Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Will You Join the Throng?

Columbia Bicycles Advertisement, 1895

The Wheelman on a Columbia Bicycle is an object of admiration. He is gracefully and naturally posed on a wheel which is perfect in construction and of elegant design and finish. Will you join the throng?

I dearly love my 1971 Columbia, but it's not quite as stylish as this one. For more stylish gentlemen a-wheel, see my other blog, The Cycling Gentleman.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

How to Install or Replace Crank Cotters

Disclaimer: I am not a professional bicycle mechanic. This post describes my experiences only, and should not be used as a definitive guide. You should consult other sources or visit a professional mechanic before attempting anything described here.

Here's the follow-up to my post a few days ago about removing crank cotters. If you're lucky enough to be able to reuse the old cotters (i.e., if you've removed the cranks only to access the bottom bracket), this process is much easier than if you need to replace the pins themselves, as was my situation. 

First, some fundamentals about how cottered cranks work. As I mentioned in my post on removing cotters, the crank axle of a bicycle with cottered cranks has a flat notch cut on either side. This flat contacts the angled flat of the cotter pin, and this is what keeps the crank arms 180 degrees apart. You can see in the photo below that with the crank arms removed, the notches on either side of the axle face away from each other.

When you put the crank arms on the axle, you can see more clearly how the pin is supposed to fit. 
In the image above, the pedal end of the crank arm is to the left, and is pointing toward the front of the bicycle. On the other side of the bicycle, the crank arm is pointing the opposite direction, toward the rear of the bicycle. Just to be perfectly clear, this is how it should look:

In the picture above, the bike is upside-down, but this is just for ease of photographing. Obviously, removal and installation of cotters is best done when the bike is upright, since the crank arms need to be supported while hammering. 

If you can reuse the old cotters, all you need to do now is reverse the process of removing them. When you place the pin in its hole, make sure the flat of the pin contacts the flat of the axle. Then, with the crank arm supported with a block of wood or length of pipe, use a hammer to pound the pin from the smooth (non-threaded) end. Strike it just as hard as you had to when you removed the pin, as you'll be wedging the pin tightly into its spot. Just like removing them, one or two hard whacks should do it. 

Once enough of the threaded end has emerged from the other side, put the nut on and tighten it with your fingers. Take another couple of whacks on the smooth side, just to seat the pin a bit more, and see if you can tighten the nut again with just your fingers. Repeat until the pin won't go any farther in, then tighten the nut down tight with a wrench. Repeat the process on the other side, but double-check as you work that the crank arms remain 180 degrees apart.

If you need to replace the crank cotters, all of this is complicated by the fact that the flat side on most new stock replacement cotters will need to be filed down in order to fit correctly against the crank axle. Many new pins are simply cut from a soft metal rod of more-or-less the correct diameter, then the flat is pressed into them, rather than machined to the correct angle. Even if the flat is machined, it is often way off from what it should be. I used a 6" general purpose mill file (single cut bastard), which removes metal more gradually and precisely than a double-cut file.

Ideally, you can use the shape of the old pin as a guide for filing the new one. The idea is to preserve the angle, but file it down so that it will fit your axle. This can be tricky, as you need to keep the file flat against the pin, but apply slightly more pressure to the down side of the angle. Sheldon Brown probably says it better. The photo below shows two new pins, the one on the left has been filed to fit my axle, the one on the right is how the pins arrived. This shows how much you may need to file to get the correct angle.
As you work on the filing, keep trying the pin in the crank so see how it's fitting against the flat of the axle. I found it helpful to support both crank arms with pieces of wood to make sure they were staying 180 degrees apart. That way, all I had to do was drop the pin into the hole to see if I needed to file the flat down any more. This took a lot of time, as I was proceeding cautiously, not wanting to take too much off, or ruin the angle of the pin. Sheldon Brown suggests using a bench-mounted vise to hold the pin in order to ensure that you're filing at the correct angle, but I have neither a vise, nor a bench to mount it on, so I held the pin with a pair of pliers wrapped in electrical tape (so as not to damage the pin with the teeth). 

Eventually, I was able to file the angle of the pin down enough so that the threaded end of the pin was just poking out the other side of the crank arm. I lubed the pin with light oil to make it easier to drive, then gave it a couple of good whacks to drive it in. I actually had to do this several times, as the pin simply wouldn't drive far enough to get the nut threaded on. If this happens, it's no big deal. Just flip the crank over, drive the pin back out, do some more filing, and try again. 

