so bent that it cannot be repaired, the customer may balk, and you have a ‘situation’ on your hands. So, do this:

1. Apply the front brake, and rock the bike back and forth? Is the headset loose?

2. Lift the front wheel a couple of inches. Does it flop to one side? If not, the headset is too tight.

3. Spin the front wheel and see if it is true. Notice whether the brake drags.

4. Stop the wheel, and see whether it is loose enough that the heaviest part will swing to the bottom. Wiggle the wheel sideways by holding the tire, and see if the bearings are loose.
5. Examine the tires for wear, sidewall bulging, and seating issues.

6. Spin the rear wheel and see it it is true. Notice whether the brake drags.

7. See whether the rear wheel spins freely, and whether the bearings are loose. Very loose bearings may indicate a broken axle. If it’s not a quick release wheel, try spreading the dropouts apart with your thumb. With a broken axle, they’ll flex outward.

8. Squeeze all the spoke crossings on the rear wheel. If a spoke is broken, it will be evident.

9. Spin the chainwheel backward while observing the chain. Are any pins sticking out of links?
10. Move the shifters just enough to see if the derailleur cables are working correctly.

11. Squeeze the brake levers, looking for too much travel, slow or weak return, and other brake problems. Examine bridge wires if equipped for broken strands. Examine the brake cables at the anchor bolts and at the break levers for broken strands.

12. Suggest accessories as appropriate.

As you make discoveries, write them down with the customer watching and available to ask questions. If several adjustments are needed, suggest a tune-up. Quite often, a customer will come in for a single repair, such as a flat tire or a bent wheel, and end up with much more repair work. If the customer is informed and consents up-front, everyone ends up happy.

Or, you can do it the way it is done in many bike shops. When the customer comes in for something like a broken brake cable, the mechanic or salesperson fails to look at anything else on that bike. During the brake cable replacement, the mechanic notices that the wheel is out of true because it has broken spokes. The customer is called, and suddenly a $15 repair becomes $50. The customer is not happy, but agrees to pay the extra. When the customer picks up the bike and takes it for a ride around the block, s/he discovers that the derailleurs are out of adjustment and the chain falls off. This is not a happy customer. Furthermore, this process can turn a bicycle enthusiast into someone who owns a bike but never rides it.

This bicycle examination may sound like a complex operation, but with just a bit of practice, you’ll remember the steps, and become able to do the whole thing within two minutes.

Fast, Full Tune-Up

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Many bike shops charge $50 or $60, and sometimes even more for a tune-up. Then, they barely make a profit. That’s because the mechanic spends a whole lot of time going back and forth, not quite knowing a good sequence, and even misses noticing some things that need adjustment. I’d like to suggest learning this step-by-step process to speed your tune-up time, and make sure you catch every detail. With a tune-up procedure like this, your shop can charge $30 per bike, making a large profit, and end up with a zillion customers bringing their bikes in for service. Keep in mind, too, that you can sell tires, additional repairs and accessories to almost every tune-up customer.

1. Adjust the headset if it is an adjustable headset. (This is done first, because it is best done before the bike is mounted in the workstand.)

2. Adjust the bottom bracket set if it is adjustable.

3. Adjust the front wheel bearings if adjustable.

4. Adjust the rear wheel bearings if adjustable.

5. Adjust the rear brake, check spoke tensions, and true the rear wheel on the bike.
(I consider adjusting the brake and aligning the wheel a single procedure, since a bent wheel prevents good brake adjustment, and you can use a properly adjusted brake to witness wheel condition. During this process, I typically keep a spoke wrench and an adjustable wrench in my hand.)

6. Adjust the front brake, check spoke tensions, and true the rear wheel on the bike.

7. With the chain engaged on the largest chainring, adjust the rear derailleur.

8. Shift to the smallest front chainring, and check rear derailleur adjustment.

9. With the chain engaged on the largest rear sprocket, adjust the front derailleur.

10. With the chain engaged on the smallest rear sprocket, check the front derailleur adjustment.

11. Check all the nuts and bolts on the entire bike, especially accessories. Make sure to check brake pivot bolts, the bolt that mounts the rear derailleur if equipped, the derailleur tension pulley bolt, the front derailleur cage closing bolt, cotterless crank mounting bolts or nuts, pedals, cable anchor bolts, and handlebar stem.

12. Adjust the air pressures.

13. Test ride the bike. You’ll be amazed at what you can miss, even if you’ve tuned thousands of bikes.

14. Spend just a few minutes cleaning the bike. With a rag, you can quickly attend to the spaces between spokes. With a rag and a bit of furniture polish – or your choice of mild chemical treatment – you can quickly rub down all the major frame tubes. A bit of coarse, dry steel wool can work rapid magic on rusty chrome surfaces.

What an unexpectedly cleaned bike can do for customer satisfaction is remarkable. Cleaning bikes that are in for service is one of the best ways to make your bike shop go viral.

People who perceive that you’ve done something wrong will tell their friends, and that, of course, is bad for business.

People who are merely satisfied with your work won’t tell their friends.

But people who get an unexpected pleasant surprise will tell everyone, and you can end up with much more repair work.

Your author used to go one extra step, and that’s probably why his bike shops grew rapidly and were quite profitable. When a bike came in missing a water bottle, I’d put one in their bottle rack. It didn’t matter if they already had a bottle at home, or didn’t like the color. They loved the thought. Sometimes, I’d add a tire pump, new grips, handlebar tape, reflectors, whatever I thought the customer would appreciate. Sure, this cost a few dollars per bike, but it was cheaper than advertising, and way more effective!

Inventory And Supplies

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In most of the United States as well as the rest of the world, the owner of a bicycle shop gets a sales tax number, often called a ‘resale certificate.’ This authorizes you to collect sales tax. Now, that’s probably not something that excites you, but the flip side is that you can contact wholesale bicycle suppliers and get inventory and supplies for much less money. Generally, an item that sells for $20 will cost you $10. It’s a sliding scale. An item that sells for a dollar will cost you fifteen cents. An item that sells for $500, will cost you $400.

You may not be in a position to get a resale certificate. You may not have a commercial building, instead working out of your house, or running a mobile bicycle repair business. You might not be in business at all, but wouldn’t mind getting your hands on wholesale prices.

Due to eBay and other online venues, it is becoming easier to convince wholesalers that you are a ‘legitimate’ buyer. Some will require a genuine retail store. Some even have protected dealerships, meaning if someone sells the same brand within a certain distance, you cannot sell the same brand. Others are loosey-goosey. Some only require that you spend $50 or more at a time.

You don’t always need to deal with wholesalers to get good prices. You’ll find many good deals on not only new, but also interesting used and even collectible bicycle parts on eBay.

For general repair work, you’ll find adequate cables, brake pads, inner tubes, tires, and a few other common replacement parts at stores like Walmart and Target. Interestingly, these parts can be as inexpensive as wholesale in small quantities.

For more specialized parts, you might want to visit your local bike shops. If you are running a small repair business, tell them. Most will be supportive, offering a small discount, so they’ll get all your business. To the average bike shop, it is well worthwhile to give ten or twenty percent discounts to regular customers.

Lubrication

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The reason pedals, seat pillars, cranks, and nuts and bolts often become stuck in bicycles is corrosion. There is also an effect called ‘electrolytic action’ in which electrons of dissimilar metals trade orbits. So, when you put a steel bolt into an aluminum component, they almost weld together over time.

A tiny layer of lubrication stops electrolytic action and corrosion in their tracks. So, it is recommended when you reassemble cranks, install seat pillars, put on pedals, or assemble nuts and bolts, that you always use a tiny bit of oil or grease. Years later, you’ll be glad you did.

You may find that a bit of grease when assembling brake and derailleur cables makes a world of difference in smoothness, ease of use, and long life.

You’d think after all these years, someone would have invented the perfect chain lube by now. They haven’t. Every oil this author has tried either gathers dirt, or doesn’t lubricate well.

An interesting aside: Years ago, your author read a book on bicycle repair by an American author. He recommended using paraffin wax as a chain lubricant, going so far as to describe how you could melt the wax in a coffee can, then soak the chain in it. Your author considered this absurd, but thought it might be worth a try, just in case it was for real. It quickly became evident the author made the whole thing up. My chain was so stiff with wax that it almost couldn’t be put on the bike. Then, when the bike was ridden a hundred meters, all the wax chipped off, leaving no lubrication at all.

In time, this author figured out what happened with that author. He had read an English book on bicycle repair that suggested cleaning a bicycle chain with paraffin, which in England can mean kerosene. Figuring the original English author had probably said “cleaning” when he meant “lubricating” he went ahead and wrote up a procedure the he never actually tried.

No doubt, I too, have made some errors in this book, although my goal is accuracy. It helps that I have some experience, having repaired or customized more than 15,000 bikes over a 15-year period, while owning and operating three bicycle shops.

Enjoy, experiment carefully, and keep the world’s bikes running! – Jeff

Planetary Gearing

Only a few short years elapsed between the time when bicycles started to standardize as “safeties,” and when planetary geared hubs, also called planetary gearsets, started to appear.

Safeties were bikes with same-size wheels and a chain drive from centrally located pedals with a large sprocket to the rear wheel with a smaller sprocket – in other words, the typical modern bicycle design. Before safeties, bikes had pedals attached directly to a wheel. The driven wheel had to be as large as possible. That way, each turn of the pedals would carry the bike a reasonable distance, so as to avoid being a slow-poke.

With a planetary gearset, the hub can turn different speeds than the sprocket mounted on the hub. Planetary gearsets are also known as “epicyclic gearing” or “gear hubs.” The first ones showed up around 1880, but the first commercially successful two-speed planetary hub, called “The Hub,” was in production starting in 1898. By 1902, a three-speed hub was available.

Now, more than a century later, planetary gearsets are still available, with versions containing as many as 14 distinct speeds.

The Rholoff 14-speed planetary gearing bicycle hub
The Rholoff Speedhub – 14 Speeds
via: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Marcela

The planetary gearset has some advantages. The system is enclosed, so is less vulnerable to weather and dirt. There’s no low-hanging chain tensioner to get bent or caught in the weeds. The chainline is simple, so easier to enclose, preventing grease marks on socks and pants. In fact, belt and fully-enclosed shaft drives work with planetary gearsets. Because a derailleur system can only be shifted when the chain is moving, the planetary gearset is easier for beginners, and commuters, who often have to shift after having come to a stop. Derailleur bikes almost always have dished rear wheels. This means that the hub flange on the right-hand side is offset toward the center of the hub in order to make room for the sprockets. A dished wheel is weaker against lateral forces. Planetary hubs can have widely spaced flanges for strong rear wheels.

The downside of planetary gearsets is that they tend to concentrate a lot of weight in the rear wheel, and may cost more.

One of the most prolific manufacturers is Sturmey-Archer, who made a hub that remained mostly unchanged for many years, and was the centerpiece of the classic European three-speed bike, which was very popular in America during the 1950s and 1960s.

Raleigh bicycle with Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub
Classic Raleigh Three-Speed with Sturmey-Archer Hub
via Degen_Earthfast

When you come across an old three-speed, you can wipe the road grime away, and read the month and year of manufacture on the outside of a Sturmey-Archer hub.

Sturmey Archer 3-Speed Bicycle Hub

Sturmey-Archer Three-speed shifter
Sturmey-Archer three-speed shifter

via huubvanhughten



Inside a Sturmey-Archer AW three-speed hub
Photo by Keithonearth

Shimano made competing three-speed hubs, typically the FA model. It was low-cost, but unfortunately not as strong as Sturmey-Archer’s most common model, the AW. A strong bike racer could wreck an FA hub within a couple of miles.



Shimano three-speed hub with coaster brake
Photo by unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sturmey-Archer AW, in production from 1936 until at least 2008, and possibly even today, has an alarming problem of its own: There’s a neutral position between second and third gear. If the cable tension is not properly adjusted, the hub can slip into neutral. This can be a serious let-down when climbing hard up a hill.

Modern planetary gearsets are still available with three and more speeds. Shimano makes a popular 7-speed model and offers 8 and 11-speed models as well. Sachs, now part of SRAM, has been making planetary hubs since 1904, and currently offers a 7-speed model that has a wider range than Shimano’s 7-speed.

Believe it or not, there can be room left over in planetary hubs, so manufacturers make models with built-in coaster brakes. For those who don’t know the term, a coaster brake is a hub in which when you pedal backward, typically a quarter-turn of the pedals or so, a braking mechanism is applied in the hub to stop the wheel.

For many years, Shimano, Sturmey-Archer, and Sachs have all incorporated coaster-brakes. You would expect trouble due to the heat generated in the hub by breaking, but in practice, this seems to be a non-problem, since there are many decades-old planetary hubs with coaster brakes that still work like new. Interestingly, the trouble-maker is Shimano’s external roller brake, that can overheat on a long hill, making screeching noises, and fading in effectiveness. Some of the most recent high-end planetary hubs accommodate a disk brake around the left side.

During the 1960s, Bendix made a two-speed hub that incorporated a coaster brake and automatic shifting, sort of. If the rider backpedaled a little bit, the hub would shift into the other gear. So if it was in high, then it would be in low, and vice versa. They had three models of the “Kickback” hub, identified by colored bands around the middle of the hubs.

The ‘yellow band’ and ‘blue band’ hubs had a shoe style internal brake. When backpedaled, a course screw would push a cone against four grease-covered quarter-circle steel shoes that rode loosely along the inside of the hub shell. The cone would press them against the shell, and the bike would stop.

