Maintain Your Chain

This year I’m trying something new: I replaced my chain before my cassette became so worn that it also needed to be replaced. In February one of the mechanics at Harris Cyclery recommended that I check my chain more frequently for wear. I had been taking my Long Haul Trucker in once a year for service with about 3000 miles between service. That’s too long for a chain and each time I also needed to replace a worn out cassette.

As a chain wears the rollers get farther apart due to the wear of the pins that keep the rollers in place and provide a small axle for each roller and connecting link of the chain. People refer to  this as “chain stretch”, but it is not stretching. The cumulative effect of pin wear is that the chain does get longer, but this is due to the loose fit of the pins at each wear point on the chain. They can wear badly enough to fail, causing the chain to break at one of the links. You never want to let a chain get that bad.

I purchased a Park Tool CC-2 Chain Checker. They are available from Amazon for about $27. The tool features two pins that measure the distance between a set of rollers. The user fits the pins on the tool between two rollers on a taut part of the chain. I usually measure the chain above the chain stay. The next step is to rotate the indicator dial until it stops moving, which means that the pins are as far apart as they can get between the rollers.

The dial has numbers .25, .50, .75, and 1.0 on the dial that measure chain wear. I measure a new chain so that I have a baseline. The numbers on this tool are not a unit of measure or a percentage. Interpreting them is a judgement call and that’s why I recommend measuring a new chain as a baseline. For example, my new chain measures at .25. Above .50 I will replace the chain. I got about 1200 miles from my chain before replacing it. I probably could have gotten another 200 to 300 miles from it. I decided to get it done before a fall tour.  

If you ride long and hard with a worn chain, it will wear the teeth on the cassette. This wear effectively increases the space between the teeth and rounds the corners of the teeth. When this happens, the cassette must be replaced together with the chain. If the cassette is not replaced, the new chain will be stressed and will fail sooner because the rollers will not make proper  contact with the teeth. This misfit can cause problem shifting as well as vibration and chain jumping.

One key to maximizing the life of a chain is to lubricate it frequently. I lubricate about every 50 to 100 miles. If I ride in the rain or get the chain wet some other way such as washing the bike I will lubricate before my next ride. I use a lubricant made specifically for chains: Finish Line DRY Bike Lubricant. I’ve bee using it for about four years. Do not use WD-40 or household 30W oil. WD-40 is volatile and will evaporate, leaving the chain unprotected. Household oil may be too viscous and fail to wash contaminants out of chain when applied.

Another factor in maximizing chain life is your riding style. I try to favor the largest chain ring because that will tend to favor the larger sprockets of the cassette. This is important because on the larger sprockets more teeth will be in contact with the chain. Chain wear impacts the larger sprockets less and will help extend the life of your cassette. In practice, if you use the largest chain ring, you can achieve a comfortable cadence on a larger cassette sprocket in many circumstances. Of course, on some terrain such as hills this may not be practical all of the time.

This is the first time I’ve had a chain replacement without the cost of a matching cassette replacement. In my opinion it was worth the change at this time because the rear derailleur seems to perform better with crisp shifting up and down the range. It also gives me confidence that my equipment is as mechanically as good as it can be.

Cycle the Erie Canal 2017

This year my son Eric and one of my granddaughters, Sofia,  joined me on the ride, my fifth with Parks and Trails New York. This was Eric’s second time on the ride and Sofia’s first. She is thirteen years old and handled the ride very well. I found myself behind her for much of the ride. I was behind not because she was riding faster, but because she was great at setting and maintaining a sustainable pace.

Along the way there were some great, old-fashioned diners where we enjoyed some meals on the road. At each tent city, we pitched and broke camp as a team and got on the trail every morning before 7:30. Sofia assembled a food cache in her panniers with tidbits from each rest stop that she shared with her dad and me. She quickly learned bicycle tour etiquette and contributed to making the ride safe for all of the riders with coaching from dad on the fine points.

