Saturday, November 17, 2012

Learning curve pt VI: pilgrimage

Becoming a Serious Mountain Biker is a lot of work. Lately I've been busy earning my stripes, you know, riding up and down slippery rocks, experimenting with tyre pressures, thinking about purchasing different bicycle parts, purchasing some of them, and, of course, washing my bike a lot because the early winter in southern Finland is just so damned muddy. Then, there was the obligatory pilgrimage to the origins of mountain biking: Marin County, California, USA. The place where a bunch of guys invented mountain biking in the 70's, and where Gary Fisher invented commercialization of mountain biking shortly after.

So, after watching some 5 movies (they were all very good) on a tiny screen in an aeroplane, there I was, in San Francisco, where the disciples, or possibly, descendants, of Gary Fisher display their mad skills by doing long wheelies in front of Alcatraz:  

And, first of all, I gotta tell you, Finland is a developing country when it comes to bicycling as a form of traffic. In San Francisco they have it much better. For instance, SF drivers, in general, don't try to kill bicyclists in traffic. They don't act like jerks. They stop in intersections and let bicyclists go first, if they have the right of way. In SF, the bicyclists ride on bike lanes or among the traffic, and they are mostly treated with respect. It's not scary riding a bike there.

Anyway, after renting a bike (from Blazing Saddles), I headed for Marin County. I was kind of aware that to get there, you have to cross the Golden Gate bridge: 

After crossing the bridge, I was faced with the fact that I really should've taught myself to use the Garmin 705 bike computer I had borrowed from a friend for the journey earlier. But based on what I'd like to call an internal compass, and some might call blind luck, I did find a trailhead:  

The bike: Marin Mount Vision 5.8. Not a bad bike. The one I had had a couple of flaws: a freehub that tended to stick and make a noise on descents, and a seat post that kept sliding down. And just like the guy told me at the rental shop, the bottle will get very dirty in the holder.

The terrain  was mostly fire road, i.e. technically easy, dry, sandy road. The hard part was all the climbing - I'm not really used to having to climb for tens of minutes at a time on granny gears to get on a hilltop. In southern Finland, the hills are really minuscule compared to these real ones.

 There was some singletrack as well, but it was technically easy as well. Where's all the mud, roots, rocks and trees? Is this really mountain biking?

In the distance there's Mount Tamalpais, on top of whiche the shrine of Gary Fisher resides in, if I'm not mistaken. But that's for the next day.  

There seems to be some not too bad apartments on the hillsides as well. I guess one could live here for a while, if absolutely obliged to to do so. 

This is what the typical climb looks like. And it goes on and on. And, for an albino such as yours truly, there was more than enough sun as well. BTW, notice the writing in the sky. There was an air show over SF. Can't tell what it spells though.

After some 6 hours of bicycling, there's Golden Gate again. And there are some significant hills in the city as well. Ok, I admit it: I had to push the bike on some of the steepest hills on my way to the hotel.

There's nothing like pizza after a day of mountain biking. Ok, there is. It's beer. But one wouldn't suffice without without the other. So, I think we all can agree that the perfect combination of sustenance and refreshment post-bicycling is pizza and beer.  

The hotel didn't have a special safe bicycling holding space so I just kept the bike in the bathroom. Did I mention yet that I was going to ride for two days? 

Although perhaps sadly lacking in mud, the Bay Area makes up for it in dust: 

Those aren't leggings, I tells ya. Some of it might be tan line, though. 

So, the next day, to conquer Mount Tamalpais, and to find the holy shrine of Gary Fisher they keep telling me about. In reality, it wasn't really this misty. I must have breathed in the camera lense or something.

Now, between these two pictures there's an inpicturable period of pain that includes finding the trailhead in a nice-looking suburban neighbourhood, and then climbing up hillsides for some 70 minutes straight. I'll always be looking back to that pain with yearning. 

On the mountain top, I finally found what I honestly believe was the shrine of Gary Fisher: 

And let me tell you, a can of cold Coca-Cola has never tasted better than when purchased from the Coke machine beside the shrine of Gary Fisher on top of Mount Tamalpais. God bless America!