The yellow band had a straight-through speed, and a lower gear for hill climbing. The blue band was identical except it had a straight-through gear and a higher gear.

The ‘red band,’ Bendix’s most common two-speed kickback model, was straight-through and low, but had a different kind of brake. This had a pack of alternating disks coated in grease. Every other disk was splined to the hub and turned. The disks in between were splined to the axle, so of course they did not turn. When the brake was applied, the pack of disks was squeezed together. Several other coaster brake manufacturers used the disk pack system, but not Bendix. Of the millions of coaster brakes made by Bendix, this was one of the few with a disk pack.

You may wonder how a planetary gearset works. I did. When I was twelve years old, I took apart my Shimano 3-speed hub to see what was inside, and couldn’t quite get it back together. Fortunately, my father came to the rescue, and showed me how a couple of parts might work, and with that hint, I was able to understand it, and get it back together. 10 years later, I owned a bicycle shop, and had overhauled hundreds of 2-, 3- and 5-speed hubs. 40 years later, I took apart a Shimano 7-speed, and had a heck of a time reassembling it properly.

bicycle rear hub planetary gears
Modified, originally via PeterWiki,
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Planetengetriebe_Prinzip.jpg

So, here’s the scoop: You have a ring gear, three or more planet gears, and a sun gear all in constant contact. Through some sliding mechanisms and ratchets, you can connect the sprocket and the hub shell to various parts of the gearset. The sun gear is mounted on the axle, and does not turn, so the planets turn around it, and the ring gears is turned by the planets. The planets are kept in position by a large ring called the planet carrier. If you connect the sprocket to the planet carrier, the planets are pushed around, and because they have to rotate around the sun gear, the outer surfaces of the planets are rotating faster. The ring gear is attached to the hub, and so you have a high gear. If you connect the sprocket to the planet carrier, but also connect the hub to the planet carrier, you have direct one-to-one gearing, and the ring gear spins uselessly. Finally, if you connect the sprocket to the ring gear, and the hub to the planet carrier, you have low gear.

That accounts for a three-speed hub. For more than three speeds, you have multiple or “compound” planetary gearsets. If you have one gearset in a low gear, and another gearset also in a low gear, you have a lower “low-low” output.

A few people and manufacturers have experimented with combining derailleur systems and planetary gearsets. Your author put together a bike with a triple chainwheel, six rear sprockets, and a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub, for a combined total of 90 speeds. In the lowest gear, a rider could merely set the weight of a foot on a pedal, and the front wheel would jump a few millimeters off the ground.

Theoretically, with today’s equipment, one could have a triple chainwheel driving ten rear sprockets, connected to a 14-speed planetary hub. This would result in a 420-speed bike, although of course some of the ‘gears’ would be redundant.




Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub with incorporated coaster brake.
Photo by Markus Schweiss

Pawl


Have you wondered what is that tick-tick-tick you hear when a bicycle is coasting?


Photo by Keithonearth

A pawl is a small flipper device that engages a ratcheted surface so rotary movement is possible in one direction only. Freewheels typically have two pawls. Most pawls are spring-loaded, but they can also be centrifugally actuated. The images above and below are Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hubs containing pawls. The picture above is spring-loaded. The pictures below are from an older style hub that are centrifugally loaded.



Below are pictures of a Shimano freehub, also known as cassette hub. These are very common freewheeling systems found on most derailleur equipped bicycles. These contain a ratchet pawls within the hub.


Hillclimbing

the psychology of bicycle hillclimbing

Some people don’t like going up hills. For them, the worst is climbing a hill in a headwind. Others take it all as a challenge.

One school of thought is to drop into the lowest practical gear, pedal fast with low power, and finally make it to the top.

Another group of people have learned to use a moderatly high gear, stand up, and pedal slowly with considerable power. Of course, the second group will make it to the top faster, but spend more energy in the process.

Racers mostly do it the second way. They’ve become so accustomed to this technique that they’ll use close-range gearing, not even having granny gears on their bikes. This kind of hill climbing is an acquired taste, but interestingly, in time, as long as you’re having a fairly energetic day, it seems more enjoyable.

Yet another group of riders will use electric bikes.


Close-range freewheel
Photo by Chris 73, via Wikimedia Commons

Freewheel


Close-range freewheel

Photo by Chris 73, via Wikimedia Commons

 


Wide-range freewheel
Photo by flickr.com/photos/kky/6021195165/ [CC BY-SA 2.0]

a freewheel is one or more sprockets on the rear wheel that allow coasting. Some people will call this “cassette” which more specifically means a series of sprockets that can be removed as a unit from a ratcheting unit built into the hub. That kind of hub is called a “freehub.”


Freehub

Others may call the freewheel a “cog” which more generally means a single rear wheel sprocket. A true freewheel has the racheting mechanism built into the sprocket assembly, not the hub, and fastens to the hub with large diameter, closely-spaced threads.

Derailleurs and Sprockets




The first bicycles incorporating a chain and sprockets were fixed-gear (direct drive). People soon figured out that coasting might be nice, so various arrangements for freewheeling were created, and the braking operation was changed from using your feet to resist movement of the pedals to much safer braking systems.

Now, inventors were free to go crazy. The planetary gear systems mentioned in the first part of this book came along fairly quickly. Shortly thereafter, people figured out that one could combine a chain tensioner with a stack of sprockets (often called “cogs” or a “freewheel”), so that by moving the tensioner sideways, the chain could be aligned with one or another sprocket. These first versions of derailleurs, also spelled “derailer,” typically used only two three sprockets, closely spaced in gearing.

Then, for many years, until the late 1970s, ten-speed bikes were the norm, with five sprockets on the rear wheel, and two in front.

As you know, “ten-speeds” is a misnomer, since some of the speeds overlap, and one doesn’t shift from first through tenth, hitting every gear on the way. Just like a modern 24-speed bike doesn’t really mean you use all 24 speeds.

All modern rear derailleurs have two pulleys. The top one is called the guide pulley, and the bottom one is the tension pulley.

Some of the earliest designs had only one pulley, so shifting was a bit sloppy. At first, serious cyclists resisted two pulleys on a derailleur, figuring the extra pulley would eat up a lot of power with extra friction. It turns out that the second pulley uses only a microscopic amount of power.

During the late 1960s, some odd variations appeared, and became quite common. A French manufacturer, Simplex, made a derailleur in which the biggest parts were made from plastic. It worked quite well, but was prone to failure, as the points where the springs mounted would tear out of the plastic.

Another was by Huret. Their Allvit model was one of the very few that used ball bearings in the pulleys. This all-steel derailleur had a shell, sort of like a turtle, that protected the parallelogram mechanism which moved the pulleys in and out among the five sprockets. All the pivots were adjustable, with bolts and locknuts. Unfortunately, being adjustable, they frequently needed adjustment. Some of the Huret Allvits came with red pulleys, which became quite collectible for a while.

Index shifting did not become practical until the mid 1970s. Until then, one had to carefully adjust the shifter after selecting a gear to line up the derailleur properly for smooth and noiseless operation. The first index shifting systems generally put the detents (stops) in the derailleur, so it would precisely line up under each gear. Now, almost all systems have the detents in the shifter, depending on the cable to carry the message accurately to the derailleur. It seems like a system designed to fail, but index shifting seems to work well most of the time.

Most system have an adjusting barrel around where the cable casing meets the shifter. You can turn the barrel to adjust the system on the fly.

Colnago shifters
Simple but high-end, non-index shifters

via Arnoooo

One of the latest changes in derailleurs isn’t in mechanical design, but in the word itself. It is slowly evolving to be spelled “derailer.”

Bike Fact Book

Unusual Information About Bicycles and Bicycling

Copyright 2013-2021, Jeff Napier


Start Here

Table of Contents

A bicycle is the most efficient machine in terms of energy expended for moving weight over distance.

A human on a bicycle is also the most efficient animal on earth in terms of energy spent for travel.

Bicycling is six times more efficient than walking.

Using a bicycle, it takes 35 calories to move an average-size person one mile (1.6 km). It takes 1,860 calories to move a person a mile in a car. So, the bicycle uses two percent as much energy as a car.

The average bicycle costs three percent as much as a typical car.

“One of the key studies of cycling has found that people who cycle to work experienced a 39% lower rate of all-cause mortality compared to those who did not even after adjustment for other risk factors, including leisure time physical activity.” – CyclingEngland

According to at least one statistical study, the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by twenty to one.

Therefore, taking a closer look at these wonderful machines will be fun, don’t you think?


Planetary Gearsets

Table of Contents

Only a few short years elapsed between the time when bicycles started to standardize as “safeties,” and when planetary geared hubs, also called planetary gearsets, started to appear.

Safeties were bikes with same-size wheels and a chain drive from centrally located pedals with a large sprocket to the rear wheel with a smaller sprocket – in other words, the typical modern “diamond-frame” bicycle design. Before safeties, bikes had pedals attached directly to a wheel. The driven wheel had to be as large as possible. That way, each turn of the pedals would carry the bike a reasonable distance, so as to avoid being a slow-poke.

With a planetary gearset, the hub can turn different speeds than the sprocket mounted on the hub. Planetary gearsets are also known as “epicyclic gearing” or “gear hubs.” The first ones showed up around 1880, but the first commercially successful two-speed planetary hub, called “The Hub,” was in production starting in 1898. By 1902, a three-speed hub was available.

Now, more than a century later, planetary gearsets are still available, with versions containing as many as 14 distinct speeds.

The Rholoff 14-speed planetary gearing bicycle hub
The Rholoff Speedhub – 14 Speeds
via: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Marcela

The planetary gearset has some advantages. The system is enclosed, so is less vulnerable to weather and dirt. There’s no low-hanging chain tensioner to get bent or caught in the weeds. The chainline is simple, so easier to enclose, preventing grease marks on socks and pants. In fact, belt and fully-enclosed shaft drives work with planetary gearsets. Because a derailleur system can only be shifted when the chain is moving, the planetary gearset is easier for beginners, and commuters, who often have to shift after having come to a stop. Derailleur bikes almost always have dished rear wheels. This means that the hub flange on the right-hand side is offset toward the center of the hub in order to make room for the sprockets. A dished wheel is weaker against lateral forces. Planetary hubs can have widely spaced flanges for strong rear wheels.

The downside of planetary gearsets is that they tend to concentrate a lot of weight in the rear wheel, and may cost more.

One of the most prolific manufacturers is Sturmey-Archer, who made a hub that remained mostly unchanged for many years, and was the centerpiece of the classic European three-speed bike, which was very popular in America during the 1950s and 1960s.

Raleigh bicycle with Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub
Classic Raleigh Three-Speed with Sturmey-Archer Hub

via Degen_Earthfast

When you come across an old Sturmey-Archer three-speed, you can wipe the road grime away, and read the month and year of manufacture on the outside of the hub.

Sturmey Archer 3-Speed Bicycle Hub

Sturmey-Archer Three-speed shifter
Sturmey-Archer three-speed shifter
span style=”font-size:12px;”>
via huubvanhughten



Inside a Sturmey-Archer AW three-speed hub
Photo by Keithonearth

Shimano made competing three-speed hubs, typically the FA model. It was low-cost, but unfortunately not as strong as Sturmey-Archer’s most common model, the AW. A strong bike racer could wreck an FA hub within a couple of miles.

The Sturmey-Archer AW, in production from 1936 until at least 2008, and possibly even today, has an alarming problem of its own: There’s a neutral position between second and third gear. If the cable tension is not properly adjusted, the hub can slip into neutral. This can be a serious let-down when climbing hard up a hill.

Modern planetary gearsets are still available with three and more speeds. Shimano makes a popular 7-speed model and offers 8 and 11-speed models as well. Sachs, now part of SRAM, has been making planetary hubs since 1904, and currently offers a 7-speed model that has a wider range than Shimano’s 7-speed.

Believe it or not, there can be room left over in planetary hubs, so manufacturers make models with built-in coaster brakes. For those who don’t know the term, a coaster brake is a hub in which when you pedal backward, typically a quarter-turn of the pedals or so, a braking mechanism is applied in the hub to stop the wheel.

For many years, Shimano, Sturmey-Archer, and Sachs have all incorporated coaster-brakes. You would expect trouble due to the heat generated in the hub by breaking, but in practice, this seems to be a non-problem, since there are many decades-old planetary hubs with coaster brakes that still work like new. Interestingly, the trouble-maker is Shimano’s external roller brake, that can overheat on a long hill, making screeching noises, and fading in effectiveness. Some of the most recent high-end planetary hubs accommodate a disk brake around the left side.

During the 1960s, Bendix an American compnay founded in Elmira, New York, made a two-speed hub that incorporated a coaster brake and automatic shifting, sort of. If the rider backpedaled a little bit, the hub would shift into the other gear. So if it was in high, then it would be in low, and vice versa. They had three models of the “Kickback” hub, identified by colored bands around the middle of the hubs.

The ‘yellow band’ and ‘blue band’ hubs had a shoe style internal brake. When backpedaled, a course screw would push a cone against four grease-covered quarter-circle steel shoes that rode loosely along the inside of the hub shell. The cone would press them against the shell, and the bike would stop.

The yellow band had a straight-through speed, and a lower gear for hill climbing. The blue band was identical except it had a straight-through gear and a higher gear.

The ‘red band,’ Bendix’s most common two-speed kickback model, was straight-through and low, but had a different kind of brake. This had a pack of alternating disks coated in grease. Every other disk was splined to the hub and turned. The disks in between were splined to the axle, so of course they did not turn. When the brake was applied, the pack of disks was squeezed together. Several other coaster brake manufacturers used the disk pack system, but not Bendix. Of the millions of coaster brakes made by Bendix, this was one of the few with a disk pack.