At our last camp in Niskayuna, a person came up to me as we were standing outside our tents in the evening. We talked and he asked about our pace on the trail. I told him that we were among the first in camp each day. He expressed his thought that perhaps we were not able to “smell the roses” and enjoy all that the ride has to offer, including the historical sites. In my opinion, the ride is significant in many different ways for different people.

Each year my ride has had a changing significance. During early rides, my focus was on the history and attractions along the trail. Last year, riding with my son during his first Erie ride, my focus was more on performance, trying to keep up with him. He always beat me into camp, but we both arrived in camp very early in the day. We have great memories of sitting at the information tent and talking with others who had also arrived and watching those who were arriving.

This year it was a joy to see Sofia become immersed in the ride. Her energy on the trail was surprising. I watched as she cranked up the mile long hill in Canajoharie without stopping or slowing as she reached the top. We will enjoy talking about our adventure together for some time to come.

Ready for the Erie Ride 2017

This will be my fifth ride on the Erie Canal with Parks and Trails New York. I wrote a review of the ride a couple of years ago and I continue to recommend the experience. Last year was special for me because my son Eric joined me. The year Eric and granddaughter Sofia will be joining me.

Each year I support PTNY with a donation in addition to paying for the ride. I recently received correspondence from PTNY concerning funding for the major trails in New York state. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of PTNY, there is funding to close the Erie Canalway Trail gaps between Buffalo and Albany. The funding also provides for connecting the Erie Canalway Trail, the Lake Champlain Canalway, and the Hudson River Valley Greenway. When completed in 2020, the Empire State Trail will be the longest contiguous set of multi-use trails in the United States, a total of 750 miles.

New York State is a great place to ride. I look forward to the Erie ride again this year. It will be great to ride the entire Empire State Trail in just three years.

Rebuild of a Bianchi Ibex

In the spring I took my son’s Bianchi Ibex to The Bike Stop in Arlington, Massachusetts, for a major rebuild. The bike is about 25 years old and Eric used it heavily when he was in high school. It has a steel frame assembled using lugs, a feature that is difficult to find today except on high end bicycles. It was an older mountain bike in concept including the stock wheels and off-road tires, but with many frame characteristics of a modern hybrid. It didn’t have any suspension springs or shocks to complicate the rebuild. We were able to reuse the fork as well as the frame.

Eric was planning to ride from Buffalo to Albany with me on the 2016 Cycle the Erie Canal tour that is run yearly by Parks and Trails New York. I took the responsibility for getting the rebuild done. I initially took the bike to a local shop and the owner of the shop characterized my requirements as a “repair”. I felt that he didn’t understand the job and walked away. The Bike Stop is a shop that I pass regularly on my training rides along the Minuteman Bikeway through Arlington. I stopped there and met Louis. I described the project and Louis recognized it as a rebuild.

Louis and the Completed Rebuild at The Bike Stop, Arlington, MA

The next step was to bring the bike to the shop. Louis was very knowledgeable concerning the available components so that I didn’t need to do extensive research to make the upgrade happen. We discussed each component so that I understood what I was getting.

The key in the conversion was to change the crankset and cassette so the range of gears would be appropriate for the road rather than single track and off-road. The brakes as well as front and rear derailleurs were replaced in the process. New rims with 26 x 35 tires were installed and I added Shimano clipless pedals. We kept the old handlebars and added extensions for touring.

Some of the parts were in stock and others needed to be ordered. I entrusted the rebuild to Louis and he completed it i a little more than a week. It was so well done that no adjustments were needed even after many miles of riding.

It was an expensive rebuild at $615 including labor. You can argue that we could have bought a new bike for that kind of money. I’m convinced that we did the right thing especially because of the build quality of the frame and its nostalgic value. The rebuilt frame also performs like a new bike. Eric trained on the bike for the Erie ride. He didn’t have any problems with it on the 400 mile ride from Buffalo to Albany. He was burning up the trail and keeping pace with some of the faster riders. The experience reintroduced him to cycling and he has been using the bike regularly since our tour together. Our compliments to Louis, who looked at the frame and knew what to do.