After a lot of trial and error, I was able to drive the pin far enough through that I could tighten the nut. Again, get it finger-tight, then give it a couple more whacks, tighten the nut again, give it a couple more whacks, etc., just to make sure it's seated as far as it will go, then tighten with a wrench. And again, keep checking as you work that the crank arms are still 180 degrees apart. 

If you've filed the first pin correctly, it's easier to judge how much you need to file the second pin, since you'll already have one crank that is now fixed to the axle and not going anywhere. Sheldon Brown recommends replacing pins in pairs to preserve the 180 degree orientation of the cranks, but I was fortunate enough to be able to reuse my one good old pin, since I apparently did such a stellar job of filing the first one (how that happened, I don't know!).

Here's a few helpful things to keep in mind: 1) buy extra replacement cotters in case you mangle one of them trying to get it to fit; 2) the pins should be driven from opposite sides to maintain the 180 degree crank orientation; in other words, when the crank arms are parallel to the ground, the smooth head of the pin should be facing up on one side, and the threaded or nut-side of the pin on the other side should be facing up; 3) clean your file regularly as you work to prevent build-up of metal dust; 4) lube the pins before installation; 5) don't over-tighten the nuts, as this risks stripping the threads. The angled pin, driven tight against the axle is what keeps the crank attached, not the nuts. In other words, the nuts don't keep the pins from falling out, they just keep them from jiggling loose over time; 6) after a few dozen miles, repeat the process of hammering the pin and tightening the nut, as the pins will "settle" with use.  

Finally, let me say that this was my first time doing this particular repair, and most of what I've said above comes from my reading of Sheldon Brown's guide. The idea in presenting my experience is not to claim it as definitive, but to 1) show that it can be done, even by a doofus like me; and 2) to try to give a bit more detail from one specific experience to supplement Sheldon's more general admonitions and advice.

PS--Glory of glories, you can now once again buy cotter pin presses, which were discontinued by Park Tools in the late 90s, from BikeSmith Design and Fabrication, which is where I got my replacement cotters. The presses are a little pricey at $55, but I imagine they're worth it, since they eliminate the hammering from this operation. I haven't used one myself, so this is not an endorsement or recommendation, just a heads-up.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Bike-Riding Robot

No, no, no, no, no, no!

Holy crap, people, it's a robot riding a bike! Forget about Iran and North Korea, I say Japan is the major threat to global security until they stop making so many bloody robots. Prepare, everybody, the Robot Wars are coming (on bikes!).


Where has Hank & Me Gone?

Update: Thanks to a tip from Charlotte, we now have an explanation, via the Chicago Bike Blog.

Has anyone noticed that the wonderful Chicago-based bike blog "Hank and Me" has disappeared from the interwebs? Does anyone know what happened? 

Based on her last few posts, aLex had had a nasty run-in with a driver who apparently swerved towards her as a threat, then a bad experience with a 911 operator who didn't seem to care. I believe this was in August, and I haven't seen any new posts come across my feed reader since. I checked the actual site yesterday and it had been removed.

I hope everything is okay. We miss you, Hank & Me!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Old is the New New

I whipped this up real quick-like today as a side-bar widget for the Old Bike Blog. This is my first try at such a thing, so it might be refined in the weeks to come. If folks are so inclined, this could be added to a blog or site and linked back here. Just click and save the image, add it to your design template, and link it here.  I wanted to make it stylish, intriguing, and not be too obnoxious about putting "Old Bike Blog" everywhere on it (or anywhere on it). 

Would anyone besides me be interested in a t-shirt with this design?

What About This?

Better, or worse? And how do the Ws grab you? I mushed a couple of Ns together since the original advert I was mangling didn't have any Ws, but I'm not sure I love them.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The 1936 Runwell Sports Tourist

In my continuing effort to get a date of manufacture for my Runwell, I just came across this advert cut from an old issue of The C.T.C. Gazette (Cyclists Touring Club) on British eBay. You can see the unique frame style of the Runwell, but this one has a chain case, frame-mounted pump, 3-speed hub, and apparently a cable brake (that could be the shifter cable, too, I suppose). Makes me think that mine is earlier since it has the rod brake and one speed hub. It also makes me wonder if mine had a chain case lost along the way at some point (sigh). Here's what I can make of the text:

1936 Distinctive Bicycles For Superior Performance And Safety on the Road

Distinctive Frame Design in both Ladies' and Gent's machines ensuring EXTREME RIGIDITY AND EASE OF PROPULSION.

Runwell Sports Tourist Bicycle. One of the numerous interesing new models for the 1936 Season incorporating the Runwell Registered Design Rigid Safety Frame, Oil [illeg.] and Three-speed Gear.