You may wonder how a planetary gearset works. I did. When I was twelve years old, I took apart my Shimano 3-speed hub to see what was inside, and couldn’t quite get it back together. Fortunately, my father came to the rescue, and showed me how a couple of parts might work, and with that hint, I was able to understand it, and get it back together. 10 years later, I owned a bicycle shop, and had overhauled hundreds of 2-, 3- and 5-speed hubs. 40 years later, I took apart a Shimano 7-speed, and had a heck of a time reassembling it properly.

bicycle rear hub planetary gears
Modified, originally via PeterWiki,
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Planetengetriebe_Prinzip.jpg

So, here’s the scoop: You have a ring gear, three or more planet gears, and a sun gear all in constant contact. Through some sliding mechanisms and ratchets, you can connect the sprocket and the hub shell to various parts of the gearset. The sun gear is mounted on the axle, and does not turn, so the planets turn around it, and the ring gears is turned by the planets. The planets are kept in position by a large ring called the planet carrier. If you connect the sprocket to the planet carrier, the planets are pushed around, and because they have to rotate around the sun gear, the outer surfaces of the planets are rotating faster. The ring gear is attached to the hub, and so you have a high gear. If you connect the sprocket to the planet carrier, but also connect the hub to the planet carrier, you have direct one-to-one gearing, and the ring gear spins uselessly. Finally, if you connect the sprocket to the ring gear, and the hub to the planet carrier, you have low gear.

That accounts for a three-speed hub. For more than three speeds, you have multiple or “compound” planetary gearsets. If you have one gearset in a low gear, and another gearset also in a low gear, you have a lower “low-low” output.

A few people and manufacturers have experimented with combining derailleur systems and planetary gearsets. Your author put together a bike with a triple chainwheel, six rear sprockets, and a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub, for a combined total of 90 speeds. In the lowest gear, a rider could merely set the weight of a foot on a pedal, and the front wheel would jump a few millimeters off the ground.

Theoretically, with today’s equipment, one could have a triple chainwheel driving ten rear sprockets, connected to a 14-speed planetary hub. This would result in a 420-speed bike, although of course some of the ‘gears’ would be redundant.


History

Table of Contents

The previous chapter got rather historical, so let’s go a step further into the history of bicycles.

When people first figured out that you could attach pedals to bicycle wheels, they discovered that the bikes didn’t go very fast. But, if they could make the wheels bigger, they could go faster. This was the world’s first version of “gearing up.”

The limitation was the length of the rider’s legs. Pretty soon, it became ordinary for bicycles to have large front wheels, ranging from 50 to 64 inches (127 to 162 cm) in diameter. So, these became known as “ordinary,” bikes, commonly refered to as “ordinaries,” or “ordinary racers.” They were also called “Penny-Farthings” named after large and small coins of the era, and sometimes “boneshakers” because they had solid rubber tires, and no shocks, while the bumpy streets were typically unpaved or made from bricks.

It was still years into the future before veterinarian and inventor John Boyd Dunlop would create the first air-filled tires for his son’s tricycle. Back in the day, 1887 to be specific, doctors and vets had to make their own rubber gloves. He was already auspiciously equipped to experiment with rubber tires. Irish bike racer William “Willie” Hume was the first one to purchase a “safety” bike outfitted with Dr. Dunlop’s tires. He won all four races he entered, so the fate of pneumatic bicycle tires was decided.

Ordinary racer, bicycle, penny-farthing
via Agnieszka Kwiecień, license: CC-BY 3.0

The fellow riding the replica in the picture is making it look easy, but these were far from easy to master.

First, there was the matter of getting started. If you look carefully at the picture, a few inches above the rear wheel fork, on the far side, is a little footpeg. The rider would run with the bicycle to gain some momentum, then place a foot on the peg while holding the handlebar. The rider could stand on the peg and coast along, but most of the time, the rider would complete the mounting process by essentially jumping up into the saddle, then letting the feet find, or catch up with the pedals. This had to be done quickly, before the bike lost much momentum. Without enough momentum, the bike would start pitching wildly to one side or another. You can imagine a modern bicycle at a very slow speed. When you get down to around walking speed, it is very hard to steer a straight line. But with the tall, heavy bike, it really becomes an exercise in careening if you are way up there, with your head nine feet (275 cm) off the ground. Furthermore, if you turn more than just a few degrees, that big old wheel starts rubbing on your thigh. Anything beyond that, and you simply have to fall off.

So finally, there you are mounted on your ordinary, and you come to hill. You’d better pedal really hard, because you can’t gear down. Worse, when going downhill with the first ordinaries, the techniques for slowing down were all harrowing.

The first option would be to resist the pedals. But, you’re geared up, and have not only your weight to resist, but the 60 pounds (27 kg) of the bike as well. If that is not sufficient, you can rub the palm of your gloved hand on the top of the solid rubber tire – until your hand gets too hot. Some of the later ordinaries came equipped with a spoon brake. That’s a metal bar that could be operated from a hand lever that would rub on the top of the tire.

If you have to make an emergency stop, there’s only one ‘safe’ option: Jump backward off the seat, landing with one foot crosswise on the top of the back tire. This jams your foot against the fork, and skids the rear wheel. It costs rubber – and those tires wore out fast, but it could save your life. Otherwise, if something comes up where you stop quickly, such as hitting a pothole, you pitch forward. Not only will you find yourself flying forward, but the bike will very likely be caught up with you.

Tires for the ordinaries – and all sorts of other contraptions such as children’s wagons and baby strollers were sold in bulk rolls called “cab tiring.” You’d pick a width, and buy perhaps 50 feet of tire. It was a fat-walled rubber tube with a hollow middle. The rubber was quite basic by today’s standards. It had carbon mixed in, so that it wouldn’t wear out in the first mile or so. That’s why tires were always black. You’d cut off a length of cab tiring just the right length to go around your wheel. You’d insert a solid steel wire all the way through the tire. Where the tire material joins, you grab the ends of the cable and twist them together. Finally, you cut off the extra length of twisted wire, so the seam in your tire doesn’t have metal sticking out.

Some of the earliest ordinaries didn’t bother with rubber at all. They had wooden wheels, iron wheels, and sometimes wooden wheels surrounded with an iron tire. These were the true ‘boneshakers.’

There are more replica ordinaries in existence today than real ones. How can you spot the difference? The first giveaway is the pedals. Most of the replicas use modern pedals, which by law in most countries, have to be manufactured with reflectors. Back in the day, most of the parts were forged from solid steel and hand worked, so they had a clunky look with hammer or file marks here and there. Replicas will tend to use shiny, perfectly formed parts.

Ordinaries weren’t the first bikes. The first is credited to a German inventor, Karl Drais. He built the first one in 1818, and called it the Laufmaschine. It wasn’t long before his simple contraption was copied throughout Europe and the United States. The English started calling them dandy-horses. In America, they were hobby-horses. and the French called them draisiennes or draisines. It wasn’t until 40 years later than someone in France figured out to attach pedals to the front wheel, so riders didn’t have to kick along the sidewalk to go places. This new French version was called velocipede (literally: “speed foot”), although that term has come to mean any of a wide variety of early bicycles.

Draisine - an antique bicycle


Unicycles

Table of Contents

You would think that the idea of pedals and cracks attached directly to a wheel would have died out when safeties came along. But no, there are still vehicles with direct drive wheels. These would be unicycles.

unicycle

Learning to ride a unicycle is easier than it might seem. For best results, find a place with smooth level pavement and a chain-link fence. Place your foot on a pedal in the six o’clock position. By pressing down hard on the pedal with your foot, the unicycle will not be able to roll out from under you. While holding onto the fence, situate yourself on the seat. Just cling to the fence for a while as you roll a few inches (centimeters) back and forth to get a feel of the machine. When you are ready, roll forward just a single revolution of the wheel, while holding onto the fence. In time, you can hold the fence more loosely, and with more practice, you can go two or more turns of the wheel. If you are patient, you will soon feel confident letting go of the fence altogether. You’ll learn to turn and stop almost automatically. Your body will know which way to lean to control the unicycle.

Before you start riding for the first time, some safety equipment is recommended. An ordinary bicycling helmet is highly recommended. You may also like to wear the same gear that serious skaters use: Knee, elbow and wrist guards. Broken wrists are common with beginning unicyclists, so don’t avoid the wrist guards.
You may want to wear two pairs of socks, since when you are first learning, your ankles may bump the cranks with uncomfortable results. If you can arrange padding for your butt, that’s a good idea. In the beginning, it is possible to lose control such that the unicycle rolls out quickly, and you fall on your bottom, which can create an injury that’s painful for a month or more. Finally, you may want to wrap some padding around the seat. This is to protect the seat, not you. Unicycles tend to get dropped hard and frequently when learning. The good news is that once you become proficient, all these problems go away. Experts, just like expert bike riders, seldom fall.

Once you become an expert, you can learn a number of tricks such as riding backward, spinning in tight circles, riding with one foot, mounting and dismounting the unicycle in unusual ways and more. One of the important techniques to learn is idling, in which the rider rocks back and forth, maintaing balance in one spot. Once that’s possible, the rider can play a musical instrument, juggle, and other such activities, without needing to cover any distance. You can get a lot of unicycle trick riding ideas from YouTube.

Unicycles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are for off-road competition, a somewhat dangerous skill that is quite difficult to master. These typically have large diameter wheels with fat, knobby tires.

off-road unicycling
Off-road unicycling
via
Samuel Mann

Others have thin large diameter wheels for city commuting.

commuting unicycle
A commuting unicycle
via
Midiman

Your author built what he called a “commutiuni.” It had a super lightweight tubular rim with a 700 mm (26-inch) 260-gram sew-up tire.
Besides a lightweight frame and seat, the commutiuni also had short four and a half-inch (113 mm) cranks, so the author could spin very fast, making up for the lack of gearing.

Other unicycles have small wheels, sometimes for children, and sometimes for performance, since with a smaller wheel, you can maneuver more precisely at slower speeds, and on a smaller stage.

small unicycle
via
xeaza

Another category is tall unicycles, often called “giraffe” unicycles. Using a chain drive from the pedals to the wheel, they can range from 4-1/2 feet to over 100 feet (1.4 to 30 meters) tall. When tall unicycles are discussed in America where the unit of measurement is the foot, the size is usually exaggerated up to the next even foot. So, a five-foot-three-inch unicycle is called “six-foot.”

Tall unicycles can be problematic. One problem is that their frame tubes can flex to the point where the machine is too wobbly to be rideable. Frames can become permanently bent from incorrect mounting. The most critical, and the most common problem is that chains want to fall off. Many unicycles combat this to some degree by using two sets of chains and sprockets, one on each side. Others have one or more jackshafts with several sets of chains and sprockets, each leading partway from the wheel to the crank. Yet another problem is that sprockets that use regular bicycle technology to attach to the wheel hub can strip or slip, because the forces of balancing a unicycle, and the low one-to-one gearing, put more stress on the sprockets than they were designed to withstand.

Unicycles up to about 6 feet (2 meters) tall can be “free mounted” or “open mounted.” This means that the rider can get on the unicycle unassisted and without the use of a ladder or any accessory. There are two ways to free mount. One is to quickly place a foot on the tire while holding the unicycle tilted slightly forward. Then quickly place the other foot on the lowest pedal, and then the first foot on the other pedal, riding away before the unicycle becomes too unbalanced. The other way is to run forward while holding the seat of the unicycle, then as a pedal comes around, the rider places a foot on the pedal, causing the wheel to stop, and the rider rides up in the seat as the unicycle levers forward. Once the unicycle is a bit beyond vertical, the rider pedals, gaining an upright position.

tall giraffe unicycle

via Russavia

Your author became fairly proficient in free mounting six-foot (two-meter) unicycles. Upon building a custom nine-foot (three-meter) unicycle, the author felt that a test ride was required before handing off the finished product to the customer. He didn’t feel ready, but went ahead and tested the machine. This was done by standing on the top of a Volkswagen van (which dented the roof), then climbing up to the unicycle seat. After fifteen minutes of procrastination, the author then rode away from the van, completed a figure eight in a small empty parking lot, climbed off the unicycle, and stated that he would never build such a tall one again, because he didn’t like test riding such tall machines.

Nine feet scared your author, but Sem Abrahams holds the world record with a unicycle more than ten times taller. His unicycle was just a bit over 114 feet (34 meters) tall. The picture below links to a video of Sem’s world record ride. If your ebook reader doesn’t support Internet links, you can go to http://www.semcycle.biz/record/html/35m.html.

Sem Abrahams on world's tallest unicycle
World’s tallest unicycle


Monocycles

Table of Contents

Then there are monocycles. Whereas a unicyclist sits above the wheel, or outside of the wheel, the monocyclist sits within the wheel.

monocycle
Monocycle

What do you suppose will happen if this rider has to stop fast? Right! One of the problems with monocycles is when you put on the brakes, you tumble right around with the wheel.


Ultimate Wheels

Table of Contents

You would think that you can’t remove much else from a unicycle, and still have a human-powered vehicle. But actually, you can remove the seat, frame and bearings. Then you have what’s called an “ultimate wheel.”

ultimate wheel, a unicycle without seat or pedals
via Ian Muttoo

Ultimate wheels have been made in various sizes. The easiest size to learn on is around 700 mm (26 inches) in diameter. The pedals should be mounted as close to the plane of the wheel as possible, on cranks of typical length – around 6.5 inches (20 cm). To get the pedals in close, the ultimate wheel is usually made by bolting or welding a plate into the middle of the rim, and attaching threaded holders for the pedals right on the plate. I have found from painful experience that you don’t want large openings in the center plate in an ultimate wheel. Otherwise, a rider who has lost control may get a foot caught in the wheel, which makes landing on one’s feet impossible.