New Site Design

I have given a new appearance and layout. The posts and pages became very disorganized in the old design. Change was necessary to make everything easy to find and view. Hopefully I’ve achieved that goal. More changes will be coming as I reorganize the approach for viewing photos and photo albums. Please stay tuned. Thanks for visiting.

LHT 10K Mile Report

In 2012 I did my first bicycle tour and it was a 400 mile, self-supported tour. The bicycle that I used on that trip was one that I bought in the United Kingdom. It was an Apollo hybrid that I purchased at Halford’s in Uxbridge UK for $300 brand new. It had sentimental value since I rode it on weekends during the months that I lived in the UK, touring the roads and canal towpaths outside of London, so I brought it home to the US. It was poorly balanced when it was fully loaded with panniers and tent. After about three days I was applying creams to my thighs to manage the chafing from the stock seat.

That experience made me love bicycle touring in spite of the problems that I had and served to convince me that I need a better touring bike.  In late 2012 I bought a stock Surly Long Haul Trucker. At that time I had quite a bit of research that narrowed the touring bike choices down to three and I chose the LHT. The other choices were from Trek and Raleigh. My choice of the LHT was probably based more on availability than any other factor. There was a dealer that had the frame size that I needed and I went for it.

This week I rolled up the 10,000th mile and I’m happy with the choice that I made. During my touring over the past four years I met many other Surly owners who were as committed to the brand as I am. They were not necessarily all riding LHTs. I’ve met people touring fully loaded with Crosschecks and Karate Monkeys.

My LHT was completely stock and everything operates today as it did the day I brought it home with notable exceptions. The exceptions are not unexpected. For example, after my first tour on the LHT I replaced the stock saddle with a Brooks B17. I made the switch to Shimano clipless pedals. Tires wear out and I have been buying new tires each year. That is, except for his year when I discovered that my Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires were not ready to be replaced. I usually get 3,000 miles out of a tire. The Schwalbes have 4,500 and going strong.

The next exceptions on the stock items are the brake pads, chain, and cassette. I replace my brake pads each year during annual maintenance. Since I ride at least 3,000 miles a year, I replace the chain each year as well. Many experts give chains a life of only 2,000 miles. I lubricate the chain frequently whether training or touring and I am able to confidently get 3,000 miles. I check the wear in mid-season to verify that my chain is well within tolerance. When the chain is worn, the cassette should be replaced as well because the sprockets wear to accommodate the greater distance between the chain rollers as the chain wears.

Everything else on the bike gets checked each year and adjusted when needed.

Every once in a while I get a hankering for a new touring bike. Those urges are becoming fewer and fewer as the miles rack up on my LHT. As the LHT gets older, I have come to depend on its reliability and road characteristics. The bike has a lot of sentimental value that you can’t measure very easily. I’ve trained many miles on it and I’ve taken it to the Adirondacks, to Canada, to Cape Cod, to the Erie Canal, and to the GAP and C&O. It’s been loaded with gear on both front and rear for long self-supported tours. I’ve ridden it unloaded on supported tours. My cadence and personal performance are tied to my feeling for the weight and geometry of the bike as well as the gears and shifting. I’m going to stick with it until it breaks.

The Almost Tour

That Friday (September 16, 2016) things were going well. The rental car was waiting for me. All I needed to do was load my van, including my bicycle, and I was off on my planned bicycle tour of the C&O and GAP. The tour is a fully supported bicycle ride from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. This is an Adventure Cycling tour that I enjoyed the previous year and I looked forward to doing it again.

The plan was to pick up the rental near home and leave my van at the rental place. They told me ahead of time that they would charge $5 per day to leave it there. It was a one way rental that I would drop off at the airport in Washington DC. The tour was leaving Washington on Sunday and ending in Pittsburgh on Saturday where I would pick up another one way rental for the drive home.

