Friday, August 17, 2012

The House Master Bicycle Mechanic: Random Thoughts

As I sit here, avoiding my training ride this afternoon, I thought it might be nice to hear a different voice for a post. Sam has been kind enough to provide his thoughts on becoming the house bicycle mechanic over the past few years, as well as some thoughts on riding in general. He has always been mechanically inclined (I am about as polar opposite as it comes for aptitude in that area), and took to fixing things as they needed repairs, adjustments, changes, and so on. In that time, he's gained wisdom from his experiences, so I thought it might be nice to share it with others.

For the better part of 3-4 years now, my better half and I have been deeply obsessed with bicycles of all kinds. In turn, I have become somewhat of a "mechanic," fix expert, know-it-all about bikes of all kinds. DISCLAIMER: I mostly work in a basement or dinning room.

Evolution: We started with mountain bikes that we did not ride in the mountains (prior to the obsession starting 3-4 years ago). Like most SoCal exports, we used our bikes for everything. Why can't I just ride my flatbar, fully suspended mountain bike everywhere, on 50 mile rides, and to a coffee shop? The answer? You can, but it will suck! This led us, over the course of 3 years (our formidable biking years), to adopt 3 bikes each (mostly): One road bike, one "city bike", and one mountain. This is not all-inclusive, not perfect, and sometimes there are crossovers.

Today: All 3 of my bikes are essentially custom built:  a fast sub 20 pound road bike, a 29er franken-mountain bike 1x9 with no suspension, and a 1994 Specialized Crossroads commuter/cross bike that I converted to drop bars. 
G.E. (aka Master Blaster), has a Riv Sam Hillborne for in between stuff (Long, slow rides), a Riv A. Homer Hilsen for faster "road" rides, a Public C7 city bike for tooling around, and a 1994 Bridgestone MBS for the mountains (someday, she'll do it).

All of our bikes are steel, with the exception of my 29er, which is aluminum with a steel fork. We both like the feedback of steel better; I just went with Alu on the mountain bike to save weight.

What I have learned as a rider and mechanic:

1. SIZE: Being short is difficult, but you adapt. (In life and with bikes)
The world is made for men who are around 6 feet tall, and women who are about 6 inches shorter. I can search craigslist, ebay, and walk into a bike shop, and both of us will have the same problem:  our bikes have to be ordered, or custom made. We never get to test ride the "right size.”

2. MAINTENANCE: Bike maintenance is a continual learning process:
I know 10x more today about derailleurs, than I did even 1 year ago:  it's all about cable tension.
-Don't discount good tires; patching sucks.
-SRAM chains with the "master link" are the best things ever; I can remove the chain to clean it.
-Build or buy a chain "whip", you will need this; cassettes get changed.
-Bar tape get's worn out quick, not from use, but from swapping bars!
-Furniture Polish cleans/protects amazingly well.
-Buy ferrules (cable ends) in bulk.
-Double tighten/check everything (some bike shops don't do this) {G.E.'s note: and some house mechanics forget to re-connect brakes! :O)}
-Noisy usually means DIRTY.
-10k other things.......

3. EXPENSE: Don't get me started, and don't walk me into a bike shop. Some bikes are great, some suck, and most bike shop employees are confused (Apologies to the ones who are not). An expensive shiny bike, may not be for you. You must go by feel, with a close 2nd in aesthetics. 
-Sometimes it's not worth it to source/build you own bike, and vice versa. There are no hard rules for this. You will learn the HARD way; it's a law of nature.

4. CLOTHING: I tried to fight it for a long time, but what the masses sell, works. Lycra and wool wick sweat, and tend to stink less. Cotton sucks and hurts; it's great for sitting here, or even going to the gym, but smooth, light things are excellent on a bike.
-Underwear is not your friend. Spandex and/or chamois are.
-Old jerseys from unknown rides are cool.

NEXT: We are both doing larger rides; Master Blaster is doing the Venus ride in the next couple of weeks, and is probably fretting about it right now : ). {G.E.'s note: He knows me well!!} I'm going to attempt to qualify for the Leadville 100 by racing in the Apine Odyssey 100k on September 15th. I have never ridden over 53 miles on any bike, and I have never ridden that far on a Mountain bike, so this should be interesting. As a supplement to training/stress relief, I’m carpooling to work, and riding home. Ole blue is sitting with me today, being dirty.
Bianchi is waiting to ride home
What is the point of this post? I'm not sure, maybe to type it out, and imagine that the other things I need to do like a firing of pottery, or building a set of stairs for our house is getting done.

While Sam may not know the "point" of this post, I think he shared a lot of information that is interesting - generally, just the evolution of riding, and how everyone will have different experiences, likes, and dislikes, so I think it does have purpose and is certainly worth sharing. 

Thanks for taking the time to share, Sam!


  1. I totally forgot about my tendency to leave breaks disconnected, and as I peer over at the Bianchi... Front brake, unhinged!

    1. See... brakes are important to check, even on your own bike... not just when you're trying to kill me inadvertently. :O)

  2. What a great post! Nice to hear from the mechanic and I think my husband would agree with most of this. Good luck with your upcoming rides!

    1. Thanks, Velouria! Hopefully, we both survive the rides. :O)

  3. PS: "...a Riv Sam Hillborne for ...long, slow rides, a Riv A. Homer Hilsen for faster "road" rides..." I would love a comparison review of the two bikes. There was an AHH frame in my size on sale recently and I had to almost tie my hands behind my back to prevent myself from getting it. I have heard wildly different accounts re how the two bikes compare and it would be great to read your take on it.

    1. Well, much like your Seven, I've sort of kept the Homer under wraps until I have more time with it, but I certainly see that post coming soon. Your situation is pretty much what happened for me... it was a good deal, and I just couldn't say no. I'm still kind of fiddling with parts, but I will say that it is definitely lighter than the set up on my Hillborne... of course, I generally have the Hillborne packed down with quite a bit of "stuff." I think the most challenging thing has been trying to treat them differently - meaning, I want to add racks and such, but then I remind myself that I'm using it for a "road" bike, not a hauler. :O)

  4. Most interesting and readable post. In particular the editors comments. Thanks.

  5. I loved this. Sam is a good egg, even if he keeps disconnecting your brakes. ;)

    1. He is a good egg. Thankfully, there have been no disconnected brakes recently. :O)


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