In the SFO airport there was a cool display of the history of mountain biking. The coolest museum exhibition I've ever seen (and I've seen at least two). Here are the original mountain bikers:

And the original mountain bikes: 


Friday, August 10, 2012

Learning curve pt V: the esteemed initiation rite of bending your rear derailleur hanger

Yes, road bicycling is an elite sport, but mountain biking is, perhaps, even more so. That's because each part of the mountain bike is a consumable. If you ride a mountain bike, you tend to churn through expensive precision-machined, high-tech, space-age material components like... uh... need a clever analogy here... can't think of anything that isn't a cliché... like... like... Chuck Norris goes through the digits of infinity. I don't know.

For instance, this summer I've already replaced
  • four brake pads
  • two brake pistons
  • one brake hose assembly
  • two brake discs
  • one inner tube 
  • two tyres 
  • one brake lever retaining washer
  • one brake lever lock ring. 

Fortunately, I haven't needed to replace any carbon fibré parts yet. I did order a replacement handlebar for the presumably old carbon/alu handlebar, but I ordered a relatively cheap aluminium one. Just in case. There seems to be nothing wrong with the old handlebar, so far, but Zinn And The Art Of Mountain Bike Maintenance tells me that you should replace the stem and the handlebar every couple of years. The stem I decided to replace because the old one is oddly long. Also I'm hoping that a shorter stem will drastically improve my capability to do manuals, which currently is nearly non-existent.

Anyway, this morning, as I rode to work, I felt like a winner after finally having the courage to ride a "tricky" part, consisting of a root, bridge over a ditch, and a large fallen tree trunk, all in the distance of some three meters. Shortly after, I turned down a path, heard a noise from the rear wheel, stopped and found out that my rear derailleur was all bent: 

 Apparently, a smallish twig got caught in there somewhere and managed to bend the hanger. Shows how sturdy the space age materials are. Anyway, you've got to have at least one bent rear derailleur hanger war story in order to qualify as a real mountain biker, and now I do. OTB, hydration pack, bent hanger... that's 3 out of 30, I guess. Still got a lot of stripes to earn. 

Luckily my proficiency in the art of googling for bicycle components during worktime makes up for my inexperience in mountain biking, so I quickly found out that there is a shop in Helsinki that has derailleur hangers for old Scott MTB's in stock. I went there on my lunch break, because obviously, mountain bike maintenance is more important than either working or nutrition. 

So, it turns out that the rear derailleur hanger is just another consumable when it comes to mountain biking. And not too cheap one either (some 20 units of currency, even in the online stores). There isn't a part on the mountain bike that isn't a consumable. The frame is a consumable. If you have a 10 year old frame, people are surprised that it still is rideable. I'm a consumable. You're a consumable. If I correctly understand modern science, everything is transient, except possibly memes. Although I'd like to see how "Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?", for example, manifests itself when all matter has vanished from the universe.  

Although the part seemed relatively expensive, and dammit, I should have gotten a spare one to keep in by backpack, I was pleasantly surprised that the rear derailleur hanger is the other part of the mountain bike that is idiot-proof to replace (the other one being the cassette). I took this picture only to get to point out that I do own a Pedro's Chain Keeper now:

Hey, that's one point. Now it's 4 out of 30.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Story of Charles Smith-Polvinen

One of the most notorious evil geniuses in recent Finnish criminal history was Charles "El Diablo" Smith-Polvinen. His reign of terror ended as late as the early 1970's, when he mysteriously vanished. 

Although he was only ever convicted in a court of law for lesser crimes, his unofficial, rumoured list of crimes is long and fearsome, including robbery, human trafficking, illegal arms trade, cannibalism, arson, forgery, extortion on a grand scale and evil urban design. It has also been rumoured that he was involved in piracy in the Caribbean in the late 18th century before settling down in Finland.

Charles Smith-Polvinen, 1940
Not much is known about the early life of Charles Smith-Polvinen. Recorded interviews of convicted criminals of the time suggest that a powerful criminal mastermind, sometimes referred to as "El Diablo", sometimes "The Captain", quickly established a strong foothold in the underworld of Helsinki in the 1930's, and dominated it for decades. 

After ruling the criminal underworld of Helsinki for decades, Smith-Polvinen's infinite ambition, as it seems, turned his interest towards the urban planning scene of the area in the 1960's. He and his minions infiltrated various offices and political operators, such as the National Coalition Party and the city council. The purpose of this operation remains unconfirmed even to this day, but some researchers suggest that Smith-Polvinen's evil master plan aimed to no less than world domination, beginning from Helsinki.

