Friday, April 29, 2011

Know Your Drivetrain

A couple of weeks ago, the worst part of winter, spring, arrived. I passionately love bicycling in summer. I think that bicycling in winter is ok. I think that bicycling in autumn and spring often tends to be crappy. Unfortunately, summer here in Finland only lasts for some three weeks, and the rest of the year it is either winter, spring or autumn, but mostly winter. Probably I should also mention that in Finland, a year goes on and on for some 200 weeks, unlike in the civilized countries.

The last winter was so bad that the drivetrain of my trusty commuter got totally fed up with the sucky conditions, and the chain started jumping really bad on the cogs. The jumping got so bad that I had severe trouble going up hills, because when I put any power to the pedals the chain immediately jumped. I tell you, it's hard going up hills on will power alone.

Due to the jumping of the chain, and the resulting slipping of feet on the pedals, the pride of the whole extended family, my precious family jewels, were severely endangered. If it wasn't for the sloping of the frame of my bicycle, I'd already be singing in the same register as Geddy Lee of Rush. While it's a scientific fact that falling on the top tube instantaneously transposes the vocal range of a male a couple of octaves, I suspect that it doesn't have a similar turbo boost effect on one's musicality, composition skills or the ability to perform in front of an audience. Therefore I'm happy to announce that I only fell on the top tube a couple of times this winter, my vocal range is still considered normal and I'm not intending to turn into a professional progressive metal singer in the near future.

Anyhow, like any IT professional would, I considered Getting Something Done about the Drivetrain as a Service (GSDatDaaS, as they say in the bicycling IT nerd world), but then I got to my senses and set out to DIM (Do It Myself). Once again, I spent countless hours (that the employer would consider theirs) doing online investigation of the inner workings of bicycle components and comparing prices.

As you would expect, or possibly not, renewing your drivetrain is not as simple as one would expect. What the hell did I just write there? Does this make sense to you? Erm, anyway, there's a lot of things you need to know:
  • how many chainrings do you have?
  • how many rear cassette cogs do you have?
  • what brand are they?
  • what kind of a chain goes together with them?
  • how many teeth do your chainrings and cogs have?
  • what kind of a crank/bottom bracket interface do you have?
  • what is the BCD of your chainrings?
  • what is the length of your cranks?
  • what is the chainline of your bicycle?
  • etc.
So, the first step was to read about these things. I came to the conclusion that you've got to replace a worn chain and cassette at the same time, and as the chainrings seemed worn too (except the granny ring), it's better to replace them as well.

The second step was to inspect my bicycle in order to find out what kind of a setup I had (underneath all the grimy black stuff). My commuter is a 2008 Kona Dew Plus, and these are the parts that it had installed:
  • FSA Dyna Drive CK-300A 175 mm cranks with square taper interface
  • FSA 28-38-48 tooth chainrings with 104/64 mm BCD
  • Shimano 11-34 tooth 8 speed cassette
  • KMC Z narrow chain.
The third step was to try and find a somewhat similar set of components from an online store. It proved somewhat difficult. For instance, there are a lot of chainrings sold separately, but it's not clear for an aged newbie like me whether or not they fit together with the setup that you have. Also it seems to be cheaper to purchase a whole crankset instead of three separate chainrings. Shimano has all kinds of fancy letter combinations like IG, HG, SG-X and whatnot when it comes to chains and toothings, and they haven't exactly made the whole intercompatibility issue totally clear in their documents. I'm an engineer and I need a detailed specification before I can proceed with the implementation.

After a lot of browsing of internet retailers' web sites, I finally got fed up and ordered a crankset, cassette and a chain that seemed not totally unlike my old components. I failed to notice a nearly unnoticeable text (font size 'fly dropping') saying that the cassette I wanted wasn't in stock though, and I had to replace the cassette with another one. Luckily, there were no other 8 speed cassettes with 11-34 toothing available, and I ended up thinking about the question that has been plaguing mankind for decades: what gear ratios should I have?

I, for one, currently have too many gear ratios. I have a triple chainring, but I never use the smallest chainring. I use the middle one in the winter and I use the big one in the summer. Living in a flat city in a flat country, I don't need more than two chainrings. On the rear cassette, I've never used the 34. Budget cyclist's 34 was as clean as a whistle. I've never used the 11 either. According to Sheldon Brown's Online Gear Calculator, spinning at the moderate cadence of 80 RPM I'd be doing some 46.8 KPH on the 48-11 combination. I hardly ever need to do that on the commuter bike. I guess that on an average commute I use two or three different gears. Ok, in the winter I might use four.

