Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thinking inside the Baks

As anyone who's read this blog much knows, I run almost all of the Cycler-Scientist household errands by bicycle.  Groceries, CSA pickups, Household tools,building materials, landscape supplies, boxes to be mailed, library books, compost, exercise equipment, toy wheelbarrows, takeout foodChristmas trees:  there isn't much I haven't at least thought about carrying by bike.  I was talking to my friend Cris, about how I draw the line at the propane tank for the grill.  The consequences of a full tank of propane falling off the rack and bouncing on the street seemed pretty terrifying.

But now, I'll be able to carry the propane tank too!  As those watching my twitter feed may have guessed, I received a two very large boxes last week containing a Workcycles Cargobike Long aka "bakfiets."
The box with the frame and wheels
WorkCycles Cargobike Long
Photo from http://www.workcycles.com
The bike is a present from the Scientist for a "Birthday of Significance" last fall.   He actually had a plan to buy a Bakfiets.nl bike when he was in Munich right before said birthday,  but when he arrived at the dealer there, they'd sold out.  We test rode one at Adeline Adeline, but shipping it from NYC seemed almost as much trouble as shipping one from Europe.  Plus the Scientist was going to Amsterdam in January, and we thought he could just pick it up while he was there, and self-import it as "luggage."  The German and Dutch postdocs in his lab were so excited and helped him do a lot of research on the subject.

So we started talking to Henry Cutler at Workcycles, and thought we'd basically figured it out, and then sort of forgot about it until mid-December.  Then we got bogged down in the logistics of one person taking a couple of giant boxes on the plane,  and by the time we figured that all out, Henry had sold out of his stock.   Those Bakfietsen, selling like hotcakes!  Unfortunately the Bakfiets.nl factory,  where the Workcycles cargo bikes are built (with slightly tweaked specifications) was going to be closed for the holidays until the day after the Scientist was coming back to the US.   After looking at the logistics, we decided to have it shipped via UPS from Amsterdam.

But why a bakfiets?   I first rode a bakfiets about 6 years ago in Portland OR, at Clever Cycles.  Maybe it's because of my crazy cargo-carrying tendencies (see first paragraph above), but I thought they were so cool, and ever since,  they turn my head like no other bike.   I know that there are a lot of arguments for long tail bikes, and now that step-through long and mid-tails are available, they might work for me.  However, I like the option of carrying really bulky stuff (like said propane tank)  or cargo that I need to keep an eye on in front in a big box.   For example, I'd like to be able to rig a harness that will let me take the small brown dog with me on nice days while I run my errands.  I probably won't ride it much to work (although I may ride on CSA pickup days),  but will probably ride it most weekend days.  My days of organizing my errands in circles to dump things and pick things up at the house may truly be over.

Also, for me, the bakfiets has a romance that I don't feel from the longtails.  I'm suppose I'm kind of drawn to the idea of being a poster-bike for car-free life when I'm riding around.  It's been hypothesized that cargo bikes are the "new indicator species"  in places like Boston where we are starting to have a serious bike culture.  A cargo bike says "I live my life with a bike, not a car, and I need a bike that will make that possible."  And I won't be the only one-I know a couple of families locally that have them, and though I wouldn't say they're common, they're increasingly visible.  For example, just after I met the UPS driver to get the box, just as I stepped out of my door to head to work, a Bakfiets went by, ridden by a young man who looked like a bike messenger,  with a box filled to the top with stuff.

There are two unfortunate things- Firstly, although Workcycles spent a lot of time wrapping each part of the frame in foam, evidently the customs inspector took a lot of those wrappings off (to check for contraband???)  and that, combined with a rather large hole in the box resulted in some gouges in the seat tube paint.

  Further unwrapping revealed that the box had been crushed badly enough to bend the 1/4" steel plate where the steering linkage attaches to the fork,  and the front fender had been badly dented and the paint cracked.  I am waiting to meet with UPS for them to "inspect the packaging" as part of a claim.  Not sure if we can get touchup paint yet, or if we need to replace the fork to properly attach the linkage.

Secondly, and even more upsettingly, I probably won't be able to test ride it for another week or so.  Partly because of the UPS damage claim, we haven't assembled it yet.  The Scientist is going to be out of town later this week,  and I can't assemble it without his help, let alone get it out the door.   Even if I could, it would be terribly rude to enjoy my first ride on his thoughtful present without him there to watch. Maybe by the time it's all together for a test ride the snow will be at least slightly melted!   I'm honestly not sure how we'd get it out the front gate right now, as there's a 4' snowbank about 3' away from the gate.
Gee- I bet you can't guess which part this is!  Sitting on the enormous snowbank.
So in the meantime it's sitting in my dining room taunting me!  The good news is that I absolutely love the color.  I was a tiny bit worried as "matte silver" could cover a lot of ground, but it's a nice dark silver- something J Crew would call "Titanium" The red fenders and black chain-case are a great contrast too.  The frame alone looks enormous sitting in our dining room, and I keep nervously looking at photos of them with people for scale, and trying to assure myself that it will be the right size.