By the late 1960's, Smith-Polvinen's league had gained enough power to launch the first part of the intended takeover. In 1968, by utilizing the various positions of power in his command, and executing several diabolical manoeuvres, Smith-Polvinen published his evil scheme to change the landscape of Helsinki forever.     

His master plan is most widely known for the many motorways built over the very centre of Helsinki, which would have destroyed several esteemed residential areas in the heart of the city, but there was more to come. The lesser known second part of the Smith-Polvinen's traffic plan reveals that next, he would have terrorized the people even more diabolically (hence the nickname "El Diablo"). Historical documents reveal that he intended to 
  • ban bicycling altogether 
  • ban walking for more than two blocks
  • destroy public transport by means of taxation
  • cut down all trees in the metropolitan area
  • ban all sports except ice hockey
  • ban all political parties except the National Coalition Party
  • piss down, while laughing diabolically, from the lectern of the Parliament of Finland.  

It remains unclear why Smith-Polvinen's plan failed, even though it was strongly advocated by the right-wing politicians of the time. Some historians say that it was because it was slightly too outright diabolical, even for the right-wingers. An unnamed historian was quoted saying "What? I don't know. What the hell are you talking about?". The most likely reason established so far was that Yrjö Hakanen, member of the city council from 1870 to present, kept objecting to the plan and demanding further investigation until the everyone else got totally fed up.   

After Smith-Polvinen's diabolical master plan failed to materialize, Smith-Polvinen vanished from public view. At the time it the official explanation was that he retired, while the tabloids claimed that an informant, called Axel Galen-Galen-Galen-Cuckoo-Meow-Munch, had said that Smith-Polvinen was Nosferatu himself, and was merely buried for a century or so, to return in a better time. Then again, some not-entirely-respectable sources have hinted that Smith-Polvinen simply shaved off his sideburns, changed his name to Harry Bogomoloff and continued to pursue his evil dream.

Certain researchers, often denounced as mere conspiracy theorists, say that the evil legacy of Charles Smith-Polvinen lives on even today. The ideals of Smith-Polvinen are said to be pursued by occultists, urban planners, IT architects, bankers, politicians belonging to the National Coalition Party and other practitioners of evil professions. There are theories that suggest that Smith-Polvinen is undead and will awaken from his sleep to become the ruler of the National Coalition Party when it's popularity exceeds 25% in a parliamentary election. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


You know what's wrong with the law? I don't mean any specific law, but the law in general. Yes, just like any specification, it's never precise enough (even though it's written in legalese), but I wasn't thinking about that. What I was thinking about is that there's not enough pictures. Like, for example, I hear that they've got a law that says you can't ride your bike on the road, if there's a cycle path adjacent to it. (You look it up, I can't be bothered.) And furthermore, they tell me (on the forums) that you're only allowed to ride on the road with a cycle path adjacent to it if the cycle path in question is not rideable. The law doesn't say exactly what "not rideable" means though.

They could make the legislation clearer (not to mention more interesting) if they put some pictures and examples in it. Luckily, there's the internet, so bicycling authorities (disclaimer: actual authority not verified) such as myself can easily publish some examples for the public, and courts, to judge things by (disclaimer: actual applicability in a court of law not verified)

We'll start with an easy one:

Verdict: rideable. 

What about this one, is this rideable or not rideable? 

Verdict: not rideable. However, that was a trick question: there's not a cycle path underneath the snow there, it's just a sidewalk.

How about this one? Yes, there's a cycle path in there somewhere.

Verdict: rideable, you wuss. 

Ok. What about the next one?

This one is pretty typical in wintery Helsinki: the cycle path is in a hideous condition, and the road adjacent to it has been licked clean. It might be possible to ride this, if you have enormous thighs, and an enduro bike. It would seem pretty stupid to try it on a city bike, such as the one pictured, though. 

And yes, 10 metres up the road it seems evident that the cycle path is totally gone: 

Verdict: Not rideable. Please proceed to ride on the road.  

When confronted by conditions such as these, year in year out, one begins to form the idea that the rideability of a cycle path is relative: it depends on your choice of bicycle, state of mind and general obedience to the letter of the law.