So, what's the point in having 8 speeds in your rear cassette? Or 9, 10 or 11, when you think about it? I suppose that the different ratios are useful only if they're at the range that you need. And I don't need a "MegaRange" 34 tooth cog for anything. I might need more ratios for commuting if they'd be closer to each other. So, I ended up ordering a "road" cassette with 13-26 toothing instead of the one the good people at Kona had originally provided for my needs.

After some minor mixups, awkward speaking of English on the phone (I suck at that) and waiting for some 3-14 business days, the components finally arrived, and I got to the fourth step: actually installing the parts.

Here are the cranksets, new and old:

Look kind of similar, don't they? Yes, I managed to find a crankset with the same toothing and BCD's, but I neglected to read about the chainline. It turned out that the new crankset had a different chainline than the old one, and I wasn't sure how it work together with the front derailleur (or derailer, if you prefer the vulgar spelling).

But then, because I'm a genius, I realised that I can switch the chainrings from the new crankset to the old one. Damn, I'm good. *cough* *retch* I'm choking in my own smugness here. *cough*

Here are the cranks (interesting, isn't it):

Actually, I don't know if the new cranks would have a better chainline than the old one. I gather it's kind of difficult to actually measure the chainline. But I'll have to check it out, when I have the time. Also I could get rid of the granny ring altogether while I'm at it.

Here are the cassettes, new and old:

The 34 does look ridiculously large. It might make sense to grannies though. I, however, tend to fall over if my speed goes below 15 KPH. Also, if you have a magnifying glass, check out the worn teeth on the 4th cog.

BTW, this is what my working area looks like:

I couldn't fit any more of the area into the picture, because my back was against the wall as it is. Well, at least I can reach all the tools without moving my feet. It would be nice if the bike fitted in as well, though.

And finally, what can I say, except "up yours"!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


In case you're wondering what's up with the cycle path I complained recently, exciting things have happened. Shortly after I directed my complaints directly to the P"N"WD, via a feedback form on their web page (as they don't seem to be reading my blog, for some reason), they did, to my surprise, deliver. In a way.

Namely, somebody filled up the Grand Canyon with fresh gravel. Unfortunately, a couple of days later, a street sweeper cleaned the path, and while doing that also swept most of the fresh gravel out of the excavation. So the path doesn't look much better at the moment:

Gotta love those craters & oil spills. Makes it look a bit like a war zone. Which is good. We need some street cred here. The neighbourhood is way too bourgeois as it is.

In other news, a mysterious delivery arrived on our dinner table today:

Who is it for?

Hey, that's me! And damn, I just accidentally published my true identity. Oh, what the hey. BTW, did you know that Rembrandt is one of the most common first names in Finland?

Let's see what's inside the parcel:

Oh, cool! It's some kind of a air-filled portable travel cushion. I've always wanted one of these. But wait, there's more! A book:

And another one:

And another one:

And yet another one:

Wow, the last one was big. Thanks, Santa! These should provide adequate evening entertainment for at least a week. I'm in bicycling nerd paradise.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Experience the pavé

When I recently mentioned that Paris-Roubaix is a race for wussies, at least when compared to the bicycling conditions in Helsinki, I thought I was (kind of) joking. As it turns out, I wasn't. It seems that the city of Helsinki is trying to advocate commuting by bicycle by making the bicycling infrastructure more interesting and challenging (as opposed to more accessible) and to promote various forms of bicycle sports in the city. Yesterday I wrote about an environment that is clearly meant for BMX and/or Freeride enthusiasts. This morning I found out that, apparently, the city has launched a new campaign to promote bicycling classics-style, on cobbled sectors. (If they haven't got a catchy title for the campaign yet, my suggestion is "Experience the pavé!")

Just check out this cycle path in my neighbourhood in Northern Helsinki:

There's always been a cobbled sector on the side of the path, which I always thought was there just to make the path prettier. The rest of the path is paved with asphalt, although it is hard to see that from the picture because the asphalt is currently covered by some 2 cm of gravel, sprinkled there in the winter. But yesterday the P"N"WD had licked the cobbled sector clean from the gravel, while leaving the rest of the path untouched.

To me, this is a clear indicator that they want us to try bicycling on the pavé. I can find no other reason for this action. The road has been free from gravel all winter, so this can't have happened as a byproduct of cleaning the road. They cleaned up the cobblestones intentionally.

Hey, I'm all for it. I'm ready to experience the Hell of the Northern Helsinki. I'll gladly shake on the cobbles like the slow, puny Fabian Cancellara wannabe that I am. I'm just not so sure if the occasional bicyclists get the drift.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spring! Horrible spring!