Also, I've found this 1923 advert that does not feature the distinctive frame style, so I'm guessing it was developed later. Unfortunately, all that tells me is that my bike was made sometime between 1923 and 1936, which I pretty much knew already. 

Oh well, at least I certainly feel better knowing I'm in the hands of a Rigid Safety Frame. Phew.

How to Remove Crank Cotters

Disclaimer: I am not a professional bicycle mechanic. This account of my experience is intended for entertainment purposes only (woohoo!), and should not be considered the advice of a professional. In other words, I'm not responsible if you bungle the job!

That being said, let me say (as commenters RB and Giuseppe assured me), that this was not hard at all! Guys, you were right, it was probably the easiest thing I've done on this bike. 

Sheldon Brown, God bless him, can sometimes make things sound much harder than they are. Based on Sheldon's guide, I was certain that I would mush the cotter pin, ruin my crank, and undo all of my good work on the Runwell. While doing the job correctly is important, it is not as hard as some internet bicycle gurus make it sound. That being said, Sheldon's word on the subject is still the standard, and it helped me a great deal. 

You need only three things for this job: 1) a block of wood (I used a scrap of 1" x 8" board) cut to fit under the crank arm to support the arm when you hit the cotter pin; 2) a claw hammer (I padded mine with a small piece of rubber cut from an old tube in case I missed the pin and whacked the frame); and 3) some penetrating oil to lubricate the pin. You can also
 use a piece of soft metal pipe (like copper) instead of a piece of wood, placed under the pin, but I doubt if most folks happen to have a piece of pipe in the correct length just laying about--I sure didn't. I also cut a piece of thin cardboard to protect the bottom bracket if I swung wild, but it proved unecessary.

Here's the setup:

I applied the penetrating oil liberally directly onto the pin a few days before I made the attempt, since I was a little apprehensive and wanted to give myself the best chance of success. Remove the nut and washer on the cotter to access the point where the wedge of the pin meets the flat of the crank axle inside the crank arm and apply the oil directly.

Once the oil has had a chance to work, you're ready to begin. Brace the crank arm on the wood block so that the threaded end of the cotter is pointing up, since this is the end you will strike with the hammer to drive the pin out. Needless to say (I hope), the nut and washer should be removed before you go at the pin with the hammer. With the crank arm braced and the washer and nut removed, all that's left is to whack that little bugger. Strike the pin a hard blow squarely with the hammer--imagine you're trying to drive a nail in just one whack. Grip the hammer as far away from the head as possible, like any good carpenter, since this will help deliver a more powerful blow. Here's what happened after just one strike:

I then tapped the pin gently all the way out, using a little screwdriver as a tap. And that's that. The other side was just the same; one strike and the pin was loose enough to just tap out. No damage to the cotters, the axle, the frame, or the bottom bracket in the process. In fact, unless you're some sort of hulking brute, it's unlikely that whacking the pin will do any sort of damage whatsoever. That's easy for me to say now that I've accomplished it, but this had been a point of some concern. Here are the pins after extraction; the one on the right is the damaged one that was causing my clunk (you can see the stripped threads):

Here's a bit about how cottered cranks work. The pin goes through the crank arm and that flat side gets wedged tight against the flat side of the crank axle (see below). 
The flat of the pin contacting the flat of the axle is what turns the crank when you pedal, and the nut is just there to keep everything snug.
I'll say more about the mechanics of the whole operation and have some better photos when I install the new cotters in a few days (when they arrive in the mail). Hopefully that will go as smoothly as this did. I sound all confident now, but I was quite nervous when I started. Just goes to show that the things you worry about the most usually end up turning out the best (and the things you didn't think to worry about knock you on your arse).

Monday, 15 September 2008

Hurtling Toward Another Great Depression

I don't usually get into economic matters here, other than to say that DIY work on old bikes is a thrifty way to keep yourself mobile, but I want to take that a half-step farther today in light of the dire financial news that broke yesterday and today. With big finance falling about our ears in a manner akin to the early days of the Great Depression, it's yet another reminder to take a good look back at the strategies that kept some working families afloat during the 1930s, including the use of bicycles as transportation, a policy of repair instead of replacement, and an ethic of save, save, save. Our financial infrastructure, our transportation infrastructure, and the prejudices many Americans still harbor against "old" things are the lingering products of post-WWII prosperity, but as it becomes evident that this financial trouble is not going to simply go away, hard times will prove more instructive than prosperous ones for furnishing a path forward. And what better way to ride that path than on an old bike?

