Gone Fishin'


I'm not actively blogging here anymore. But if you got here because you were searching for something about bikes, you might want to check out my latest project, Vermont Goldsprints. In summer of 2014, I bought a used goldsprints racing setup and have made it a mission to get more bikes in more people's faces by putting on fun races in unexpected places. Come join me!


Wrenching and Meditation

It had been a long day in a string of long days. With Austen to bed and Kate on her way out the door to do some grocery shopping, I headed into the basement to see if I could get a little time on the rollers. After the summer ended, I had finally set things up again: Rollers on the carpet, centered under our low basement ceiling's floor joists, tires pumped, old laptop on a stepladder ready to boot into Netflix, headphones with long cable threaded above, through the skis and tent poles stored in the ceiling.

I looked around the rest of the basement. Five gallons of British Bitter and another five of hard cider bubbled merrily away in fermenters. A drop leaf table I refinished years ago dropped one of its leaves too far when a hinge broke and I had moved it into the work area. Then some bike parts I ordered showed up, and the table became a workbench, as horizontal surfaces in the basement are wont to do. The minivelo was in the workstand. I had already rearranged the crankset and installed the new cassette. The bike had come with stock gearing for a normal-size road rig, but the 20-inch wheels threw it off, made the gearing too low. I had replaced the 52-tooth big ring with a 56-tooth one, and the new cassette has an 11-tooth small cog and a 32-tooth large one. Big range.

The next task to undertake on the minivelo was born of functional need and vanity in equal parts. I needed to adjust the shift cables and move the front derailer to make the new gears shift smoothly. I also wanted to replace the stock black cable housing with white housing, to match the white saddle and white handlebar tape I plan to put on the bike.  I pulled the cables, cutting each one cleanly with a satisfying crunchy snip. My Park Tool cable cutters are sharp and are reserved only for these two tasks. Cut cables. Cut housing. I removed the old housing and retrieved a bag of ferrules from the drawer I have for such small bike parts and uncoiled the new white housing. I made the new pieces shorter, for a more elegant "no reverse curves" layout that should make the shifting smoother and more precise. Even with the nice cuts made by the tool, some of the wires that stiffen the housing come out a little uneven. I ran each piece over a file a few times until all of the cut ends were perfectly flat, ensuring that the bare cable end would nest into the ferrule as tightly as possible.

I returned to the toolbox again. In the top drawer, there are a few tools that came from my grandfather's basement after he died. Calipers my grandmother used every day in her job at the Clarostat factory. Old wrenches, smelling of engine oil and the basement dirt of my grandfather's cellar.  An ice pick labeled "Dover  Ice Company." Think about that. A tool used to chip manageable pieces of ice that were delivered to the house from some other place, packed in sawdust after being cut from some winter pond. I use the ice pick to neaten and widen the holes in the cable housing, to pick bearings out of the unreachable places they sometimes end up in, to clean gunk. This time, I used the sharpened tip to pen up the housing, again ensuring a smooth interface.

All of these little things. All of these little things combined to do such a little thing. Someone else on the street is doing the same thing in their basement, slow, methodical, Doing it Right. Maybe fixing a lawnmower, maybe sanding a bookshelf, remembering to wipe the new wood with a tack cloth after, remembering a time when they didn't know to do that. Wisdom in the feel of the right tool, findable and maintained, the hand planes on my bench, each wrapped in an old section of inner tube, keeping the cutting edges keen. The right kind of oil stored just for this purpose of loosening one nut someday, waiting in the cabinet. 

The ferrules and cable housing slide over the cable with a little resistance, then effortlessly once they are fully on. I put everything back together. I go back to the toolbox. Top tray: Tools of Measurement. First Drawer: Tools that Cut or Abrade. Second Drawer: Tools that Push, Pull, or Drive. Bottom Drawer: Attachments, Tape, Solder. I take my "third hand" tool from the second drawer. I use it to put just the right amount of tension on the derailer cables before I tighten the fixing bolts. I adjust the shifting a bit here, a bit there. I plug  the soldering iron in and let it heat. I don't have any new crimp-on cable ends. I heat the freshly-cut cables with the iron. The solder is a solid, then it isn't as it melts and flows into the fiber of the cable with a sputter and a puff of smoke.

It all clicks, the new cable housing is bright, different. The tools all go back in the box, the bags of small parts are closed and returned to their proper places. The bike stays on the workstand. Next time I'll do the brake cables and bar wrap.  I can hear the car in the driveway as I head back upstairs to wash my hands. I never made it to the rollers, but I felt deeply satisfied, and my mind was clear.