I transferred my bike and all of my gear into the rental and was on the road to Washington by 10:00 AM. At about 7:30 PM I arrived at the hotel in Washington and checked in. There was plenty of time to have some dinner followed by a walk around Crystal City. I got to bed at 10:30 and planned to take the rental to the airport before 8:30 in the morning. Adventure Cycling would be running early tour registration for cyclists who were going to take the National Mall excursion at 10:30. I didn’t want to be rushed with rental return and registration, so I wasn’t planning to take the Mall tour.

Everything went well in the morning: I dropped the car and hopped the shuttle back to the hotel. Once back at the hotel I decided to ride south along the Potomac River while the Mall excursion would go north. I left the hotel at about the same time that the excursion departed and followed their route to the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac before turning south.

On the Mount Vernon Trail there were lots of hikers, joggers, and cyclists. The trail is well used on Saturday. After a couple of miles I came to one of the features that I wanted to explore, the Washington Sailing Marina. I hung out there for a while and talked with one of the staff. There was also a sailor that I met as he was rigging his catamaran and getting ready to cast off the dock.

As I jumped onto my bike to head further south, my phone rang. My wife, Marne, was on the other end back home. She said, “I’m not injured or anything, but you need to come home right away.”

“What’s the matter?”

She answered, “The basement is flooded with about eight inches of water. I can’t handle this alone.”

Immediately I thought about the hot water heater being the source. It didn’t matter. The house water supply needed to be turned off.

I began to walk Marne through the process, but first she needed to get some boots or shoes or something on her feet. There’s stuff all over the basement floor that could hurt or injure bare feet. She couldn’t get her boots to fit. She tried mine: too big. This seemed to be taking forever. She finally found something that would work. Down the stairs to the basement she went with the wireless telephone handset picking up each step and the sound of water sloshing as she walked to the corner of the basement where she would find the shutoff valve.

Communication issues began to happen. I told her to turn the valve counterclockwise. Of course, the valve handle wouldn’t budge. We needed a pair of pliers. Did you ever try to describe a specific tool to someone? I tried to paint a succinct verbal picture of the specific pair of pliers that I knew would work. I described the tool box where they could be found. No luck. There were some other pliers that would be easier to find on a shelf nearby. She found them, but they would not fit the valve handle. All during this time I could hear the sloshing like someone walking in the shallow end of a swimming pool.

Now that we had the general shape of pliers down, I sent her back to the tool box. She found the adjustable pliers and sloshed back to the stubborn valve. The pliers fit, but she still was not able to budge the valve.

During all of this she was receiving calls from people she had called for help, such as the service company that would ultimately pump the water out of the basement. When she took the calls, she would hang up and leave me for some time after a quick promise to call me right back. I stood there tapping my toes with my mind racing.

During the final call from her, we went for a slosh back to the valve for another go. On a hunch, she turned the valve handle clockwise and managed to turn the water off. It was a relief for me because I felt that the basement was still filling as we tried to turn off the water. Marne confirmed that the running water sound had stopped.

We disconnected and I headed back to the hotel. During the ride I had time to think about my next steps. I needed to reserve another rental car and hope that they had one available on short notice. The hotel shuttle would take me back to the airport to pick up the car. The Adventure Cycling staff needed to be informed that I was leaving. There were also people who were on the ride and who knew me that should be informed of my emergency. I also needed to shower because I just rode ten miles and was covered with sweat.

All of that happened more quickly than I thought and I was headed home by about 2 PM. The traffic in Washington and in New York City was horrible and I had an urge to scream several times. In fact, I did scream several times.

In spite of traffic delays, I was home by about 10:30 PM. The service company had been there to pump the water out and install a bunch of equipment to dry the basement. They installed twelve fans to circulate the air and three industrial dehumidifiers. The basement sounded like an airport with all of the fans blowing. The air was being heated by the dehumidifiers to enhance the moisture removal and the air was moist and warm like a sauna. There was nothing more to do that night but have a drink in an effort to calm down and get to bed.