Take a look at the same site a couple of weeks later, for instance:

They've taken the huge bank of snow away, so yes, basically, it is possible to advance on a bicycle on this cycle path. However, they've left a 10 cm cake of bumpy, uneven ice and snow on the cycle path, while the adjacent road remains licked clean. Riding on the road, it's possible to keep up a decent average speed comfortably. Riding on the ice, some parts of the bicycle and your teeth begin to fall off from all the rattling and bouncing. It's slow, uncomfortable and hazardous. The level of maintenance for this cycle path doesn't even begin to address the requirements for fluent bicycling. They've just, narrowly, fulfilled the minimum obligation. The road adjacent remains free of snow. There's very few cars going there. There's only a 40 kph speed limit. Verdict: the cycle path is not rideable for a sane person.   

More ambiguity:

There's not a question of moving to an adjacent road here, because there isn't one. I'm just complaining. If it is below zero, this cycle path is horribly slippery, bumpy and uneven. If it is above zero, this cycle path is horribly slippery, soft and treacherous. Both ways, the weather is fine for bicycling. It's the level of maintenance that sucks. It would be possible to maintain this cycle path so it would be good for bicycling. They just don't do it, for whatever reason.

Here's an example of a cycle path left care of Mother Nature since the latest blizzard (a couple of weeks ago) with the temperature a couple of degrees above zero:  

Verdict: rideable (but horrible, profane cursing while riding is allowed). Optimistically thinking, riding a bike in conditions like these improves one's balance a lot. 

Then again, there's not only snow, but other kinds of obstacles as well, that can render a cycle path not rideable. Like, for instance, the vehicles of Rakennus Tapsa and his four colleagues, parked directly on the public cycle path, while Tapsa and co. are embiggening the Hartwall Areena:

Verdict: not rideable. I believe that even Danny McAskill himself can't bunny hop on top of this van from the ground. Possibly, if that bank of snow is hard enough, it could be used as a ramp for hopping on the windscreen, and then to the roof, but it does seem awfully difficult, even for Danny. But what do I know about trials.  

But if Danny McAskill, Chris Akrigg or some other skilled trials rider were advancing the cycle path from the other direction, they could rather easily bunny hop on top of the first sedan, and then keep on hopping from the roof of one car to another, provided that the gaps between cars aren't too wide.  

Verdict: rideable (for Danny McAskill or equivalent), not rideable for regular people.

BTW, when confronted with obstacles of the automobile-y kind parked on the cycle path, I believe that the correct way to get rid of them is to call the parking surveillance hotline (in Helsinki, 09 - 310 39000) and leave a request for parking surveillance, not to destroy the obstacles yourself.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Know Your Drivetrain pt. II

What does a family man do when the family goes away for a week?

a) Works loads of overtime
b) Drinks loads of beer
c) Listens to loads of heavy metal very loud on the stereo
d) Eats nothing but loads of hamburgers, while standing over the sink (in order to avoid having to wash the dishes)
e) Goes to loads of sauna (every night)
f) Sets up a bicycle repair shop in the living room
g) All of the above.

Of course, the correct answer is g). A week home alone can truly be a bicycling nerd paradise.

Of course, when you set up a repair shop in the living room, you've got to be careful with the appliance of solvents and grease, as well as with cleaning parts with compressed air. Better do that outside, even though it's cold there.

So, the drivetrain of my MTB requires some attention. I lately got a new chain, as the old one was too short and worn, but should have changed the cassette and chainrings at the same time. A couple of weeks ago, when the snow situation was the worst it's been this winter, I suffered from a bad case of chain suck when using the middle chainring. Can't figure out exactly why though, the chainring seems ok to me, but maybe it's just too worn.

First, the specs:
  • the gruppo is Shimano XT, except for the front derailleur, which is XTR
  • the toothing of the cassette is 11-32 (9 speed)
  • the chainrings are 22-32-44
  • the length of the cranks is 175 mm
  • the bottom bracket/crankset system is Shimano Hollowtech II.
 Here's the crankset and the new parts:

Yes, no new big chainring. It would have cost as much as the cassette, and I'm cheap, and I figured that the old one will work ok for some time. After all, who really uses the big chainring on a MTB? 