Image: From Flickr user laurasmoncur, used with permission.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Reader Project: Diane's 1963 Schwinn Hollywood

Diane left a comment a while back asking for help dismantling an original Sturmey-Archer grip-shifter on her 1963 Schwinn Hollywood. She eventually figured it out herself (with help from the OBB and its readers, yay!), and her success has energized her efforts to clean up and restore her beautiful old bike. Here's what Diane has to say:

The bike had a tremendous amount of rust on her from top to bottom I mean on EVERYTHING! I didn’t know where to start or what to use that wouldn’t take the whole thing down to the metal…I began with a regular hairbrush to get the flaky rust off. Then I took a product called Rust Cure and extra fine steel wool from Ace Hardware which I read was perfectly safe for the chrome areas and they did shine up like a new penny (or nickel)…but the spray dripped onto the paint on the fender (also covered in rust) right where the decals are…I panicked and rubbed the area with a golf towel (husband wasn’t very pleased with that choice) and shockingly it also shined up like a new penny! No damage to the paint or the decals! After I followed this process on every inch of the bike…she looked exactly the way she did when mama let me have it as my “big girl bike”. It’s a pretty awesome product used sparingly and with caution… I also repaired the brake by myself, the chain & the tires…the grip shifter is the finale…but then I get to begin a much more thorough cleaning and restoration of the chrome and such.

I love hearing stories like this from readers who aren't "bike people." Diane says that before she started this project, the only thing she knew how to do with this bike was ride it. That's just like me when I started this blog, and now fourteen months and four bikes later, I've learned so much more than I ever expected. Folks, it is possible to work on your own bike, and fun too, and you don't have to be a hard-core mechanic to do it. Having the bike to ride is important, but it's also the sense of accomplishment and feeling of pride that comes along with doing your own work on your own bike. And, as you gain confidence with each new task accomplished and skill mastered, you can move on to more complicated projects. Sure, there will be setbacks, but even occasional failures are instructive. It's all about learning, doing, and overcoming challenges--lessons that transcend working on old bikes.

An Old Bike Project is Never "Finished"

Looks like I spoke too soon. After riding the Runwell around a bit, it has developed a loud clunk in the right crank arm, the result of a mangled crank cotter that I just can't get tight enough anymore. Fortunately, I can order new cotters in the right size from Harris Cyclery, but it puts the bike out of commission for another week, at least, and forces me to confront yet another somewhat-dreaded DIY repair. I'd like to hear from anyone who has extracted/installed their own crank cotters without a cotter pin press. I've heard about bent pins, ruined cranks, etc., but I'd like to hear some happy stories with good endings. Anybody?

Friday, 12 September 2008

The Runwell in the Wild

A couple of photos taken down the street in front of somebody's colorful garage door.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Runwell's Franken-pedal

I've tried boiling water, I've tried penetrating oil, I've tried sheer brute force, I've taken it to a bike shop, I've taken the pedal apart to gain better leverage, I've bent two (cheap) wrenches, I've even yelled at it, but the left pedal WILL-NOT-BUDGE (yes, I'm turning it the correct way--left side pedal loosens clockwise). So, I finally hit upon the idea of dismantling my new block pedal from Harris Cyclery, and simply rebuilding the old pedal around the stuck spindle with the new blocks. After much cajoling, everything worked out fine. The pedals are still somewhat mismatched, with the right one being wholly new, and the left only having new rubber, but it looks better than it did. In fact, I may do the same with the other pedal at some point, as I do like the look of the old pedals. And with that, I'm finally really done. I have plans to take it on a big ride around town, hopefully over the weekend, and take some "glamour shots" of the bike in various appropriate locations.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The Runwell: First Photos

Here's the "before" photo from the Craigslist posting, and the rest are from today--I'm finished! These didn't really turn out very well, and I'll post some better ones later, but I just had to put these up! Actually the rackafratzin' left pedal is still stuck fast, so I've still got that to work on. Right now, the right pedal is shiny and new, and the left is dirty and old. Otherwise, I'm incredibly pleased with how the polish went on, how the fenders turned out, and just really totally psyched about the whole package, actually! The rod brake works wonderfully, as does the coaster hub, and the saddle is the only thing that makes noise, and that just needs a bit of oil in some strategic places underneath.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Vintage Projects Website

As a follow-up to yesterday's lament on the loss of DIY skills, I wanted to pass along this neat site I found a while back, which gives free "plans" for vintage DIY projects ranging from bicycle sidecars to archery, boats to tractors. I say "plans" with some qualification because many of them are pretty surface-level descriptions and others assume a level of mechanical and technical expertise that I doubt was ever common. Many of the designs are also pretty clunky in a charmingly antiquated way, like the extremely heavy-looking chariot-stye bike trailer in the image, but if you're inclined, there's at least a lot here to draw inspiration from.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Are Americans Losing Their DIY Skills?