On Sunday morning we sat around the breakfast table for a while contemplating our event. It took a while to gather the motivation to do what needed to be done. Once motivated, we headed to the basement to tackle the items that were most damaged.

The damage was confined to the lowest eight inches of the basement. There was nothing stored on the floor, but there were many items that were not raised high enough off the floor to avoid water damage. Everything was raised enough to avoid damage from a spill or the slight seepage that we get with heavy rain. We have never needed to raise things any higher off the floor.

We started at the bottom of the stairs. We would haul all of the discards out to the back yard. The artificial Christmas tree was in a box that was soaked and it was among the first things to go out. There were two or three boxes of books that went out. We filled garbage bags with soaked items as we sorted through the mess. There were about 150 vinyl 33-1/3 rpm record albums in cardboard sleeves that needed to be dried out. The bottom halves of the albums were wet.  I brought them all upstairs and stood them up in the dining room to dry. We mopped puddles and swept wet junk from the floor.

We were doing all of this in the intense humid and hot air of the basement. By the end of the day we were wet with sweat and we didn’t have warm water to shower. We had dinner and cooled off as much as we could before going to bed.

By Monday things were calming down significantly. The service company came to remove the equipment. It was a jumble of fans and large dehumidifiers with power cables, extension cords, and drain hoses crisscrossing the basement floor. After that was removed, the room was much less cluttered and we finally had room to work. The plumbing company arrived in late afternoon to replace the water heater. I restarted our basement dehumidifier and by the time we showered and went to bed the humidity in the basement had dropped by ten points. We are left with a manageable list of cleanup items.

It was important that I leave the tour. The mess was something that Marne should not have handled alone while I was absent for a week. She is more than able to handle significant emergencies on her own. She did that several times when I worked and was on business travel. This mess was exceptional and needed the full attention and presence of both of us. Still, as I was cleaning up the mess at one point I couldn’t help but think, “Right now the tour is riding past Harpers Ferry.”

Erie Canal Ride 2016

Parks and Trails New York produced another fantastic ride from Buffalo to Albany for over 650 riders. We rode 400 miles in eight days, July 10 through July 17. This year I was joined by my son Eric and the focus of my ride was different. This was my fifth time on this route, my fourth with PTNY, so I changed my focus a little to keep it interesting.

When the route was new to me I spent time to stop and to take photos. This year I concentrated on keeping my moving time and elapsed time close and on improving my average speed from previous years. My plan was to ride a little harder. I had a great time at it and I achieved my goal. This was the best bicycle tour of my life because I felt great while doing it and because my son was with me.

In the process I changed my approach to performance nutrition. Our primary concern was hydration, particularly since the temperature was in the 80s and 90s for much of the ride. I learned a few things from my son. After watching Eric hydrate, I realized that although I hydrated in the past, I wasn’t drinking enough. Rather than waiting to hydrate at rest stops, I began to drink water every couple of miles. At rest stops I concentrated on replenishing electrolytes using sports drinks.  I found that personally I performed much better and ended each day with more energy. I even was able to ride up the notorious Canajoharie hill to camp at the end of one of the days, which I have never done before. I also managed to avoid the afternoon energy crashes and low energy days that I have experienced in the past.

We ate balanced meals for breakfast and dinner, but didn’t snack much during the daily rides. I think that we had lunch twice during the tour. Eric skipped the snacks because he is young, very fit, and always on a mission to get to camp. One of the reasons that worked for me was that I was also getting into camp in late morning or early afternoon. The timing of snacks and lunch was not appropriate for me. For example, I was getting to the afternoon rest stops in late morning. That would put lunch in the mid-morning someplace, which wasn’t going to work.

Eric and I met some great riders. One of them was Eileen, a seventeen year old who may have been the best cyclist on the trip. She wasn’t riding a road bike. She had a hybrid with straight handlebars. She didn’t even have handlebar extensions, just straight bars. She wasn’t wearing spandex like the men she rode with. She wore shorts and a loose top.