When first learning, you can cover the sides of the tire with electrical tape. This way, you can use the insides of your shins as a frame and bearings. Just squeeze your legs close together, and let the wheel rub as needed. In time, you can learn to ride without contacting the tire at all. At first however, you’ll want to wear pants, at least, since the wheel will inevitably tilt one way or the other and rub uncomfortably hard.

To ride an ultimate wheel the first time, find smooth pavement along a chain-link fence, just like you would to learn a unicycle. Some people learn unicycling by being held up by friends. With an ultimate wheel, this does not work as well as doing it by yourself. Place a pedal just behind the bottom center position, and as you place your foot on that pedal, the wheel will roll under you. As the wheel rolls past you, place your other foot on the other pedal, and start riding, keeping your knees close together. Some people hold the top of the tire with one hand as they start.

The biggest problem you may encounter is that an ultimate wheel can roll away from you if you dismount quickly or fall. It can roll out into traffic, causing a real mess.

There’s also a “B.C. wheel.” This has pedals mounted on bearings in such a way that both pedals are always about an inch (2.5 cm) below the center. A rider can learn to coast on this machine, but can’t easily accelerate.


Circus Bikes

Table of Contents

circus bike
Circus Bike

circus bicycle
via Vintageedept

Amazing tricks can be performed on a BMX bike. Even more remarkable tricks can be performed on a circus bike. The definition is loose, but in general a circus bike has:

* A straight fork and centered handlebar so the front wheel and handlebar can be spun without throwing the bike off-balance. Common uses for this effect are to ride with the front wheel in the air, a “wheelie,” which is actually just like riding a unicycle. While in the wheelie position, spin the handlebar and let go, letting it spin a number of turns before grabbing it and moving on to the next trick. A simpler trick is to suddenly turn the front wheel a half-turn while continuing to ride forward, backward, or in a tight circle. In a sufficiently tight circle, the front wheel and handlebar can continue to rotate from the power of the turn itself, until the rider returns to a straight line.

* A fixed gear hub so you can perform all the standard unicycle tricks, plus riding backward, easy track-stand – a bicycle trick in which you can roll back and forth slightly to maintain your position without putting a foot down.

* Footpegs or ways to place your feet, and sometimes your hands in places they don’t ordinarily go in normal bicycling activities.

* A long frame so your toes don’t interfere with a spinning front wheel. Another reason for a long frame is it makes riding on the head tube (the tube at the front of the bike that the fork goes through) easier. You can free mount a circus bike much like a giraffe unicycle, using the head tube as your seat.

Your author was working on a circus bike routine that he never perfected. Perhaps you can: I would free mount the circus bike so that I was riding on the head tube. I’d circle around once or twice, then go into an idle, meaning I’d pedal back and forth a bit, maintaining balance like on a unicycle, without going anywhere. The front wheel had a quick release mechanism, so I’d take it off. Three tennis balls were stuck in the spokes of the wheel. I took them out. Next, I spun the wheel and balanced it on my helmet. A spinning wheel is easy to balance. Then I juggled the three tennis balls for only about ten throws. I’d toss the balls, one at a time, into the audience to keep as souvenirs, take the wheel off my head, reattach it to the bike, and dismount.


Plastic Bikes

Table of Contents

The idea of making bicycles almost entirely from plastic has enticed people for years. In 1971, Original Plastic Bike Incorporated was founded based on a design for a complete road bike that was supposed to weigh just 17 pounds (7.5 kg), and be as strong as, or even stronger than steel and aluminum alloy bikes. Some prototypes were built, but the bike never went into production. That may be because the plastic wasn’t quite up to the task. The company advertised that a static load of 2,500 lbs (1,100 kilos) could be put on the seat tube without damaging the bike. This would be the equivalent of riding a bike off the roof of a four-story building and landing on a paved street at 10 gees, without even bothering to lift your butt off the seat.

The hubs were made from plastic, and even the ball bearings were plastic. In an early test, a prototype went three thousand miles without showing any bearing wear. And, this is without any lubrication!

Maybe the frame itself was strong enough, but evidently they went too far trying to make the chain and sprockets out of plastic.

A bicycle distributor’s representative once gave me a plastic freewheel. It was super-light weight, and fascinated me instantly. In his presence, I put it on a bike, and rode about 100 feet (30 meters). At that point, the pawls in the freewheel stripped the plastic ratchet. Good idea. Bad execution. I took it apart, and found it wasn’t entirely plastic after all. It’s six centrifugally sprung pawls were made from steel. The ratchet surface itself, as well as the sprockets were all plastic. If I recall correctly, the threaded portion that screwed on to the hub (old style), was made from steel as well.

Not long after that, Nervar came out with an all plastic headset. It had the same shape as the headsets of the era, threaded parts with cone and cup bearings. Instead of 3/32-inch independent steel balls, it had 3/32-inch nylon balls. The promise was that it would outlast steel headsets, and this was possible. A steel headset is prone to “brinelling,” a condition in which in the case of a headset, the bearing races become pitted from hitting bumps. The plastic would absorb the impact much better. However, in use, the headsets felt a bit mushy, as if the steering was bound up with rubber bands. Then too, if one over-tightened the headset locknut, it would crack.

For a few years in the early 1980s, a Swedish company produced plastic bikes. In all, about 30,000 of these “Iteras” were made. There were problems, not the least of which was the fact that bikes were not bullet-proof. The plastic parts could be broken, perhaps more easily than equivalent steel or aluminum alloy parts.

Itera plastic bicycle
Itera Plastic Bike

Plastics have improved a lot since then. If you’re old enough, you may remember that if you dropped the TV remote, it was almost guaranteed to break. If you drop a modern remote, it probably won’t break. Plastic chemistry has improved since the early bicycle attempts, so maybe today, an all-plastic bike would work fine.

We are no longer surprised to see plastic bicycle wheels in the smaller diameters. By the way, I’ve been told that if you have one that’s bent, you can place it in your freezer, and it will remember its original shape. These wheels aren’t quite all-plastic. The hubs are made from regular steel components.

plastic bicycle wheels
via Incase


Recumbents

Table of Contents

Recumbence: The act of laying down.

Recumbent bikes, sometimes called “bents,” seem like a relatively new invention. Here’s a picture of a recumbent from 1914:

vintage recumbent bicycle

The design has certain advantages, the primary one being less wind resistance. The rider can push higher gears because the limit on the power is not the rider’s weight (plus arm strength), but the amount of strength with which the rider can press back against the seat. The recumbent can be more comfortable on long rides, since the weight is supported by a large seat. On the conventional bike, the rider’s weight is supported only by the feet, hands, and the small area of the seat.

The recumbent rider has less distance to fall, so is less likely to be injured in a mishap. The rider is also able to stop more quickly than on a conventional bike, in which hard braking of the front wheel can cause the bike to flip.

The recumbent design has several disadvantages. It is less visible in traffic. It tends to weigh more, because the seat has to support the rider’s back.

The recumbent is hard to start, or ride at very low speeds. Unlike a conventional bicycle, most recumbent designs make it harder to push off the ground with one’s feet to get the bike rolling at a sufficient speed to gain control and put the feet on the pedals.

More of the rider’s weight is above the axis of the wheels on a recumbent than on a conventional bike, making it harder to control in unstable situations.

The drivetrain is usually more complex. Either it is longer to reach from the front mounted pedals to the rear wheel, or it must accommodate steering in front wheel drive (FWD) recumbents.

The rider on a conventional bike can rise off the seat a bit, balancing her weight on the pedals when hitting bumps. The recumbent rider cannot do that, so the shock is greater for the rider and the machine.

A smaller disadvantage in many recumbent designs is that the rider spends a small amount of energy keeping the legs in the horizontal position. There is a bit of muscle tension involved in supporting the weight of the legs between the seat and the feet.

Another small disadvantage is parts availability. While conventional bikes use mostly standardized parts, recumbents use many parts only available from the original manufacturer.

recumbent bike
Trans-V recumbent

recumbent bike
Toxy CL recumbent
via EvaK

recumbent cycle
Cruzbike Vendetta
via Bentrider811

recumbent bike

recumbent bicycle

bent bike
Android front wheel drive recumbent
via http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Android_FWD_recumbent_4.jpg

recumbent bike
Velokraft No-com

recumbent bicycle
via bradhoc

recumbent tandem bicycle for two
Tandem recumbent
via BetacommandBot

Recumbent tricycles answer to the slow speed stability problem and to starting and stopping nicely, but have design issues. With two front wheels, they tend to catch a lot more wind, which defeats one of the primary advantages of recumbents. With two rear wheels, traction can sometimes be a problem, and transmitting power to one or both wheels requires a more elaborate drivetrain.

recumbent tricycle three-wheeler
Recumbent Tricycle
via Boliston


Tricycles and Quadracycles

Table of Contents

This is supposed to be a book about bicycles, so I’ll keep the discussion of tricycles and quadracycles short.

The most common tricycles are for children, and adult riders who have balance issues or frequently carry a lot of cargo. Tricycles for children are terribly inefficient, but the kids don’t care.

The common adult tricycles are also inefficient compared to bicycles. The typical configuration is a front end just like an ordinary bike, and two rear wheels, with power going to only one wheel.

A differential, which makes driving both rear wheels practical in a car, is not often used in tricycles because of its additional weight and cost. Furthermore, the differential may have the opposite of the desired effect.

With power going to only one rear wheel, the speed of the other wheel can vary when going around corners. If both wheels were locked together with a solid axle, quite a bit of energy would be wasted in scuffing the wheels, since when cornering, one has to turn faster than the other.

But the differential will give power to whichever wheel is turning faster. So, if the rider leans to one side, or in sand or snow, one wheel will spin uselessly, and the other wheel will not add forward momentum.

Common adult tricycles often have a single-speed or three-speed drivetrain, and are not geared low enough for serious hill-climbing. These common tricycles are also quite flexible. As you pull hard (in a too-high gear) up a hill, you feel considerable flex. Older ones are often found with bent or broken frames. The wide seats these machines typically have are designed to seem comfortable, but they fool the purchasers. They are comfortable when the rider first sits down, but when pedaling any distance, they interfere with the muscles and quickly become uncomfortable and inefficient.

It is possible to ride a common adult three-wheeler on two wheels. The rider only has to lean to one side, possibly steering a bit to one side as well, and the tricycle will naturally raise one rear wheel into the air, becoming a bicycle with a large appendage hanging off the side. Oddly, riding this way is easy to do, and perhaps more efficient than riding on all three wheels. However, it is tough on the tricycle’s frame and the spokes of the rear wheel, since it is carrying weight at an angle, rather than on its plane. It can also be damaging to the hub bearings, which are not usually typical bicycle bearings, and can be difficult to find as replacement parts.

Rickshaws are almost always designed with one wheel in the front, and two in the back to support the weight of passengers. You’d think rickshaws were invented somewhere in Asia, but they are an American invention.

Rickshaw
Rickshaw
via Les Chatfield

Quadracycles can be unique and fun, but don’t add anything in terms of efficiency. They may be safer, since they are hard to fall off. (Your author has discovered it is not impossible to fall off a quadracycle!)

Quadracycles are often used when a group of three or more people want to go together on a human-powered machine.

quadracycle - pedal powered car
Antique quadracycle
via Randal J. (RJFerret)

bicycle technology quadracycle
Quadracycle
via Prayitno

Tricycles and quadracycles are often created for people who have disabilities, such as paralyzed legs, since balancing a two-wheeled machine would be difficult.


Human-Powered Cars and Boats

Table of Contents

Through the years, inventors have tried to add car-like features to bicycles, with varying degrees of success. The problem quickly becomes one of weight versus convenience. Putting doors, a roof, and comfortable seats in a human-powered vehicle raises the weight so it is hard to take it up hills. Maintenance can also be an issue. Until someone makes a standardized one that is very popular, replacement parts will not be readily available.

Finally, if you enclose a rider, you need to do something to keep that rider cool in warm weather.

One machine that was popular in the mid 1970s was the PPV (People-Powered Vehicle). This semi-enclosed vehicle could accommodate two riders, or one rider with several bags of groceries. With one rider, it was a monster taking it up hills, even with its three-speed transmission. To the inventor’s credit, for durability, it used a real transmission instead of a three-speed Sturmey-Archer, Shimano or Sachs hub. On the other hand, for stopping, it depended entirely on a drum brake in the front wheel, controlled by a single brake handlever and cable.

PPV - people-powered vehicle
PPV
via livewombat

I keep talking about efficiency in this book, so let’s consider something entirely different. That’s pedalboats. They are terribly inefficient, but they’re fun! You can rent these at many resorts, parks, marinas and so on, and they are calm, meditative fun.

pedalboat
Pedalboat
via Bart Everson


Electric Bikes

Table of Contents

electric bike, bicycle
via Pleclown

The idea of hooking up a battery and motor to a bicycle is attractive. Imagine that you are a healthy commuter who has an off day. Wouldn’t it be great to let the bike to all, or most of the work? Or, perhaps you’re not so healthy. You can work your way slowly to better health by letting an electric bike do most of the work at first, and less and less as you regain your health.

The line between what can be called an ‘electric bike’ and other two-wheeled machines is blurry.

Electric motorcycles are being manufactured that weigh hundreds of pounds and have great speed and range.