A test ride and more photos will have to wait.  But I'm sure there will be lots and lots of photos of Portage P0rn featuring the new bike in the future- so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gilbert gets a Heron-ectomy

After a lot of deliberation over the last year or more, I decided to give Gilbert a "Heron-ectomy", and change over to a modern drive-train.  Although the distinctive "heron" pattern of the classic Raleigh chainring is very charming,  I felt that the left crank, or possibly the actual axle was somehow damaged or bent, and something was causing me to wear through pedals on the left side at an unacceptable rate.  Even though Pedalite has been amazingly generous in their replacement policy, there were other reasons to make the switch.  The cotters were a hassle any time I needed to get them off, and given that the theory was to have the chain-ring hidden in the chaincase to properly seal the chain away from the weather, I decided that it was time to upgrade to a "modern" bottom bracket and crankset.  Ultimately I have three other bicycles with exposed Raleigh heron chain-rings, and I thought that for my everyday bicycle function was more important than charm.

The weird Raleigh 26tpi  bottom bracket threading used to be the hard part in updating Raleigh drivetrains.  But now Velo Orange (among others) make replacement shells that friction fit into any threading BB shell, even the notoriously weird Raleigh 26 TPI thread ones.
The really hard part is finding a chainring without a raised "spider"  that will interfere with the chaincase, and which has enough clearance between the crank and the chainring to allow the pie plate part of the chaincase to fit.

This is a pretty complicated procedure, with a lot of twiddly bits and knowing exactly what to order, so I didn't feel comfortable doing it myself.   So I handed the bike over to Emily at Hub bicycles.  It took her a couple of tries to find the right chainring, and after ordering a couple of things, she settled on the Origin-8 Classic Sport Single
Image from the manufacturer's website
And this is how it looks in the chaincase.
The clearances are pretty tight, but adequate
She did a couple of other routine maintenance tasks, but one thing that she couldn't manage to do was to put the chaincase "pie plate" back on.   I can't find an official name for this piece, but it's nothing to do with the "pie plate" spoke shield that keeps a chain from going into the spokes of a rear wheel.  I'm talking about the plate which allows access to the chainring and BB without removing the chaincase.

Somehow the chaincase, which is made of pretty thin metal, had distorted and the plate just wouldn't stay popped in. Typically the plate,  which has a little raised rim kind of like a top hat, is held in by friction with the hole in the chaincase, which has a rolled edge to make it "thicker"  and provide more contact. I had been having problems with it before the overhaul, and had it kind of wedged in with some sticky putty-type adhesive, and knew I was going to have to really solve the problem at some point if I wanted to keep the chaincase really enclosed.

After thinking about magnets, and various semi-permanent adhesives, I finally decided to go with mechanical fasteners. What would have been the easiest thing would be to find something that's called a "bung" which is a little threaded thing with a flange on it, which is designed to bolt things onto thin sheet metal. The flange is glued or welded to the sheet metal with the threaded piece sticking through the hole.  However, I couldn't find a bung online any smaller than 1/4" diameter, which was way too big for the flange.
A bung from my random parts drawer.  Threaded inside, too big for this application.
I ended up using a 2mm bolt and nut.  The tough part was to fasten a nut inside the chain-case so that it would remain fixed and not turn so that I could turn the bolt and snug it up.  This ended up taking several very delicate attempts.   I put glue on the nut, and then eased it in place with a pair of tweezers, and then glommed hot glue on it to keep it in place while the glue dried.  With a tiny nut and an awkward angle it felt a bit like playing "Operation" without actually being able to see the tips of the tweezers, as they disappeared around the edge of the chaincase. I first used "liquid nails"  mostly because it had enough viscosity to hold the nut in place, but it didn't adhere to the painted metal very well.   I ended up using JB weld,  after cleaning the inside of the case well with xylene to degrease it, and coating the threads with grease to make sure that the JB weld didn't muck up the threads of the nut.

Once the adhesive had cured for 24 hours, I liberally coated the screw threads with Locktite,  and carefully screwed the plate in,  and counted myself lucky that the nuts held in place.
Screws through the rim of the pie-plate

So far it's worked pretty well.   I don't know if the adhesive will withstand the torque if I ever have to remove the plate and re-attach it- I felt like it was always a bit tenuous. It will be fine now that it's tightened down though.  I think that if I have to do it again, I will remove the entire chaincase (easier now with the modern set up)  and perhaps try to solder or otherwise fasten the nuts in more permanently.  Hopefully that doesn't arise for a good long time.  I also need to find the little closure plate that slides into the slots and covers the remaining slot.  I know it's around somewhere and will turn up sooner or later.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Beacon Street Cycletrack 25% hearing tonight

I know that Beacon Street is having a lot of meetings recently, and advocates begging cyclists to show up to support better infrastructure can feel like boys crying wolf.  However, it's especially  important for cyclists to show up and support the cycletracks at these early meetings.  Once the cycletrack is locked into place as the "basic plan", things will get easier and it will start to be about details at intersections, and the plan for metering parking.

The meeting tonight is the Mass DOT 25% hearing.   Basically the meetings that have happened so far were all  part of Somerville's public process.  Since they're getting a lot of the money from Mass DOT, they have to go through Mass DOT's public process as well, and this is the first of those meetings.
It will be held at JFK Elementary School (5 Cherry St, Somerville)  at 6:30 PM

Unfortunately I won't be able to go tonight as I have a prior commitment,  but I'll be definitely writing a letter of support for the project:

Comments can be sent to Thomas F Broderick, PE,  Chief Engineer,
Mass DOT
10 Park Plaza,
Boston, MA 02116
Att  Project Management Section, Project File 607209

or electronically to

Comments must be mailed within 10 days of the hearing date.