Spring is just around the corner, and these are problematic times for the commuter. You see, the P"N"WD (Public "Not" Works Department) outsourced the maintenance of the bicycling infrastructure to Mother Nature several weeks ago. Yes, ultimately, Mother Nature will deliver, but she won't adhere to any schedule dictated by the infamous middle management über director V. Alatyppö of the P"N"WD. Also, in the long term, she will literally clean up the bike paths, i.e. eradicate any signs of them whatsoever, by using her favourite utility: entropy.

Although, it is possible that the P"N"WD is trying to accomplish the same end result as well. At least it seems so when you witness the wreckage on the bike paths uncovering from beneath the snow. Take this stretch for example:

What is that? Is it a moat? Or an abandoned WWII trench, filled with oily water and trash? Or perhaps a passageway for the multitudes of fish in the neighbourhood to use for safe crossing of this bike path?

Or this one:

Is it a moonscape? A potato field? A recreational area for mountain biking?

No, these are examples of routes meant for pedestrians and bicyclists. The pictures are not taken in forgotten rural areas of Albania or the darkest, steamiest jungles of the Transilvanian mountains either. This is what the public infrastructure for pedestrian usage and bicycling looks like in a rich, Western European city, the capital of the best country in the world: Helsinki, Finland.

Doesn't matter though. Finns famously are a happy, positive, educated, optimistic and healthy people, so these petty annoyances can't dispirit us. Each of us also is as skilled a bicyclist as Danny McAskill, so we can easily jump over these obstacles with our expensive mountain bikes at full speed. And real roadies ride on the road (which is fine) anyway. The pram-pushing housewives really need the challenge and the exercise, and the handicapped people in their wheelchairs can... uh... drive... or take the bus instead... or something. That's it, I've used up all my optimism. I'm depressed. Gotta go get drunk now.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Product review

Bicycling bloggers often seem to do reviews of stuff they receive as bribes presents from vendors of bicycling-related products. I'd like to do that also. Mostly because then I'd get to keep the stuff. But since my blog is regularly read by only 4 people (hi Jim, Bob, Jimbob and Sauron), I don't seem to be considered worthy by the bribers. Well, I'd like to review something anyway. I'll just go ahead and review my old Halti bicycling jacket that I've worn for two years now. Yes, it goes together with the pants that I wrote about in the post before this one.

Well, the brand is Halti, I forget the exact model, which doesn't seem to be written down anywhere in the garment itself. If it ever was, it's been worn out by dozens of machine-washes. The colour is black...ish. There's a picture of a leaf on the back. There's not too much insulation. In fact there's none. Which is good. If there were, I'd have been boiled already. I tend to get hot very easily. If I get cold, I can always add layers.

The jacket looks more vigorous with me in it, trust me.

Good things about the jacket:
  • It blocks wind rather well
  • It doesn't get immediately soaked in a light rain
  • It is light
  • It is not too hot
  • It hasn't gotten any holes in it in two years
  • The zipper still functions after two years
  • It wasn't too expensive
  • It doesn't flap around too much (since I got the size S)
  • There's a pocket for the mobile phone (that I've never used, since I only discovered it just now, while inspecting the jacket for this blog post)
  • There are some reflectors.
Not so good things about the jacket:
  • Close to the zipper, there's loose cloth that tends to get stuck between the zipper. I hate getting imprisoned by the jacket whenever I'm hot, sweaty and exhausted.
  • The pockets are hard to open with gloves on. They could have attached bigger thingamajiggies to the zippers to make the operable even with gloves on. Come to think of it, I could have done that myself. D'oh!
  • If you manage to open the pockets with gloves on, and pull out the keys/a banana/what have you in there, the lining comes out as well. They could have attached the lining so it wouldn't come out.
Further on with the review. The bouquet is musty, voluptuous, vinegarish. Perhaps slightly... fruity. Rich. Spicy. In-your-face. Expressive. Somewhat nauseating. It tells a story about a solitary battle against the elements, the majority and conformance.

The taste is somewhat disappointing. While the bouquet promised wildly exciting adventures, the taste is somewhat flat, dryish. Even after countless hours of simmering in various fluids, the texture is still rather sinewy and nearly inedible. Perhaps it would be possible to cut this jacket into pieces and then deep-fry the pieces into delicious crisps, but as a stew it simply doesn't work. In the end I only managed to swallow one sleeve, and that required 4 bottles of wine to go with that. Not cuisine I'd recommend to anybody but my dearest mortal enemies.

Overall, the jacket did pretty well, though. I'll give it a solid **** (stars, not a dirty word).