Electric scooters of all sorts ranging from toys to machines ridden by professional security, maintenance and guide personnel, such as the Segway, might be called electric bicycles by some.

Segway
Segway

Conversion kits can be attached to most adult bikes, so the mountain or road bike you’ve always enjoyed can continue to entertain you, but now as an electric bike. However, conversion kits can be somewhat clunky compared to bikes designed and manufactured to be electric bikes in the first place.

Hundreds or thousands of people have tried their own homemade conversions.

homemade electric bike
A homemade electric bike conversion
via Hamish Darby

The unwieldy-looking bicycle pictured above used an ordinary car battery mounted above the front wheel. These batteries have poor range to weight ratio. Being filled with liquid and lead, they are remarkably heavy. The inventor of this bike reports having crashed into a tree and smashed his battery shortly after the picture was taken.

Electric bicycles are manufactured with and without pedals and human-powered drivelines. Perhaps without pedals, it can’t be called a ‘bicycle.’ I’ll leave you to decide.

Some are assisted drive, meaning you need to pedal, adding a bit of your own power to engage the electrical system. Others can move entirely on electric power.

Most use nickel-cadmium or lithium ion batteries built into a pack. The actual batteries often look like ordinary D cells. Nickel-cadmium batteries are found in the lower-end machines. They require careful charging and use, otherwise, they don’t last long, and are expensive to replace. Lithium-ion batteries are more expensive to replace, but work with an electrical system that automatically balances the charging, so they’ll typically last much longer. They also provide more power for their weight.

Most electric bikes have regenerative breaking. When you go downhill or coast to a stop, the motor acts as a generator, slowing the bike, and charging the battery.

If you like to be accurate with terminology, the “battery” is the entire pack, composed of the individual “cells.”

The power of an electric bike is measured in watts. One with a motor sufficiently powerful to take an adult up a moderate hill will have a motor rated at 450 watts or greater.

Top speeds range from around 12 miles per hour to over 50 MPH (20 to 80 KPH). In order to be legally considered a ‘bicycle’ in most communities, meaning that licensing, insurance and perhaps a helmet are not required, the speed of an electric bike must be restricted.

electric bike


Art Bikes

Table of Contents

Bicycles are good candidates for artistic treatment, as the following pictures illustrate.

art bike

art bike
via Chris Gilmore

art bike
via Donna B McNicol

art bike
via hAdamksy

art bicycle
via Amit Patel

art project bicycle
via Porsche Brosseau

Schwinn Orange Krate

The Orange Krate, one of a series of art bikes, all in the same configuration, but with varying colors, manufactured by Schwinn in the late 1960s.
via Nels P Olsen

elliptical art bike
via Andy Mitchel

This last bike is kinetic art. As you can see, the front of the bike will rise up and down when ridden due to the off-center mounting of the front wheel.

Art bikes can be sculpted using welding to completely modify the frames, handlebars and other metal parts. Glue can be applied to frame tubing, and glitter, fake fur, plastic scraps, or just about anything you might imagine can be attached. Simply tricking a bike out in every accessory you can get your hands on is another approach. Then there’s color. Most sizes of tires are available in a variety of colors. You can mix and match accessories for color coordination. For the ultimate in color, you can paint the bike.

Millions of people throughout the world have painted bikes with ordinary spray paint getting varying but never perfect results. Some will paint the entire bike, wheels and all. Some will disassemble the bike, painting only the frame and fork. The reason spray paint that you can buy at the local hardware store doesn’t work out well is that it is scratch-prone. Under ideal conditions, it cannot be applied as strongly as factory paint, which in some cases is too toxic for home use, and in other cases is electrostatically applied and baked on.

It also takes a bit of skill to paint a bike. Professional painters use a siphon-feed gun that sprays a mix of air and atomized liquid paint. The expert will arrange a way to hold the frame and fork so that every angle is easy to see. The fork is easy, just hold it by the steering tube. For the frame, you can insert a junk seatpost as a handle. The professional will usually spray the intersections from every angle first, then the long straight sections of tubing. Depending on the type of paint used, the painter may use many light strokes, rather than trying to get the paint on all in one layer. This prevents runs and drips.

Preparation is also important. If you try to apply paint over grease or dirt, the paint will wipe right off when dry. If you apply paint over loose flaking or chipping paint, the new paint will chip off. If you apply paint over a contrasting color, it will show through your new paint. The best preparation is a complete soak in paint stripping chemical, which is dangerous because it is caustic, or sandblasting. You don’t want to use a heavy-duty blaster with a course sand such as a bridge or boat painter may use, because it will wear right through your bike’s frame tubing.

Sometimes a painter will spray a layer of white, gold or silver before the finished color, which can result in a more vivid finished product.

In the mid 1980’s two-tone paint jobs were popular. A frame would first be painted in a solid color. Then the intersections would be painted in a complimentary color. The center of the intersections would be painted solidly, but as the paint gun was moved away from the intersections, to the center of the frame tubing, the amount of paint would be reduced, so that the intersections would fade into the main color. Your author is guessing that anyone who brings back a two-tone job today would receive compliments. Examples of attractive two-tone color combinations are:

Burgandy main tubes, and darker reddish-brown, almost black intersections.

Light green main tubes, and dark blue intersections.

Yellow main tubes, and red intersections.

Artistic Unicycles

Then we have art unicycles. Unicycles have been decorated, outfitted with colored lights, and made to look like other objects, such as wheelbarrows.

stool unicycle
via Steph B

Most artistic unicycles have something added, since there isn’t much left to remove from a unicycle.

One goofy addition is a “handlebar unit.” This is not attached to the unicycle, but pushed along, generally in front, not for assisting the rider in balancing, but for show. At first, it appears the rider is on an ordinary bicycle. But wait, there’s no frame between the front and rear wheels. Then the rider can turn the handlebar unit this way and that, hold it over head, throw it and catch it, and so on, resulting in a rather amazing show for anyone not expecting that.

handlebar unit
via Daniel Oines

Your silly author added a couple of wheels to make a tall unicycle in which one tire rubbed on the one below, turning that wheel backward, and that one’s tire rubbed on the bottom wheel, turning it forward.

Jeff Napier three-wheel unicycle
The author on his three-wheel unicycle


The Legend of Wrong Way Wooten

Table of Contents

In the mid 1980s a man from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, became rather famous for riding his bike backward. At the age of 13, one of his friends said that riding a bike while sitting on the handlebar would be impossible. Tom Wooten proved his friend wrong. When he saw the way people reacted to seeing him ride that way, he decided it would be his career.

Wrong Way Wooten
Wrong Way Wooten

In his late 20s, evidently after driving a tow truck for a while, and receiving a degree in psychology, he planned his first cross-country tour. Originally, he was going to ride with five other people, but they all backed out before he started. He relates, “I learned never to count on anybody for anything.”

he built a custom bike for his purpose. It was based on a Schwinn Varsity, which was a very heavy all-steel bike of the late 1970s, with a one-piece crank. He put padded tape on the handlebar to make sitting more comfortable. He installed two mirrors on long arms so he could see where he was going. He removed the seat, and put a portable television in its place. He then somehow attached another ten-speed bike to the rear of his bike in order to carry more gear. There is no information as to how the bike was attached. There are conflicting reports as to how much the entire contraption weighed. The report that I believe says it was 160 lbs (72 kg). Other reports put it at “over 300 pounds” and some say it was 450 lbs.

He converted the bike to 21 speeds, quite rare in the 1980s, but left the shifters in their original position – on the handlebar stem. This meant that he had to reach between his legs to change gears. His bike had toe-clips, which were, of course, installed backward on the pedals.

Before his first trip to traverse the entire United States, he studied maps. Being independently wealthy (according to what little is written – and we don’t know how he attained that wealth) he then hired a small airplane to fly low, examining his route for overly steep hills, road construction and other such potential problems.

Tom, who legally changed his name to “Wrong Way Wooten,” then set out on his journey with a specific self-appointed mission. “The main reason I do what I do is to get people to realize that they have a responsibility to other people.” He represented several major charities including The American Cancer Society, The American Lung Society, The Heart Fund, the Jaycees, United Way, and March of Dimes, taking donations in person and also encouraging people to donate directly to their favorite charities. According to the legend, he criss-crossed the country several times totaling 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) over the next 17 years.

To some, it looked like what he is doing, riding around the country on a bike, would be limitless fun, but he cites some problems, such as flat tires, bad weather and racists who sometimes tried to run him off the road. “I can’t hate them, then I would be just like them.”

He did not recommend that other people should tour backwards. “One mistake, and you’re history.”

He planned on riding for twenty-five years. Unfortunately, in 2004, at age 47, he died of a massive heart attack. His credo was, “Bind yourself to nothing and seek harmony with all things. Only then can you be truly free.” People who remember him say he was a wonderful and very personable ambassador for kindness to others.


Cargo

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goat on a bicycle
via Paretz Partensky

What can be carried on a bicycle is amazing. Carrying too much badly is also a cause for many bike accidents, so please be careful. Your author was once carrying two six-foot (two-meter) unicycles with one hand while steering with the other. Suddenly, a gust of wind caused the unicycles to turn in the author’s hand. The seat of one of the unicycles caught in the spokes of the bicycle’s front wheel, and your author went flying, landing on a pedal of one of the unicycles. The injury was minor, but it could have been much worse.

One of the most common cargo mistakes is bungees (“stretch cords”) that aren’t properly secured. When a bungee comes loose, a hook end will almost always get caught in the spokes, wrapping around a few times, until the wheel stops. In worst cases, they’ll break several spokes, killing the wheel’s structural integrity. This results in a sudden and serious problem.

In addition to special cargo-carrying bikes, bicycle carriers, baskets, and trailers of all descriptions have been built. Your author was once commissioned by a bakery to make a special trailer for their needs. They had a warehouse six blocks away in which they stored flour. When the trailer was completed, once a day, a baker would ride to the warehouse, pick up 350 pounds (160 kilos) of flour, and haul it back to the bakery. The bakers were delighted, because until then, they used a pickup truck dedicated to that job, which made pollution, cost money for insurance and registration, and was hard to park.


Derailleurs and Sprockets

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The first bicycles incorporating a chain and sprockets were fixed-gear (direct drive). People soon figured out that coasting might be nice, so various arrangements for freewheeling were created, and the braking operation was changed from using your feet to resist movement of the pedals to much safer braking systems.

Now, inventors were free to go crazy. The planetary gear systems mentioned in the first part of this book came along fairly quickly. Shortly thereafter, people figured out that one could combine a chain tensioner with a stack of sprockets (often called “cogs” or a “freewheel”), so that by moving the tensioner sideways, the chain could be aligned with one or another sprocket. These first versions of derailleurs typically used only two three sprockets, closely spaced in gearing.

Then, for many years, until the late 1970s, ten-speed bikes were the norm, with five sprockets on the rear wheel, and two in front.

As you know, “ten-speeds” is a misnomer, since some of the speeds overlap, and one doesn’t shift from first through tenth, hitting every gear on the way. Just like a modern 24-speed bike doesn’t really mean you use all 24 speeds.

All modern rear derailleurs have two pulleys. The top one is called the guide pulley, and the bottom one is the tension pulley.

Some of the earliest designs had only one pulley, so shifting was a bit sloppy. At first, serious cyclists resisted two pulleys on a derailleur, figuring the extra pulley would eat up a lot of power with extra friction. It turns out that the second pulley uses only a microscopic amount of power.

During the late 1960s, some odd variations appeared, and became quite common. A French manufacturer, Simplex, made a derailleur in which the biggest parts were made from plastic. It worked quite well, but was prone to failure, as the points where the springs mounted would tear out of the plastic.

Another was by Huret. Their Allvit model was one of the very few that used ball bearings in the pulleys. This all-steel derailleur had a shell, sort of like a turtle, that protected the parallelogram mechanism which moved the pulleys in and out among the five sprockets. All the pivots were adjustable, with bolts and locknuts. Unfortunately, being adjustable, they frequently needed adjustment. Some of the Huret Allvits came with red pulleys, which became quite collectible for a while.

Index shifting did not become practical until the mid 1970s. Until then, one had to carefully adjust the shifter after selecting a gear to line up the derailleur properly for smooth and noiseless operation. The first index shifting systems generally put the detents (stops) in the derailleur, so it would precisely line up under each gear. Now, almost all systems have the detents in the shifter, depending on the cable to carry the message accurately to the derailleur. It seems like a system designed to fail, but index shifting seems to work well most of the time.

Most system have an adjusting barrel around where the cable casing meets the shifter. You can turn the barrel to adjust the system on the fly.

Colnago shifters
Simple but high-end, non-index shifters
via Arnoooo

One of the latest changes in derailleurs isn’t in mechanical design, but in the word itself. It is slowly evolving to be spelled “derailer.”


Brakes

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There are more ways to stop a bike than to make it go. Below are pictures of some interesting concepts in braking:

vintage bicycle spoon brake
Spoon brake
via AndrewDressel

One of the first brakes, called a spoon brake, just rubbed on the surface of the tire. This was common on penny-farthings (also called “ordinaries”) – the bikes with huge front wheels – if they had brakes at all.

antique bicycle brake
Fongers rod actuated brake on Westrick rim
via Jeremy Burgin

It didn’t take long to figure out that rubbing something against the rim was more durable than against the tire.

bicycle coaster brake
A typical old coaster brake

Coaster brakes are relatively complex mechanisms, yet they appeared early in the history of bicycles.

bicycle drum brake
Early drum brake
via Ralf Roletschek

Something more powerful was needed for motorcycles and cars, so the drum brake was invented. This has two half-circle shoes that rub against the inside of the hub shell when actuated with a cam. Just like most caliper (rim) brakes, these work poorly when wet, unless sealed against the weather.

bicycle drum brake
Modern drum brake
via Haupseite

bicycle band brake
Band brake
via imoni

A band brake fits loosely around the outside of a drum mounted on the hub. When actuated, the band tightens around the drum. This type of brake is used extensively on slow-moving machinery such as riding movers. Interestingly, in one direction, generally forward, the brake is easily controlled. In the other direction, as soon as the band touches the drum, it tends to tighten itself, making braking touchy. Band brakes are seldom used on bicycles.

