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Cleaning a Bicycle Chain

October 17, 2011 3 comments

I ran across this link today and thought to myself, “Duh. Why don’t I do it this way?”

Cleaning a bike chain is the hands-down dirtiest task of maintaining a bike. Some bike shops will drop the dirty chains into an ultrasonic cleaner to get it nice and spiffy, but DIY’ers options are not so great. Shops sell special expensive chain cleaning tools that are expensive, prone to breaking, and don’t particularly work that well. They tend to spray dirty cleaning solution all over your bike and gears and cleaning the chain cleaner brushes is a task in itself.

Normally I would take off a bike chain (super easy with SRAM powerlink) and soak it a disposable tub, but that doesn’t get the difficult grease. This solution drops it into a large mouth bottle, where you can seal it and simulate a ultrasonic cleaner by just shaking the hell out of it. Flushing and staging with new cleaning solution will get your bike chain nice and clean.

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Categories: Bikes

A Complete Bike Fit Calculator

March 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I had recently spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to properly fit a bike. I had myself fit by a few different specialists at local bike shops, rummaged through a dozen cycling books, searched through numerous websites, and even read a few journal articles. (I know I’m crazy.) The most important and consistent thing between everything I found was the relative position of your knee over your pedals and the corresponding seat height.

Dr. Andy Pruitt, who regularly fits pro-cyclists, states that the seat height should be high enough such that your leg is nearly fully extended at the bottom of your stroke, with a very slight bend in the knee, and no hip rocking during pedaling. And, from the front of your kneecap, hang a plumb-bob and its point should be intersect the end of your crank in the horizontal position. This gives you the optimal lower body position for minimal joint stress and maximum power output for road racing. For off-road biking, he recommends to shorten the seat by about an inch, but maintain your knee-crank alignment. And, of course, everyone’s body is different and things can vary slightly.

As for the rest of the bike fit and upper body, it all seemed like everyone had their own opinion and seemed to depend on riding style and desired comfort. Some fit opinions agreed and others were way, way different. But, this bike fit calculator on competitivecyclist.com seems to have a complete calculator better than some bike shops pay to have at their store, if they have one at all. They go through the critical measurements and provide you with 3 different riding style fits for road biking, along with multiple fits for both mountain and triathlon biking. Keep in mind that these fits are for competition and are geared for more aggressive riding positions. So, if comfort is key, a higher and closer handlebar is usually the first thing to change to give you a more comfortable, more upright riding position.

Who knows if they’re right for you or for anyone else, but it will give you some perspective, when a bike shop fit specialist tries to sell you on a bike. This is not to say these bike fits are the only way to ride a bike. Especially when the best way to fit a bike is to actually ride one, but it should provide an excellent starting point to tweak from.

Categories: Bikes

$10 Bike Pannier Conversion for a Messenger Bag

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m going to just come out and say it: store-bought bike panniers suck. They’re ridiculously expensive, uncomfortable to carry, and aren’t much good for anything else. For light commuting, I don’t want to have to shell out a ton of cash for carrying stuff on a bike rack, even though my back is starting to argue with me.

Most of the pannier conversions online require some kind of modification to your bag, which results in either a pannier just as bad as the store bought ones or rips in the fabric because the bag isn’t design to take the load.

So, here’s a bike pannier conversion you can make for $10 (or so), if you have access to some basic tools. It doesn’t require any modifications to your bag. All you need is a bag that has a strong place to mount from, i.e. steel rings, heavy duty nylon webbing, or even your backpack straps. Anywhere the bag is already designed to carried from and to take the load and beating over the lifetime of the bag.  My Timbuk2 bag has nice steel rings, where the shoulder straps connect to, and are the perfect place to mount a bag to your bike.

Things you will need:

  • (2ft) 2×2 pressure-treated/outdoor wood, a.k.a. deck railing. Found at any home store.
  • (2x) Threaded eye bolts for wood
  • (2x) 2.5″ J-bolts with washers and NYLON locking nuts (At my local Tru-value. Could use U-bolts too.)
  • (2x) Cheap aluminum carabiners ( Or go more expensive and get some Nite-Ize S-Biners )
  • Optional: (2x) Eye bolts and zip-ties

Measure the length of your bag from mounting point to mounting point. For me, this is about 20″ from steel ring to steel ring on my Timbuk2. Two eye bolts will be placed at each end of the 2×2, so subtract about 2″ to compensate for them. Then, cut the 2×2 wood to length (18″ for me).

Shape the 2×2 so that it sits flush on your bike rack. The wood can be somewhat soft. I used a handsaw to get most of the material off and use a screwdriver like a chisel to get the rest. Don’t go nuts on this and leave as much material as you can. Just try to make sure that you don’t make sharp corners or weak points, because you wouldn’t want your bag to fall off your bike, if the wood breaks.

Drill pilot holes for your eye bolts at each end of the 2×2. Screw them in so they are snug but not going to split the wood.

The J-hooks secures the 2×2 and your bag to your bike rack by hooking the railing of your bike rack through the 2×2. The nylon nut keeps it tight and ensure that it won’t loosen over time. Locate a couple of good places to drill through-holes for your J-hooks and bolt down the 2×2 with a washer and locking nylon nut. Get it snug and tight, so the 2×2 is fixed to the bike rack. If you’re so inclined, hacksaw off the excess thread on the J-hooks.

If you have a U-lock, I added a place to mount my bike lock, which also keeps my bag from swinging into the rear wheel. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to attach some kind of stand-off to your rack, so your bag doesn’t get sucked in and destroy your wheel or bag. For added peace of mind, you can zip-tie the 2×2 to your bike rack, but if you did it right, you shouldn’t have to.

And, don’t forget to tuck the loose straps!

Categories: Bikes

FROM STEEL: The Making of a Soulcraft

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Watching any expert craftman perform their art, from a seamstress, painter, sushi chef, or even your local barista, can been mezmerizing. Sean Walling from Soulcraft Bikes, who builds custom bikes from tubes to complete bike, is no exception.

Categories: Bikes