Here's the old cassette. It might not seem worn, but yes, it's worn.

BTW, the new wheels I speculated of purchasing some time ago I indeed did purchase, and they're fine: 

Wow. Admire the thing the front derailleur is attached to - it's crabon fribé:

Or at least it looks like it with the fishy kind of patterns. There's some damage from a skipped chain. Hope it doesn't fail completely. It might be difficult to get a spare one.

BTW, I see that my repair stand has been designed by a person who knows what bicycle repair is all about: there's a beer holder in the tray!

Now, to dismantle the crankset. Some months ago, I solved an annoying clicking issue in the drivetrain by tightening the bolts of the chainrings as tight as I could (that is white-hot-shit tight, scientifically speaking). But opening them is a mother*ucker, if you don't own a special three-pronged tool for holding the counterparts in place - they just spin through. I finally managed to open them with the aid of a vise and a steel square. (I just looked it up - the special tool is called a nut wrench. Gotta order one of those.) 

Here's the crankset with the new rings:

And the new cassette. Installing a cassette has always gone without problems for me, and I've installed at least two. Actually, that's amazing. They've managed to design one part of the bicycle that's ham-fisted-idiot-proof.  

Ok. I managed to replace the cassette and the chainrings, and for once I'm not in an insane hurry to wrap the thing up and go to sleep. In fact, I think I'll leave the bicycle in the living room and overhaul the jockey wheels tomorrow. If I were a bachelor, I'd always have at least one bicycle disassembled in the living room.

Ah. Sweet, peaceful solitude. Just blissful, calm silence, except for the heavy metal blasting at deafening volume. And, of course, myself belching at deafening volume every now and then. I think I'll go to the sauna now.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ode to Merino

For years I used to dream of better sports garments. Ones made out of a better material than the synthetic fibres they usually are made out of. Ones that wouldn't smell like a rotten carcass even though you wash them after each use. Ones that would be warm, comfortable and durable. I used to dream of these, assuming that the sports garment technology is not yet advanced enough to create such materials.

Well, I've learned that in fact, there is such a space-age, hi-tech material. But it wasn't invented by the scientists of NASA. It was invented by these guys:

It is also fabricated by the same guys and it's called Merino wool. I now have several garments made out of Merino wool, and I love them all. In fact I think that in the future I may wear nothing but Merino. Take this base layer shirt for example:

My strategy for bicycling in the winter used to be something like this:
  • get loads of cheap base layer shirts made out of synthetic fibre
  • wear one shirt for one day of commuting
  • store used shirts in a sealed container (because of the smell)
  • wash the five used shirts each Friday
  • throw away the horrible, stretched out of shape, carcass-like-smelling shirts come springtime.
I purchased cheap shirts because I thought, well, that there's no point in getting more expensive ones, as they will smell like carcass anyway after some months of usage, and have to be thrown away.

But then I heard of this wonder material called Merino. I purchased a Merino wool base layer shirt for some 50 €, although that is a bit expensive to the Budget Cyclist's standards, figuring that if it's really good, maybe I can get another one. But the shirt's been so good that it hasn't been necessary to get another one. It is warm, it dries really fast, it stays in shape, and most wondrous of all, it doesn't smell. I repeat. It. Doesn't. Smell.

I'm amazed because of this fact. Now, I may occasionally be kind of a smelly guy. I like chili, curry, garlic, beer, wine, and my personal hygiene may tend to be lacking in certain... ahem, I digress. What I was saying, this shirt doesn't get smelly even though I wear it while commuting for several days straight without washing it. It gets those white salt stains from the sweat, but it doesn't smell. I'm not sure if I can make this clear enough: it doesn't smell. Because I have a rather inferior sense of smell, and my wife has a very good one (a bad combination), I even had her verify the quality of the shirt once. She smelled the shirt, that had been used by me for a couple of days, and didn't find it to have any unpleasant qualities. Now that is something.

I also have an idea that bicycling and Merino wool go together in a certain very pleasing manner. Even though man has created various highly complex technical inventions to transport stuff, or move fast, such as cars, aeroplanes, and rockets, the bicycle remains the best invention for certain purposes. The bicycle is simple, fast, effective, natural, environmentally friendly, good for you and brilliant.