Mafac Competition centerpull bicycle brake
via Ralf Roletschek

A very common type of brake used in bicycles is a caliper brake. There are several variations. This one is called a “centerpull” style, because the cable pulls equally on both sides. Sidepull brakes have a cable in which the inner wire pulls on one side, while the cable housing (“equal and opposite reaction”) pushes on the other side.

Campagnolo Delta bicycle caliper brake
Campagnolo Delta – a highly styled caliper brake
via Christian Kunze

Shimano Rollercam bicycle brake
Rollercam brake – uses a cam instead of a bridge cable
via Jeff Archer

Caliper brakes often squeak. Squeaking is caused by vibration, as the brake pad sticks, the brake arm flexes, the pad lets go a bit, then sticks again, and so on, in very rapid rhythm. This is usually remedied by cleaning the rims, replacing the pads, or adjusting or bending the brake calipers a bit, so the trailing edges of the pads touch the rims first when the brakes are squeezed lightly.

bicycle disk brake

And then we have disk brakes. These are easier to keep adjusted than caliper brakes. Because the rotor is small and near the center of the wheel, it is less likely to get bent. The overall weight is low compared to other kinds of brakes.

bike disk brake

Many disk brakes are controlled with ordinary Bowden cables. That’s the technical name for the kind of cable used for bicycle brakes and shifters. Other disk brakes are controlled with a hydraulic system. There is a piston in the brake handlever that squeezes oil through a hose to a piston in the brake assembly which presses a brake pad against the disk. The piston in the handlever is much like a doctor’s syringe. When you let go of the lever, a spring in the brake assembly retracts the brake pad, and forces the fluid back to the handlever.

bicycle disk brake

bicycle disk brake


Bits and Pieces

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a Few Modern Components

sondelux
via Hauptseite

bicycle handlebar end grip
via Ukxpat

bicycle cog freewheel sprockets
via KMJ

bicycle hybrid handlebar
via AndrewDressel

And a few old ones:

bicycle skip link inch-pitch chain
via Wp-0001

When chains and sprockets were first used with bicycles, they were adapted from farm and industrial machinery. At the time, skip-link also known as inch-pitch chain was common.

bicycle sew-up tubular tire
via tetedelacourse

Sew-up tires, also known as “tubulars” are far less common today than they were until the early 1980s. These are made like an American football. They have an inner tube that is completely surrounded by the tire. The tire is sewn together with heavy stitches along the inside edge. You can inflate a sew-up off a wheel, and it will look like a giant, thin donut. They were very popular for road and track racing, since they can hold a very high pressure, and are thin and light. These are glued or fastened to the rims with double-sided tape. Tourists also liked sew-ups since the rider could fix a puncture in two minutes. The tourist would have a spare tire folded up and carried under the seat or in a pack. Sew-ups take up less space than a water bottle when folded. Upon getting a flat, the rider would tear the old tire off the rim, and stretch the new tire into position using the old tape or glue. The rider would inflate the tire with a portable pump, fold the punctured tire under the seat, and ride away.

When the rider came home with a punctured tire, approximately six inches (15 cm) of the stitching along the inside edge could be cut, and the inner tube would be patched in the usual way. Then the rider would replace the stitching, and have a good spare.

The sew-up is a simple tire compared to the modern kind, called a clincher.

cross section of a bicycle wheel
Crosssection of a typical bicycle wheel
via Deerwood

In the picture above:

1. The metal wheel rim.

2. The rim strip. This is a rubber, cloth or plastic strip that protects the inner tube from punctures caused by contact with the spoke heads.

3. The side of the rim where a caliper brake can be used.

4. Inside the edges of the tire are steel cables. Without these, when pressurized, the tire would stretch and blow off the rim.

5. The inner tube. Because of the small volume of air in a bicycle tire, the smallest leak would cause it to deflate quickly. Since bicycle rims usually have to accommodate spokes, it would be difficult to seal the spoke holes. Therefore, it is not practical to make a tubeless tire, such as cars use. The inner tube makes it possible to have a system that is not microscopically precise, yet is air tight.

6. The tire casing is made of cloth, and has sufficient strength and flexibility to withstand the air pressure and bumps and cracks in the road surface.

7. The tread of the tire is usually rubber impregnated with carbon. That’s why most tires are black. The carbon keeps the rubber from wearing out immediately. Without carbon, instead of 2,000 miles (3,000 km) per pair of tires, they might last 10 miles (15 km).

dangerous bicycle axle wingnut
Wingnut

For a short while in the 1970s, wingnuts were popular. The idea is that riders would not have to use a wrench to remove and replace wheels. Even though hollow axles with quick release skewers were available then, they were somewhat more expensive.

The problem with wingnuts is that it was hard to get them tight enough. The rear wheel would typically pull to one side on a hard hill climb, so the rider would have to stop and reposition the wheel, then attempt to tighten the wingnut sufficiently. Sometimes the wings would break off. Worse, wingnuts on the front wheel could come loose by simply parking against a bush or bumping a wingnut with a shoe.


Seats or Saddles

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bicycle seat saddle
via Ralf Roletschek

Serious cyclists call seats “saddles.”

Serious cyclists call seatposts “seat pillars.”

Go figure!

bike seat
via AndrewDressel

bicycle seat

bike saddle
A “banana” seat from a stingray bike of the late 1960s
via AndrewDressel

Brooks bicycle leather seat saddle
A sprung leather saddle
via Suleyman Habib

Brooks Professional Pro bicycle saddle
The Brooks Professional, a top of the line leather seat
via The Javelina

Leather seats were common for a long time in bicycle history. Before plastics were readily available, they made the best compromise between comfortable softness and reasonable weight. The leather saddle started out hard as a rock. The rider was supposed to “work it in” which could mean anything from applying neatsfoot oil and beating it with a hammer, to just riding it for a long time until it naturally softened from wear. If it became too soft, there was a screw under the nose that could be adjusted to lengthen, and therefore tighten the saddle.

Easyseat
via Hutschi

New riders are advised to limit the length of their rides until they get used to their saddles. Until a rider is quite experienced, most saddles are uncomfortable. For that reason, inventors have been working since the beginning of bicycling to come up with better alternatives.


Bicycle Safety

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Three out of every four fatal bike accidents are due to a head injury. 97 percent of the people who died in bike accidents were not wearing helmets. It has been said that helmets are 85% effective in preventing head injury.

During the fifteen years between 1990 and 2005 in the United States, only one person riding a bike in a marked bicycle lane had a fatal accident.

In 2009, the latest year for which there are US national statistics, 618 people died in bicycle related accidents. Interestingly, 87% were male, and the average age was 41. Your author was quite surprised, figuring it would be mostly children who die in bike accidents. 52,000 people were injured, 80% were male, the average age of people injured on bikes was 31.

humorous bicycle crash scene

So, wouldn’t it be great to make money teaching bicycle safety?

The venues and ways to get paid for teaching bicycle safety are unlimited. For instance, you can get paid by schools and universities to perform at assemblies. If you can make an amusing show of some sort, perhaps demonstrating BMX freestyle skills, that also teaches some basics of bicycle safety, well, you’d be doing everyone a favor! The show has to be interesting so the audience will pay attention, they will remember, and maybe even tell their friends some of the important points.

You might like to focus some attention on aspects of bicycle safety that don’t get mentioned often enough. That’s because many safety programs miss the point. They teach kids to use hand signals, when they really ought to teach children – and adults – what really happens in a bike accident. How bad it can be. If a child breaks an arm at the beginning of summer, that kid will not be able to have nearly as much fun for the rest of the summer. If an adult breaks an arm, he may miss out on a promotion, lose his job, and pay considerable out-of-pocket expenses.

Many people don’t understand why riding on the wrong side of the road is so risky. What creative way could you come up with to illustrate that point? Teach what happens to visibility in wet weather. Don’t just tell people they need lights and reflectors. Explain why. Explain that the reflections on wet streets are confusing to drivers, and camouflage bicyclists. You get the idea.

Or, in case you don’t: Kids, and way too many adults, do not think much about their vulnerability. They think bad things can only happen to other people, not to themselves. They take risks because they haven’t learned to adequately weigh the possible outcomes. Perhaps you are the one who can teach them bicycle safety in a way that sinks in. They aren’t going to think about hospitals, bike accident attorneys, time out of work, lost money. So, you have to give them good reasons not to ride a bike while impaired, or without thinking defensively.

You can be sponsored by local businesses to perform at their company picnics, paid to present in after-school programs, or even street perform. Have you ever seen a juggler or magician doing an entertaining show and then passing the hat? You’d be surprised how much the experienced ones can make. But wouldn’t it be great if they had a message in their show? Maybe something about bike safety? Or, maybe you’re a musician who can write humorous lyrics. . .

Then, there are ideas such as putting together a free video for YouTube. If it is popular enough, if it goes viral, you can make a fine living just from the co-advertising dollars that it will bring in. The same goes for a website. You can make a free website, but better, and focused to the actual riders, and include some advertising on the side.

This next proposal is for people who are somewhat mechanically inclined:

I have been told that seven out ten bicycle accidents don’t involve cars. One out of eight bikes has a serious, often hidden, mechanical problem that could cause injury or even death. If you are mechanically inclined, I’d like to suggest that you could perform safety tune-ups on bikes where you live, and maybe even make a business of it.

As the former owner of two bike shops, founding author of BikeWebSite, and having repaired more than 15,000 bikes, I have written up some ideas for the safety tune-up business. You are free to take what I have learned, set up your business, and keep perhaps 100 people out of the hospital this year. I’d like to encourage everyone who reads this to consider the bicycle safety tune-up business.

Here are all the details. Good luck, and enjoy your new, meaningful, profitable business!

I was recently walking through a neighborhood because I was a few minutes early for a meeting, and saw something I really did not want to see. However, it changed my life, and may change your life, causing us both to help prevent something similar from happening to hundreds or maybe even thousands of other children and adults.

I watched in horror as an eleven-year-old boy came rushing down a hill on an out-of-control bicycle. He barreled through an intersection at about 30 miles per hour. Fortunately, there were no cars there just then. But, he was not out of danger yet. He hit a curb on the far side of the intersection, and with a bang of escaping air, his front wheel was instantly destroyed. At that point, the boy and the bike became separated. He airborne flight was abruptly halted when he hit a chain-link fence face first. He was taken to a hospital. I believe his injuries were minor, but it certainly could have been worse, and is worse, for many riders.

I came back a while later due to a professional curiosity. The broken bike had been forgotten at the accident scene. I tried the brakes. No go. There was no front brake cable. The back brake cable was so rusted that a grown man could not have squeezed the lever sufficiently to slow that bike.

So, it got me to thinking: What if I could have had a chance to fix that bike before the boy rode it? Of course, the accident wouldn’t have happened. But what if I could fix other bikes? There are several ways I could perform safety tune-ups and get paid. I could probably fix more than 20 bikes a day. Since one out of eight bikes have serious but hidden problems, and since seventy percent of bicycle accidents requiring hospitalization don’t involve cars, that means in the course of season, I might be able to keep up to 450 people out of the hospital. That number may be exaggerated because not all bicycle safety problems necessarily result in a serious accident. But still, if I could keep some people safe, I’d be happy.

Then, I got to thinking about a larger picture: What if I could leverage my knowledge, and show many people how to do the same thing? I would be quite happy if I could encourage someone in every community to make their living by keeping bikes safe, ultimately preventing hundreds or thousands of injuries.

Be the first in your city to make a profit while performing bicycle safety tune-ups, and keep hundreds of your friends and neighbors, and their children out of the hospital.

You don’t need years of experience. Get a good book on bicycle repair, and practice on some old garage sale or thrift store bikes. Follow the step-by-step procedure described below, and you can literally save lives. However, before you actually start out, you should be well-practiced, and I’d like to recommend you pay a professional bike mechanic to observe you while you tune up a bike, and offer commentary. Obviously, we want to be sure that you working on bikes is safe, since you want to make them safe.

If you really don’t feel mechanically inclined at all, you might consider a partnership with someone who is a good bike mechanic. You can line up venues, take care of scheduling, payments, and all the business activities. For that matter, if you don’t feel like much of a business person, you can leverage your mechanical skill with a good business partner.

Next, I’ll present the step-by-step procedure. Later, I’ll offer all sorts of business advice that will save/make you thousands more dollars.

The Tune-Up Procedure

You may feel inclined to modify this step-by-step procedure, but if you do, keep in mind that every aspect has been designed after 15,000 bikes experience, to prevent accidents. If you change anything, you really ought to have a good reason, and consider the consequences. Here it is:

1. With the bike on the ground, hold the front wheel between your knees, and turn the handlebar from side to side. It should be firmly attached. If it turns easily, then you’ll need to tighten the stem. If it is the type with a single bolt on the top, try tightening the bolt. If that doesn’t work, you may need to loosen the bolt several turns, tap it with a mallet (soft hammer), which releases a wedge inside the fork steering tube, lift the stem out, lubricate the wedge, reinsert and tighten the stem. While you’re at it, see that the stem is sufficiently inserted. Many people like having their handlebar higher. But if you exceed the limit of stem extension, the stem or fork steering tube could fail. And like many such failures, it will generally let go in a most critical time when bearing a lot of weight. Most stems of the single-bolt-on-top variety have a line molded into the side and a statement stamped into the metal to the effect: “Insert to hide this line.” That line and text must not be visible.