We encountered her on the first day out of Buffalo. Eric and I were behind her, pacing for ten miles or so, moving along at around fifteen or sixteen miles per hour. Two guys passed us on road bikes, moving two or three miles an hour faster. She took off behind them. Eric moved out and tried to stay with them, but gave up after a mile or so and fell back.

On the run from Clyde to Seneca Falls through Amish country, six or eight cyclists on road bikes went motoring past us and she was among them. One of them at the rear of the pack said, “Jump on!” It wasn’t going to happen. They were moving far too fast for either of us.

She was such a standout that she received a mention at the party on the final evening of the ride.

Another pair of great riders, husband and wife Tom and Chris from Vancouver, Washington, pedaled a Co-Motion tandem that they bought used for $1600. We first met them when they breezed past us on the trail like we were standing still. Personally, I have never seen a couple power a tandem that well before. After the Erie ride, they planned to attend a tandem rally and ride a couple of hundred more miles.

A shout to Larry from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to Mike from Cape Cod, and to John from Rochester, New York. Larry rode a recumbent bicycle and Mike a recumbent trike. From the point of view of their bicycles, they couldn’t be more different than Eric and I. They were all close to my age, Larry retired, Mike in the cabinet making business, and John self-employed and retiring in December. We had a few meals with them and often were neighbors in camp.

Eric and I met lots of other people. We arrived in camp early enough each day to get a front row seat at the Information Tent. We were often asked for information because the information staff usually didn’t arrive until two o’clock. We were quite honest about our qualifications. It was also fun to watch people arrive in camp since the Information Tent was always set up at a prominent place near the camp entrance.

At the final camp in Niskayuna we were sitting under an empty canopy at the Information Tent when Meegan, the PTNY Director of Development and her son began setting up to sell ride swag. At the kickoff meeting in Buffalo, Meegan announced that she had never ridden more than twenty miles before. She and her son made it successfully all the way to Niskayuna, 373 miles from the start. She was responsible for recruiting the commercial sponsors of the event that provided a significant contribution to PTNY. I was impressed with her dedication to the PTNY mission and her decision to join the ride for the experience. The event is the largest fundraiser for PTNY each year.

We arrived in Albany early Sunday morning, before the luggage trucks. The final leg of the ride was only 27 miles from Niskayuna to Albany. I was sad as always that it was over, although looking forward to my own bed and home-cooked food. It’s become my benchmark ride each year. I love it enough to do it again and to support PTNY with donations. Having Eric with me made it special. Next year maybe the grandchildren will join us? Stay tuned.

Click-Stand Review

Six Segment Click-Stand Folded for Storing in a Bike Bag
Six Segment Click-Stand Folded for Storing in a Bike Bag
My Surly LHT on a Click-Stand showing the Right Brake Band
My Surly LHT on a Click-Stand showing the Right Brake Band

On a tour last year I saw a bicycle propped by its top tube using a clever aluminum device. I couldn’t remember the name until I did some research this year. The device is a Click-Stand® and once I rediscovered it I ordered one so that I would have it for my tours this year.

Click-Stand® is made to order since there are many variations in frame geometries and measurements. The web site explains how to measure your frame. It is offered in two models, the Mini for lighter rigs and the Max for fully loaded touring bikes. It folds like a tent pole and you can select a four, five, or six segment model in one of several colors. The stand comes with bungee brake bands, used to apply the brakes so the bike doesn’t roll and fall down. My choice was the six-segment Max in black because I wanted to have the shortest folded length and I like basic black.

The Click-Stand® web site is very clear on the measurement technique and on all of the available options. A twist for me is that I have drop bars with bar end shifters. The brake bands need to be shipped un-assembled for bar end shifters because the cables make it impossible to get pre-assembled bands around the brake levers.

If you are opposed like I am to kick-stands, you will like the Click-Stand®. It is thoughtfully designed and well made. They are inexpensive IMHO: my black Max lists at $41 on the web site as of 18 June 2016. Mine was shipped quickly and I’m a very happy owner.