Monday, April 20, 2015

Time to Get Your Bearings

Most of us want our bikes to go as fast as possible.  We check to make sure our wheels are spinning freely, our brakes are not rubbing, our chain is lubed, our pedals are good, and our shifters work properly.

However, even those cyclists who are pretty diligent about bike maintenance often overlook one key item: the bottom bracket.

Some of you are wondering, "Do I even have a bottom bracket?  And if I do, where is it?  (See previous blog post at

The bottom bracket is the set of bearings for your crankset.  If your bottom bracket bearings are worn out or need service, you likely have a source of friction that is robbing you of power.  So, how do you tell if the bottom bracket needs service?

First, start by removing your chain from the crankset.  The easiest way to do this is to shift to the
smallest ring on your crankset and then reach down and move the chain off of the teeth and let the chain rest on the bottom bracket shell on your frame.  Then, with very light pressure, gently turn the crank.  If you feel a slight hesitation like a bearing is sticking every few degrees of rotation, then you need to replace the bottom bracket.

The sticking is caused by "indexing" of the bearings.  This is where the ball bearing makes a slight
indentation in the bearing race.

The good news is this is a cheap fix.  A new bottom bracket is about $25 and installation is about $20 at the shop.  If your bike is over three years old, there's a good chance that this needs to replaced.  The great thing about the modern bottom brackets is that they are all based on sealed cartridge bearing and need no further adjustment or lubrication.  Ride it until it wears out and then replace it.

Ride fast, ride far, and be careful out there.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What Do I Have in My (Tool) Bag

Here are some of the essentials and some recommended items to keep on your bike.


Tool Bag – Big or small, it’s up to you.  Pick one that can carry your tools and possibly your car keys, phone, or wallet.

Spare Tube – Do you want to walk home?  Pack a spare tube.

Tire Levers – Some guys take care of this with their muscular fingers.  These make it easier.

CO2 Inflator and Cartridge – A pump is nice, but when you have a flat 80 miles into a 100 mile ride, this is much better.

Allen Wrenches – Almost everything on your bike can be tightened up using an Allen wrench (or hex key).  At a minimum, you need a 4, 5, and 6 mm, but a 3 mm and an 8 mm are handy at times.

Small Screwdrivers – What cannot be tightened or adjusted with an Allen wrench can probably be tightened with a screwdriver.  Note that some multi-tools will have hex keys, screwdrivers, and possibly other tools in the same bundle.

Optional, but really good to have:

Tire Patch Kit – When you ride through broken glass, is it possible to get a flat on both the front and rear?

2nd Spare Tube – See tire patch kit above.

Pump - After all of those flat tires, you might be out of CO2 cartridges.

Dollar Bills – Lots of uses for these.  Emergency Gatorade and roadside strip clubs notwithstanding, you can use a dollar bill to line the inside of your tire if you cut a gash in it.  This will prevent the tube from protruding through the tire and allow you to make it home.

Chain Tool – Sometimes your chain breaks.  Not often, but it can happen.  This is a small tool that will allow you to put your chain back together again and finish a ride.  When you’re 20 miles into a 112 mile Ironman leg, you don’t want to DNF because of a broken chain.

Chain Links – Use with chain tool for an even faster chain repair.

Spoke Wrench – If a spoke loosens and causes your wheel to wobble, you can fix it enough to get you home.

Spare Spokes or Fiber Spoke – Replace a spoke while you’re on the road?  It can be done if you have the tools and knowledge.

Cell Phone – And the number of a good friend who will drag themselves out and haul your sorry butt home when all else fails.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Don't DNF with a Broken Chain

Many of you will never break a chain during your riding career.  I have broken 5 or 6 over the past 30 years.  The most recent was during the Highland Biathlon last week.  Now while some of you would have taken a DNF (did not finish!) at Highland, you would be much more hesitant to DNF at IronMan Lake Placid after a year of training, several hundred dollars of travel expense, and a $650 entry fee.

Or you might be on a training ride 40 miles from home with no cell signal.

Why would a chain break?  Well, the outer plates are connected together with pins that are press fit into the plates.  There is a tolerance on the manufacture of these pins and plates and maybe you have a combination of a plate where the hole is slightly too large and the pin is slightly too small.  Under stress it pops.  Or maybe when the shop took it apart during your tuneup, the new kid put the chain back on.  No matter.  You're standing beside the road with a bicycle and your chain is 20 feet behind you, laying in the road.  Let's get that puppy back together and back in the race.

Note:  There might be a sag wagon.  Maybe a half hour away.  Maybe somebody knows how to fix your chain.  Maybe.

Let review the tools you need to fix the chain.  It's called a chain breaker tool.  Odd name, since your chain is already broken.  Many multi-tools, such as the Crank Brothers 19 pictured below come with one built in.

The chain tool is the threaded piece with the pin sticking out.

That's all you need.  Except for a repair link.  Maybe like the KMC Missing Link shown here.