2. Check that the seat clamp and seatpost are tight, and that the seatpost is inserted in the frame at least two inches. Many seatposts have a line stamped in the metal, and sometimes text that says, “Insert beyond this line.”

3. Suspend the bike and check the tire seating, and then air pressures. Tires can be badly seated such that there is a place where the inner tube could bulge out, and suddenly explode. If you find a place where the tire is not seated properly, you can often reduce the air pressure to almost nothing, manually force the tire into position, and then reinflate. Sometimes it is a bit more of a struggle, since the bad seating can be due to a portion of inner tube caught under the bead of the tire, a misplaced or broken rimstrip (layer of material that prevents the top of the spokes from puncturing the inner tube), or damaged or poorly manufactured tire.

Except for serious off-road riding, the tires should be inflated to the maximum amount imprinted on the sides of the tires. Low pressures are generally more of a maintenance issue than a safety issue, or are they? When pressures are low, there is greater risk of puncture, or blow-out when hitting a curb or pothole, and therefore losing control. Furthermore, with low pressures, rims can become kinked when hitting potholes and so on, which causes caliper (rim-squeezing) brakes to work poorly.

4. Check the bearings: headset, bottom bracket set (crank), pedals, and front and rear hubs. If you find excessive grinding, tightness or wobbliness, you have at least a maintenance issue, and possibly a safety issue. Repair of these problems is more than I can cover here. You might charge additional money to fix bearing problems that you encounter, or simply tell the bike’s owner to take it to a shop for deeper repairs.

When you find a bearing mildly out of adjustment, it’s not a safety issue. If it’s a slow day, or if it’s your policy to do more than a safety tune-up, you can adjust the bearing. That can be a big plus for customer relations.

5. See if the wheels are true (round). Adjust with a spoke wrench if slightly out of true. Recommend or perform bigger repairs as needed. In the case of rim-squeezing brakes (caliper brakes), run your fingers over the rims to see if there are any kinks or outward bends. Bend them back with gentle hammer strokes or squeezing with pliers while protecting the rim with a piece of cloth. If the rims are made from aluminum alloy, only a small degree of bending is possible. Aluminum rims should be checked for fractures. If spokes are loose or broken, additional repairs will be needed. When you have more than one spoke broken where they bend and enter the hub, fatigue is likely. When spokes fatigue, they all start to break at the hub, and should all be replaced.

6. Now that the wheels have been taken care of, you can adjust the brakes. This is where you should really know what you are doing. If you have little experience with brakes, consult several bike repair manuals, get lots of practice, and maybe even have a professional bike mechanic check your work on several models of brakes. The hand levers should be secure on the handlebar.

For the remainder of this discussion, we’ll assume that you’re working on bikes with cable-operated caliper brakes. For coaster brakes, hydraulic disk brakes and so on, you must know what you are doing, or simply decline tuning up that particular bike. Fortunately, most bikes, especially the ones that are most often unsafe, have standard caliper brakes.

Look in the handlevers just past where the cable attaches. This is where cables most often start to fail. If even one strand is broken, the cable must be replaced. As each strand breaks, the cable becomes weaker, so with even one broken strand, the cable is much weaker than a new one. Keep in mind that when a cable breaks, it would be when it is at maximum tension in a panic stop, not the time you’d want it to break.

Look at the far end of the cable when it attaches at the brake caliper. You may find a broken strand just at the anchor bolt. If so, the cable needs to be replaced. The brake should open easily. If when the handlever is released, it opens lazily or not fully, the handlever pivot, brake pivot, or cable may be sticking. If you detach the cable, you can find out what’s sticky by squeezing the brake caliper and operating the handlever. If neither of those are stiff, then the cable is the culprit.

The brake pads must hit the rim at the proper height. Too high and they’ll grind through the tire. Too low, and they could suddenly slip lower, jam in the spokes, and cause a horrendous accident. Look for fractured aluminum components. Look for improper cable attachments.

The brakes should open wide enough to allow the wheels to spin freely, yet should adequately stop the bike with lots of room left over for cable stretch and brake pad wear. If you can’t achieve both, then it’s better to have the brakes rub the rims a bit, compared to too-loose brakes.

One of the best things you can do for lower-quality (most) bikes, is replace the brake pads with ones better than original equipment. These are available at all bike stores. A common brand is Cool-Stop. Oddly, many bikes, especially ones with chrome-plated steel rims, have brake pads that don’t work at all when wet. This must be attended to. Whereas most bicyclists don’t intend to ride in the rain, it can happen. Yet, it is such a rare occasion, the rider may not know that the brakes won’t work when wet.

So many brakes have been designed so poorly over the years that I have always been amazed that the bike manufacturers haven’t been sued over and over again because of this issue.

What do you do when you get a bike on which the brakes can’t be tuned adequately? You must not pass that bike. You must tell the user there’s a problem that’s beyond your ability to repair. Remember, it’s not your fault if you can’t fix it. You didn’t make the bike! (If you did, the brakes would have been better quality.) You may not be able to charge the full price for the tune up when you reject a bike as unsafe, but you must reject it. That’s your job. You’re a safety inspector first and foremost, and a repair technician after that.

7. Take a look at the chain. It’s not your responsibility to clean it. But you need to see it. You’re looking for cracked, warped, or otherwise defective links. Most of the time you can see them by looking at the chain from above while slowly pedaling backward. Just watch the chain go by from one spot. A link that’s on the verge of failure will often look swollen compared to the others, as one side plate is starting to come detached. Or, you may see that a pin is starting to drift sideways. With practice, you can easily spot a pin that’s out of position compared to the others. You should also look to one side and the other for one revolution of the chain for each side, looking for cracks in the side plates, or missing portions of a side plate. These conditions are less common, but a huge safety issue. Also consider stiff links. While not a safety issue, they can usually be easily fixed with a bit of oil, and moderate side-to-side (lateral) flexing.

8. You can now turn your attention to the gearing system. If you’re working on a typical derailleur-equipped bike, your foremost concern is the condition known as overshift. That’s when a derailleur guides a chain beyond the largest or smallest sprocket. The chain then falls off, which can quite seriously confound the rider. The general idea is while ignoring the index shifting (clicking from one distinct position to another), you can tighten the limit screws (two on each derailleur) until the chain quits shifting smoothly into the largest or smallest sprockets, then back the limit screw off. This doesn’t tell the whole story however. Many conditions such as worn chain and sprockets, badly positioned front derailleur, weak or broken derailleur springs, and bent sprockets can cause the chain to fall off even when adjusted to the best of your ability. You can study and practice such repairs, or simply refer the bike’s owner to a fully-equipped bike shop.

Time permitting, you can adjust the index shifting so the bike works as elegantly as possible. This is not officially a part of a safety tune-up, but will score you big points in terms of reputation and can sometimes be accomplished in less than a minute.

9. One of the major parts of the safety tune-up is to check all the nuts and bolts for tightness. Start at the handlebar, checking handlevers, shifters, any accessories that may be attached, and then the handlebar stem. Cruiser style and highrise handlebars should be checked to be sure they won’t shift position. Check the seat clamp and seat post bolts.

Check that the front wheel is properly attached. Check the rear wheel the same way. Check the cranks (which often come loose and while not a safety issue, can cause an expensive mechanical failure), pedals, and chainwheel bolts. Check the brakes – every single nut and bolt should be checked on the braking system. Check all fasteners associated with the shifting system. Check all accessories.

See if the bike is properly equipped with reflectors. If not, an artistic application of reflective tape is a good idea, and fairly inexpensive, lightweight, durable, and effective. Suggest proper lighting equipment to the bike’s owner.

10. Test ride the bike. You’re looking for squeaky brakes, improper shifting, and anything idiosyncratic in the ride/steering/handling characteristics. It is common for bike mechanics to baby the bike on the tune-up, in case something goes wrong. That’s not what you want to do. You want to make a fool of yourself if necessary. It is better to look like a ‘bad’ mechanic than to let a safety problem go unresolved. Squeeze those brake levers hard, shift all the way from low to high in one swoop. If something does indeed go wrong, it’s better to happen now, when you can do something about it! Compared to your client’s safety, your own pride is not important!

11. Finally, check that the rider fits the bike properly, is using a helmet, wearing fluorescent or bright clothing, not riding at night unless properly equipped and experienced, knows defensive riding techniques, and ask whether the rider would be willing to talk with others about bike safety.

The Business of This Business

Now, let’s look at some ways to make money with bicycle safety tune-ups.

Probably the first and easiest way is to charge a fixed amount for house calls. This requires the least expense to set up, since all you need are some basic tools and transportation – a car or bike.

Using the standard methods of putting advertising flyers on local bulletin boards, newspaper classified ads, and business cards, you can establish a business in which people call to set up appointments. Once you start getting enough appointments, you can arrange your days for a minimum of time spent on the road. For instance, you can schedule everyone on the east side of town on Wednesdays, the west side on Thursdays, South County on Fridays, and so on. You really want to encourage people to bring all their family’s and friends’ bikes. Once you’re at a location and set-up, you can knock out safety tune-ups every few minutes. When you establish the appointment, you’ll want to know the approximate number of bikes you’ll be expected to tune.

One way to set it up is to work on a donation basis. All safety tune-ups are free. However, you can accept cash donations to continue your work, you can accept old unwanted bikes that you can fix up and sell (or sell the parts on eBay), books that you can sell on Amazon, and so on. This would be somewhat like an old-time country doctor, who would fix people up, and accept chickens, baskets of corn, and such as payment. By going with the all-donation paradigm, you are able to bring equal safety to all, not just those who can afford to be safe. Interestingly, you may get more in donations than you would have charged. For instance, you may have decided $38 is the right price for a safety tune-up. However, many people may give you $40, $50 or even more.

You can also offer additional services. For instance, to fix a flat tire would be $10 extra. You can offer full tune-ups, including derailleur adjustment, more advanced wheel alignment, and bearing adjustment for an additional charge.

You can set up in a local park if you are working on a donation basis only. This is good advertising, because many people will see you and talk about you. Being seen, and talked about is much better than advertising in local newspapers, for instance. If you set up in a park, and want to charge money, it is best to check with the local police first since there is often a local ordinance against doing something in which money changes hands in public areas. More than likely, when you tell them what you are doing, the police will go all out to support your work.

Taking the donation idea a big step further, you may want to look for a benefactor, sponsor, or a government grant, so you can devote 100% of your time to tune-ups, and not have to pursue money.

Another version of the park idea would be to set up in a cafe or similar venue. Imagine: The cafe benefits because you’ve created a brand new stream of patrons, many of whom may not have visited the cafe before, but they may like it and develop a habit of visiting again frequently. Plus, during the ten minutes you’re tuning a bike, the customer will most likely purchase some food. Book-cafes may work in just the same way, with the added benefit that people will browse and buy books while waiting. The cafe venue is good for you also. It’s a place to work out of the sun and rain, in which you don’t have to pay any rent.

Flea markets and farmer’s markets can be gold mines, especially if you have a lot of local people walking their bikes through the market.

You can go a step further and rent your own commercial space. If you have 1,000 square feet or so, you’d have room to accept donated bikes (or buy used bikes), fix them up, display, and sell them. You could evolve into a full-service bike shop, selling parts, accessories and new bikes.

Or, maybe you already have a bike shop. What would happen in your community if you offered free safety tune-ups during the off-season?

If you are planning to sell used (or new) bikes, and if Craigslist operates in your area, you’ll find advertising on Craigs works very well! Here are some tips for working with Craigslist:

1. Due to a recent change, you can post an ad only once every couple of days. But, you can post as many different ads as you want. You’d be primarily interested in the bicycling section. Initially, once every other day, you renew your basic ad for bicycle safety tune-ups. If you’re doing this as a free (or donation) service, you can post another ad selling the same free service in the ‘free’ section of Craigslist, as long as you change all the wording. You can also create up to seven different versions of your ad for each section (bicycling and free), so you can renew one everyday, and stay near the top of the listings. Saturating craigslist to this degree may be technically possible, but it is not a neighborly thing to do. You’ll start getting complaints or getting flagged (ad removed) from people who have seen too much of your advertising.

You can also consider shifting into different categories on Craigs from time to time. You might spend a week in “services” and you could post something relevant in “items wanted” from time to time (like, “donate you unwanted bikes to provide free safety tune-ups”). Of course posting in off-topic areas is best leveraged by making sure your posting also states your primary function: bicycle safety tune-ups and how the readers can find out more.

home bike shop bicycles for sale

2. If you sell used bikes out of your garage or backyard, this is a big opportunity on craigslist, because you can post a separate ad for each bike (within reason).

Don’t forget to delete your ads as soon as the specific bikes sell.

3. If you have more than a half-dozen bikes available most of the time, you’ll probably want to make your own website. You can register an easy-to-remember, and easy-to-type domain name at Godaddy for as little as $3/year. Most ISPs (your Internet service provider) give you free space to build websites. For instance, Comcast gives you 10 megabytes of contiguous space. This is plenty for a website that sells used bikes. Or, you can do it blogger-style for free.

artistic view of bicycles for sale in a bike shop

I’d recommend a home page with basic information at the top, such as your name or your business name, phone number and email address. Then a sentence that explains what you do, maybe something like this: “Call or write to schedule your free bicycle safety tune-up. We accept donated used bikes, fix them up, and sell them here to support our program.” Also, invite people to bookmark your website, and tell everyone they know about it. Oddly enough, this invitation brings quite a bit more business.