Um, yes? Is this news? Not specifically bicycle-related, but this article from Popular Mechanics is very much in keeping with what this blog is really all about.

I think that a modicum of ability in dealing with the physical world is good even for those of us whose jobs are mostly cerebral. Engineer Vannevar Bush, one of the great minds of the 20th century, made his mark on everything from the Manhattan Project to the development of computers. But when he wasn’t commanding vast enterprises, Bush spent a lot of time in his basement workshop building things. He said that trying to make a finished project match his blueprints taught him humility and problem solving.

I'll second that with a vengeance. Especially the humility part.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Runwell: Just Another Teaser

Still working on the fenders, the brakes and pedals should arrive next week, then a couple coats of polish and done! I'm already putting together my wishlist of accessories to accumulate over the next few months, including a bell and a retro headlamp from Velo Orange, and long-term a new Brooks.

Also, I took him on a night ride around the 'hood last night and it was pure joy to glide around in utter silence and darkness (excepting my headlight). Sitting upright in total comfort, I just cruised about, taking it all in--truly a Slow Bicycle moment.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Runwell's History Lessons

Now that the Runwell is up and running again, with only a few things left to finish, I wanted to share a bit of its history, or at least what I can deduce from some its features. I still don't know the date of production, but the 1920s or 1930s still seems right. Apparently, most bikes with the Perry coaster hub were manufactured for sale overseas, but I know that the bike was in England until the previous owner brought it to the U.S. sometime in the 1980s (I think). I also know that the bike was in use during World War II, and here's the really cool part. The most obvious sign that the bike was in use during the war is the "Dunlop War Grade" tyres that were still on it when I bought it. Although these could have been remainders put on after the war, it's pretty amazing to think that the last time these tyres were changed could have been in the 1940s.

Another pretty clear indication that it was used during the war is the white "blackout stripe" rather sloppily painted on the rear fender (mudguard, for the Brits), apparently in house paint. I can imagine the original owner cringing a bit as he slopped white paint on his glossy black fender and gold pinstripes.

The final clue, and the one that is perhaps the most moving for me, is that replacement brake pads appear to have been cut from salvaged rubber and installed in the shoes, I'm guessing in order to conserve resources during the war. 

The sad part, and the real conundrum for folks like me, is that all of these features have now either been removed or covered up in the process of making the bike useable again. The material evidence of the bicycle's eventful past has literally been stripped away, out of necessity of course, but it's still a little sad. My great comfort, though, is that the bicycle will again be used for its intended purpose, rather than rusting in a back yard. I will also keep the tyres and brakes, of course, to pass on to the next owner of the Runwell, but hopefully that won't be for a long, long time.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Runwell Test Ride!

Ladies and gentleman, the Runwell runs well! In fact, the Runwell runs like a dream! After realizing that the new tires I bought on Saturday don't fit on the Westwood rims (they popped right off under minimal air pressure), and then changing out the tires from the Columbia, which worked perfectly, I put on the chain, made some adjustments, tightened down all the nuts, and I was off. I wanted to take a test ride before placing my Harris order, since I wasn't sure if I would need a new seatpost until I tried the existing one, and it turns out that it works just fine, and doesn't seat me too far forward, as I had thought it would.

This is probably the most solid bicycle I've ever ridden, at least in my adult life. With just one speed, it runs silently, and the coaster brake functions just beautifully. It seats you bolt upright, as I knew it would, but the still-comfy old Brooks saddle feels like sitting in a chair. It's responsive, relatively light, and although not terribly fast, it can move if it has a mind to. As my wife and I took turns circling an empty parking lot near our house, it already received its first compliment from a woman who stopped to admire it. Not bad for the first five minutes of its new life!

Still to do: paint and topcoat the rear fender, which will take a little while because I have both white and black paint to apply, order and install the new front brakes and pedals, put a second coat of varnish on the grips, and do all the final cleaning, polishing, and waxing. With all of it, I think I'm looking at another two weeks, taking delivery time from Harris (on the other side of the country from me) into consideration. I might post a few more teaser photos in the meantime, but you'll have to wait a bit for the grand unveiling.  

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