In a similar way, man has strived for improvement in the field of clothing by creating synthetic fibres out of petrochemicals. However, it is complex, difficult and perhaps wasteful, ecologically speaking. Still, the best material for clothing may still be one created by animals, naturally, effectively and in an environmentally sustainable manner.

In a certain way, that I can't really explain to detail, I find similar aesthetically pleasing qualities in bicycling and Merino wool. Damn, I'm a hippie! 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Freehub pt. II

It's that time of the year again, when the temperature goes below zero, and bicyclists like me, who've neglected to maintain their freehub regularly, end up looking silly and/or dead. That's because when a dirty freehub freezes, the pedals spin freely both backward and forward, thus making the bicycle not move forward while pedaling. If it happens in the middle of a busy intersection, with a truck speeding towards you, you might end up looking silly, pedaling furiously without moving, and dead. If it happens in a more safe environment, you just end up looking silly. Yeah, it happened to me last year. I mean the looking silly bit, not dying, obviously. 

So, after attempting to commute to work one frosty morning with a not too well maintained MTB, and ending up looking silly, it became necessary to dismantle this:

Also, I wanted to do it because it is fun.

As you can see, the freehub is kind of dirty and rusty, which is no wonder with all the mud, water and crap it has to endure.

Some of the lock nuts on the axle were so tight I didn't manage to unfasten them with my not-so-professional collection of tools:

In fact, I even had to resort to DIY tool modification, as I didn't own a 17 mm flat wrench that was required. Luckily, these flat wrenches are soft so it is easy to file a 16 mm one into a 17 mm one: 

 It didn't matter that I couldn't unfasten the lock nut on the brake disk side though, because the ones on the drive side came off. 

 Here's the dirty freehub body and axle:

And the freehub body after some washing with solvent and drying with compressed air: 

The freehub is clearly finished though. It hardly even rotates when turned with fingers and needs to be replaced. Also, the surface on one of the bearing cones has suffered badly, and has to be replaced as well:  

But then again, although not visible in the picture, the surface of the bearing cup of the rear hub has been damaged as well:

It is not possible to replace just the cup, therefore the entire rear hub should be replaced. Possibly, I could just put it all together and ride on until spring, but that wouldn't seem a satisfactory solution for a prefectionist perfectonoist not too shabby a guy anyway like me.

Let's see. The rear hub model is Shimano FH-M756: 

A new rear hub costs some 50€ at CRC. BTW, a freehub body for 9 speed costs more than 30€, so it would seem more reasonable to get the rear hub even though I needed only the freehub body.  

But if I purchase a new rear hub, then who will build the wheel for me? No way I can do that myself. You know, I do intend to learn wheelbuilding, but I'd rather do that when I have more time, patience, space and a wheel truing stand. Like when I'm retired. In a garage. With a wheel truing stand.

Besides, a set of spokes costs money too. And if I intend to replace the rear hub and the spokes, should I replace the rim as well while I'm at it, as a new one only seems to cost some 30€? The old one seems okay, but with all the trouble and cost, there seems to be no point in saving 30€.

So, let's see... rear hub 50€, rim 30€, spokes 20€. If I'm not mistaken, that adds up to... carry the one... 100€. As I don't intimately know any wheelbuilders, the labour would cost some 50€. Perhaps I better look into new factory wheels. Damn, this thing is just spreading... soon I'll have myself convinced that there's no point in repairing this one and I must get a new bike altogether. "My house is dirty; buy me a clean one!".

But hey, wait a minute... what's this section, MTB Custom Wheels? Wow, this looks good. You get to choose a rear hub, rims, spokes, nipples and rim tape. The price seems reasonable too. For some 100€ I could get a similar, brand new rear wheel that I have now. Oh, and must check the bearings on the front wheel as well before ordering.

Besides, what's 100€ for maintenance of the vehicle I mostly use to transport my physical being to and from work? Nothing! What would I get with 100€ if I drove? 60 litres of gasoline. What would I get if I used public transport? Two months. Phew. I'm beginning to feel it's my holy duty to order new custom wheels, both rear and front, as soon as possible, if only to ensure the uninterrupted supply of sustenance for the family. With possibly just some small things on the side...

If only my wife read this blog. Then I wouldn't have to justify all the online purchases, verbally, yet again.