Then start right in with a table of available bikes. Each can have a thumbnail image, small description and price. The thumbnails can be clicked on to see larger pictures. You’ll probably want to limit your larger pictures to 800 x 600 pixels so people using smartphones and small tablets can see the whole bike at once, and so the download times on slow connections will be reasonable. Thumbnails work well when they are around 200 x 150 pixels.

Now, all you need to do is get people to see your website. Each bike you advertise on Craigslist should have a link to your website. That way, if the bike they see on Craigs isn’t quite right, they’ll find one that is. You might add in the text at the bottom of each craigslist ad: “More like and unlike this bike at xyz.com.”

If you don’t have craigslist in your area, you can do the usual thing: yellow pages ad (expensive, and not required), small newspaper ads (classifieds almost always work better than bigger, more expensive display ads), business cards, and flyers on local bulletin boards. After a while, word-of-mouth will do the work for you.

If you can manage to do something content-rich or eccentric in a positive way on your website, it will soon advertise itself. Everyone will tell everyone else what you have, and they’ll all click on over and take a look. It can have a cascading effect that could literally result in millions of hits. Imagine: Let’s say ten people come to your site, and they’re all fascinated. They each tell 5 others who come take a look. So now you have had 60 visitors. They all tell 5 others, and so then you have 360 visitors – and it just keeps growing. It generally takes considerable thinking and experimentation to build this effect, but it’s well worth the effort. I have often explained this to website owners, and they just don’t get it. Eccentric doesn’t mean paint a bike purple and take its picture. Who’s going to care about that? It doesn’t mean filling a car with sand and inviting the local disk jockeys to a press conference. It means something truly eccentric. Something that strikes a chord in the visitors – enough so that they’d want to take a minute to email their friends about your website. For instance, I once posted some shocking news: I declared a certain road that was a favorite weekend ride as unsafe, and went on to explain why (because it was heavily driven, curvy and narrow without places to safely drive around bikes). That got a lot of attention. No doubt you can come up with something better than that, however.

What if you don’t have any experience or interest in building a website, doing publicity, arranging advertising, or that sort of stuff? This is where a partner can be invaluable. You can offer a portion of your profits to someone who is willing to do the things you don’t want to do. However, when you set up a partnership, make sure there is an easy and amicable way to break it up later on, should the need arise. You’d be amazed how often partnerships end for one reason or another. You want to insure right up front, with honest communication (and written communication) that you can save your brilliant business if you can no longer function well with your partner.

To advertise without a website, the most cost-effective ways are to put up flyers on local bulletin boards (the natural food store in your neighborhood is probably the very best place), and hand out lots of business cards. You should also makes a sign you can place on the ground if you’re working out of a park or flea market-like setting, and signs on your bike trailer, car, or truck. Don’t be surprised if during a house call, you get one or more neighbors who’d like you to work on their bikes, too, if you have such signs.

I’d like to recommend considering complete tune-ups as well as, or instead of just safety tune-ups, especially if you are doing house calls. It seems to me that the perceived value of a safety tune-up is between $15-$25, while a full tune-up is valued as high as $80 (more typically $45 – $60). So, in your advertising, you could say something like, “While I’m there to do a safety tune-up, I might as well give you a full tune up, including wheel alignment, bearing adjustment, and adjustment of the derailleurs,” and of course you can then charge more money for a more complete job. But, the few minutes extra the extra work requires is well more than made up for by the fact you can charge twice as much money.


Random Bicycle Facts

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In 1903, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright finally got their invention to work. It was the world’s first airplane. They had to calculate and build everything themselves. They even made the engine, casting the crankcase, piston and all the parts themselves. Their first carburetor was just a valve that let gasoline drip on the side of the engine, being vaporized as it was sucked into the air intake. Since it was a prototype, they didn’t provide any cooling system. They could have flown longer than eight minutes that first day, but the engine became red-hot and quit working. How is that they were able to succeed? What was their background, that they had the mechanical skills to do all that? They were bike mechanics. They owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio.

The word “bicycle” was not invented until 1860.

In 1934, Fred Birchmore, of Athens, Georgia, who was 22 years old at the time, took a 40,000 mile (64,000 kilometer) mile trip. 15,000 of the miles were water crossings, but the remaining 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) were by bicycle, as he circumnavigated the globe. This was in an era before 24-speed mountain bikes. He had a heavy single-speed machine. The entire trip wore out 14 tires. He called his bike, “Bucephalus,” named after the horse ridden by Alexander the Great. During one of his water crossings, he earned his passage by piloting the ship himself, because the sailors were on strike at the time. Although he earned a degree in law, he worked as a English professor and Dean at Southern Georgia College, and later became a realtor and succeeded as an author. The book he wrote about his trip is “Around the World on a Bicycle.” Mr. Birchmore passed away in 2012, at the age of 100. He was known as an adventurer. Among his other feats, he also walked down the steps of the Washington Monument on his hands. For his honeymoon, he and his wife Willa Deane rode all around Central America on a tandem bike. They remained married for 72 years until his death. He says he was a sickly child, until he joined the YMCA, where he remained an active member for 90 years.

Fred Birchmore, enterprising bicycle rider

Every year, 100 million bikes are built. Lined up tire to tire, they’d circle the globe four times. If you could ride along that line of bicycles at a typical bicycling speed, it would take six and a half months, riding 24 hours a day.

For every time an American rides a bike, 100 Americans take a car. In Italy the average is five bike trips per hundred car trips, and in the Netherlands, thirty percent of travel is by bicycle.

A bicycle has over 1,000 parts, although more than half (typically 512) of
these are in the chain.

The longest “bicycle-built-for-two” actually seats 35 riders and is sixty feet (twenty meters) long.

In the space it takes to park a car, you can park fifteen bicycles.

More than 25 percent of the time when people drive their cars, the distance traveled is less than 6,500 feet (2 kilometers). Fifty percent of the time, the distance is less than five kilometers (3.1 miles). In the first two miles (three kilometers) the car’s engine is cold and inefficient, so it has to use considerably more fuel. Wouldn’t a bicycle make more sense for these little commutes?

You can cut your chances of heart attack or stroke in half by riding your bike 20 miles (30 kilometers) per week.

The typical commuter can save $300 per year (or 300 Euros per year, where higher gasoline prices roughly equate to the diference between dollars and Euros) by using a bicycle. Eliminating the automobile altogether can save well over a thousand dollars per year, considering the cost of car payments, maintenance and insurance.

Maintaining a car costs twenty times as much as a bicycle.

Someone figured out that if there were three times more bike riders on the streets, car-bike accidents would be reduced by half. That would be because motorists would become more conscious of bicyclists.

Mountain bikes did not exist until 1977.

Most roads have a bit of a curve toward the edges so rain water will run off. You can aim your bike, or the front wheel of your bike uphill, utilizing this curve if you are not on a hill. Then, you can alternately press forward with the pedals so the bike advances an inch or two (a few centimeters), then let off the pressure so the bike rolls back. By rocking back and forth in this manner, you can maintain your position while keeping both feet on the pedals. This is called a “track stand.” Someone who is practiced in this can do it without hands. It helps to press one thigh or shin against the bike’s toptube, to maintain better control. If you have no hill or curvature to take advantage of, you can put a hand on the front tire, and manually force the wheel back and forth to maintain balance.

The track stand was perfected by pursuit racers. They race a short distance on a track, and what’s important is to be the second one to start, to utilize the draft (parting of the wind) of the first rider. So, pursuits often started not only slowly, but with no forward progress at all.

Tsugunobu Mitsuishi from Japan holds the record for a track stand at five hours and twenty-five minutes.

One out of every ten workers in the New York City area commute by bicycle.

Bicycle commuters save 238 million gallons (more than a billion liters) of fuel per year.

Leonardo da Vinci was on the right track: He drew sketches of a machine that was more or less a bicycle, but it wasn’t until more than 300 years later that anyone made a real bicycle.

An adolescent who rides a bike is 48 percent less likely to become an overweight adult.

In 2009, the latest year for which there are statistics, $5.6 billion was spent in the US on bicycling. That’s an average of $18.66 for every American man, woman and child.

In America, three times more bicycles are sold than cars.

Real estate near a bike path has a slightly higher value.

According to The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors:

26 percent of Americans say they ride primarily for “recreation.”

23.6 percent ride “for exercise or health.”

14.2 percent ride “to go home.”

13.9 percent ride “for personal errands.”

10.1 percent ride “to visit a friend or relative.”

5.0 percent commute “to school or work.”

2.3 percent ride “just to ride.”

And 4.9 percent listed “other” as their reason to ride.

72 percent of all bicycles are made in China. 85 percent of the bikes being imported into America come from China.

60 percent of all bicycle trips are less than one mile.

The average US person who rides a bike regularly has an income of $60,000.

“Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.” – Susan B. Anthony

The riders on a tandem bike have specific names, the “captain” in front, and the “stoker” is the rear rider.

Much of the technology that was necessary to create cars was first used in bicycles. This includes ball bearings, air-filled tires, and self-centering steering (fork rake).

At one time in Manhattan, there were eighty bike shops within one square mile (2.5 sq km).

For a while, the US Patent Office was divided into two buildings. One building was for everything having to do with bicycles. The other building was for everything else.

The energy equivalent of gasoline works out to 2,577 miles per gallon (1,037 km per liter) when you ride a bicycle.

The average regular bicyclist is as fit as a non-bicyclist who is ten years younger.

You weigh six times more than your bike. Your car weighs twenty times more than you.

Your car uses more energy just to power its lights than you do going the same distance on a bike.

For the same amount of energy expended in walking, a bicycle propels you four times faster.

In the early days of the automobile, one had to be mechanically inclined, since the cars broke down so often.

With bicycles, it is still a bit like that today. Bikes are not as reliable as washing machines. You can buy a washing machine, never do a thing to maintain it, yet it will work reliably for twenty years. A bicycle, on the other hand, needs to be tuned up once or twice a year, and tends to need repairs from time to time. The reasons for the difference are two:

It doesn’t matter how much a washing machine weighs. The bicycle has to be lightweight so it is responsive and easy to take up hills. The washing machine doesn’t need to crash through potholes, get covered with dirt from the road, and work in all kinds of weather.

We could have bicycles that are as reliable as washing machines. But, like washing machines, they’d weight 200 pounds (100 kilos).

Most people don’t know the difference between a spindle and an axle. The axle spins with a component, and a spindle does not. So, the wheels have spindles, and pedals have spindles. The “bottom bracket spindle” is actually an axle.

Many people also confuse screws and bolts. A bolt screws into something that has matching threads, such as a nut, or a components that has been drilled and tapped with threads. The screw makes its own threads as it is installed, such as wood screws and drywall screws. Most of the fasteners you’ll find on a bike are bolts.

“On a bicycle you are faster, friendlier and and more free than any other vehicle in city traffic.” – Bicycle Recycling Network

Trips up to three miles (five kilometers) in length average less time on a bicycle than in a car when you factor in the time necessary for parking and walking to and from the parking place.

In nearly one out of four bike-car accidents, the bicycle rider was on the wrong side of the road.

3.2 million Americans biked to work at least once a week during the past year. That’s roughly one out of every hundred.

In Seattle, like many cities, bicyclists can put their bikes on racks on city buses. It is estimated that more than 300,000 put their bikes on these bus racks last year. 353 people forgot to take their bikes off the racks.

In Seattle, where wearing a bicycle helmet for adults is optional, 89 percent of adults do wear helmets.

There are 45 times more paved road miles in Seattle than bike paths.

Have you ever grumbled about how long it takes to lock your bike? That’s generally a minute or less. To park a car and walk from the parking lot typically takes more than five minutes.

The average bicycle commuter rides 1,992 miles (3,205 kilometers) per year.

Cities with extensive networks of bike lanes have three times the number of bicycle commuters as other cities. Do you suppose that’s because the lanes created more bike commuters, or that the larger number of bicycle commuters justified the lanes?

Supporting roadway for cars costs taxpayers twenty times as much as supporting roadway for bicycles.

In Portland, Oregon, at least two attempts have been made to distribute free-use bicycles. Called the “Yellow Bike” program, the idea was to put bikes, all painted yellow, in the streets for anyone to use, free of charge. The bikes were donated, fixed up by volunteers – at-risk children learning bicycle repair skills under supervision – and equipped with signs saying “Free Community Bike, Use at Own Risk.” To improve reliability, bikes with derailleurs were converted into single-speed coaster brake bikes.

At the high point, a fleet of two hundred bikes was in operation. Unfortunately, so many bikes were vandalized and stolen that the organizers could never bring the number up to what they called the “critical mass” of 1,000 bikes. They figured with 1,000 yellow bikes in the city, people would feel no need to steal them, since there’d always be one ready to use nearby. As recently as 2007, the City of Portland itself has discussed ways to reimplement the program more successfully. One idea is to copy the systems used in Toronto, Canada and Lyon, France, in which the bikes are equipped with sophisticated electronics that monitor their locations, and report repair issues automatically. Another idea is to build a stronger financial base for the program by selling advertising space on signs on the bikes.

The original program was sponsored (with assistance from the city) by individuals with few assets, so they had no fear of lawsuits. Insuring such a free use bike operation may be difficult.

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bike bus