These are fairly cheap.  Note that they come in 9-speed, 10-speed, or 11-speed.  The 9-speed are $7 for 6 pair, the 10 speed are $12 for 6 pair, and the 11 speed are $28 for 6 pair.  Who the hell needs an 11 speed on a time trial bike anyway?  But I digress.

Now that you've got the parts, let's put the chain back on.  First thing we have to do is remove the broken link.  Note that on you chain you have outer plates and inner links.  We want the two ends that we're going to connect to both be inner links.  That means we're going to need to remove the outer plates from one end of the broken chain.

Note that the left end has the inner link.  Let's leave that alone.  See the broken outer plates on the right.  Let's remove these.  So get out the chain break tool and let's break a chain.  Your hand will get very dirty.  Wipe them on the black part of your shorts.

Line up the pin on the chain break tool with the pin on the loose end of the chain.  Gradually tighten the tool until you feel the pin on the tool pressing the pin on the chain very solidly.  Now use some muscle and crank down.  We want to push this pin all of the way out.

Now you can see that you have two chain ends, both with the inner links exposed.  The next step is to thread the chain back on the bike.  Before you do, shift both the front and rear derailleurs to the smallest (number of teeth) cogs.  This will make putting the chain on a bit easier.

In the rear, the chain will go over the cog, around the guide pulley, and around the idler pulley in a zig-zag fashion (or an S-shape).  Be careful threading the chain through, because most derailleurs will have a retaining tab on the cage.  You want the chain to go between the cage and the pulley.  Note the two tabs on this derailleur.

Put the other end of the chain through the front derailleur.  Here, I deliberately do not put the chain on the front sprocket and just wrap it around the bottom bracket.  This will make the ends of the chain easier to connect.

Now let's join the chain together.  Take the repair link that you have stuffed in your tool kit and assemble it to the bike.

Push one half of the link through one end and the other half through the other end of the chain on the opposite side.  You'll see the repair plate has a slightly larger hole just in front of the smaller hole.  Pull the two ends together and insert the back end of the repair pin into the larger hole.  You must do this on both side simultaneously.

Now the chain is together.  Take a quick look and make sure that both sides are connected.

Put you chain back on the front chainring.  Spin the pedals around and make sure everything seems to work.
Depending on the type of connector you use, it might need to snap in place.  If so, rotate the chain around until the connector is on top.  With the rear wheel on the ground, put some downward pressure on a pedal and the chain will snap into final position.

See in the picture above that the pin is in the smaller section of the hole on the repair place.

Although this sounds complicated, this repair can be made in 5 minutes.  I would suggest that everyone practice removing pins from an old chain as this is probably the hardest part.  Also, verify that the chain is through the rear derailleur correctly before installing the repair link.

Happy trails!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Peer Pressure

Sometimes you just hang around with the wrong people.

People have been sent to the electric chair because some of their buddies decided to hold up a liquor store and they decided to just go along.  Others people have become doctors, teachers, engineers, and other respected professionals initially due to peer pressure, but later found that this was a pretty good move.

Even when you don't have direct peer pressure, those around you set the norm.  Did all of the other neighborhood kids play baseball?  You might have played even though none of them ever pressured you. Did all of your cousins go to college? You might have thought that was the thing everyone in your family did.

I started hanging out with the wrong crowd a couple of years ago.  These were guys (and girls!) who thought nothing about an Ironman, a 200 mile bike race on gravel, or a 100 mile run.  Now, I knew that I would never be that extreme.  And I'm not.  But here's an example of what happens.

My friend Travis decides to host a trail running race.  A 4.1 mile course.  You have an hour to finish.  So far, so good.  But here's the catch.

An hour after you run the loop, you run it again.  After another hour, run it again.  Until only one person is left.

So despite not wanting to be an ultra-runner at all, here I am at the starting line.  I was just going to run one lap to show support for Travis.  But I finished the lap and felt pretty good.  Somebody said, "It's time.  Start the next lap."  So I did. And for some stupid reason, I ran a third. I did show some restraint and quit after the 3rd lap.  12.3 miles.  I was getting tired and starting to get a blister on one of my feet.  But it seems pretty wimpy (or pretty normal), if you compare it to my friend Jim.

Running slow through the woods on the second lag.

Jim just kept running.  Not that fast.  4.1 miles.  Once an hour.  For 15 hours.

Jim just kept going.  For 61 miles.

So when just going out and running 12 miles makes you seem like a slacker, is it time to re-evaluate your peer group?  Nah, just recruit some more people into it.

Great job, Travis, for putting on a fantastic race.

Race director Travis (far right) along with some of the other volunteers.  Most of the photo's are taken from Robin (far left).

And same to you, Jim, for making a half-marathon run look like a nap on the couch.

What are these people up to next?  A one-mile swim next weekend.  The weekend after?  A half-marathon.  At night.  On a trail.

And I will be there.

Friday, December 27, 2013


Earlier this year, Excel brewing company launched a new beer in their lineup called Citra.

First, you may wonder who is Excel Brewing?

Well, the guys over in Breese, Illinois (45 miles due east of St. Louis) have had a little operation over there for years called Excel Bottling.  For citrus soda connoisseurs, Excel makes Ski, a wonderful citrus soda.  Ski was introduced in 1956.  Although often compared to Mtn. Dew, Ski has more citrus flavor and is not as sweet.  When you can find it in the returnable bottles, it is still made with cane sugar and contains orange and lemon pulp.

Anyway, back to the beer.

The Excel guys decided that they had extra capacity and would give brewing a shot.  Citra is their tribute to the most famous product of Excel.

Citra is a blond ale, flavored with orange and lemon.  If you expected this to taste like a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, well, you would be surprised.

Most notable with this beer is its definite ale taste.  You get a bit of that clove aroma that is common with ales.  It is definitely heavier than a shandy.  It's not apparent whether the beer is made only with barley malt or if there is some wheat malt thrown in.

Overall, the body is heavy, the flavor is light with a citrus taste, and the beer is pretty good.

Will this be my "go-to" beer?  Probably not, but I do plan on picking up a few of these from time to time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The County Commissioner of Beers

Let's face it.  There are a lot of beer snobs out there.  Beer, which used to be the working man's drink, has started to get all uppity.  Beer has strayed from it roots.  Working guys were referred to as "Joe Six-Pack", not "Joseph Triple Dry-Hopped Belgian Lambic IPA".

Budweiser calls itself the King of Beers.  Miller High Life calls itself the Champagne of Beers.  Pretty pretentious if you ask me.  We need a beer for guys who eat pork steaks, who know how to run a chain saw, who can wire a 240 volt air conditioner circuit, who can solder a repair fitting after someone drives a nail into your water pipe.

We don't need a king.  But we could use a good repairman, a good general contractor, a good tool and die-maker.  How about "The County Commissioner of Beers"?

So, I present you the County Commissioner of Beers.  Specifically, Clinton County, Illinois.

Stag Beer  

Now before all of you beer snobs turn up your nose, I challenge you to try a bottle.  And you don't have to spend a fortune to try it.  In Edwardsville, Illinois, you can buy a 12-pack for $7.99 or you can get a $1.00 bottle at the back bar at Laurie's Place every day.  Even at Cleveland Heath (a local upscale restaurant), Stag is priced at a whopping $2.00.

Stag has been brewed since 1851.  Stag was originally brewed in Belleville, Illinois, by Griesedick Western Brewing.  In the 1950's, Stag was sold in 22 states and was the 11th largest brand in the country.

And Stag is a highly underrated beer within its style.  Beer snobs may have a disdain for this style, but don't show disrespect for Stag.  I contend that it is the best beer in the American Lager style.  This style of beer should be lightly carbonated, dry rather than sweet, and very lightly hopped. Stag meets the criteria on all levels.  Stag has won numerous blind tastings and awards.

Stag is priced below the national brands for a simple reason: advertising and marketing.  Stag is not advertised and is distributed in a limited area in southwestern Illinois and southeastern Missouri.

The Stag brand is now owned by the Pabst Brewing Company.  They claim to be the largest American-owned brewing company.  They have acquired many regional brands such as Old Style, Lone Star, Rainier, Stroh's, Schaefer, and Olympia.  Note that there is another Stag beer brewed in Trinadad.  It is not related to Stag Beer of the Midwest.

So, don't be a snob.  Solder some copper pipe, fire up the chain saw, cook a pork steak, and drink a Stag.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Done with Hibernating

Well, the blog has been in hibernation a while.  Two years or so.

I think it's time to wake it up and start posting again.  I've missed posting two years of bike seasons, two years of beer tastings, and two years of barbecue.  I did not miss two years of eating BBQ and drinking beer.

So we'll start with a post on something that is not barbecue but is now in season.  I make sure to go and eat one every year just because it's......

The McRib.

I will first state that the McRib is not barbecue.  Some people will claim that it's not even meat, but according to the definition by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is indeed meat.

From the USDA website:

is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones with attached edible meat under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue. In 1982, a final rule published by FSIS on mechanically separated meat said it was safe and established a standard of identity for the food product. Some restrictions were made on how much can be used and the type of products in which it can be used. These restrictions were based on concerns for limited intake of certain components in MSM, like calcium. Due to FSIS regulations enacted in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef is considered inedible and is prohibited for use as human food. However, mechanically separated pork is permitted and must be labeled as "mechanically separated pork" in the ingredients statement.

If it makes you feel any better, the Chicken McNuggets are mechanically separated chicken.  Even though the description of the process is unappetizing, the McRib is somewhat tasty.  It seems that adding a tangy barbecue sauce, onions, and pickles will make a lot of things tasty.  Sometimes very tasty.

People who claim the McRib is not meat may just be vegetarians claiming that it's not meat so they can enjoy their once-a-year binge.  Or maybe not.