Friday, August 31, 2012

What's in the Stand: Roadmaster Skyrider Deluxe

I have a soft spot for old bikes. Some would argue that the soft spot is in my head and that I should get that looked at by a professional, but I maintain that it's in my heart. I like the funky old stuff. Aesthetically that is, and if it's something I'm working on for myself or a friend. I am endlessly self-serving when it comes to stuff for me. That being said I get kind of curmudgeonly when someone brings in a whipped old bike with weird, non-standard parts.

The Roadmaster Skyrider Deluxe has all of the gee-golly bells and whistles that would make me want to work on it at home and ride it around town, and all of the attached weirdness that makes me shudder when I think of working on it at the shop. First off, it comes from the era of bicycles that looked like spaceships which automatically takes it up a notch on the coolness scale. This bike comes from the late-1960s and has all of the attendant NASA/moonlanding/Apollo mission styling going on. It also falls into the tradition of "gas tank" bikes, where the builders added a stylized gas tank to the top tube. You can put all kinds of neat things into a fake gas tank and this frame comes complete with a battery powered headlight. I'm partial to the electronic horn/buzzer that sounds like an irritated duck, but the light is pretty cool.

This bike was not totally awful. It worked fine, though it looked a little rough, and with a moderate amount of elbow grease and steel wool it could have been made to shine again. It had the creaks and squeaks that are typical of a bike that's over 50 years old, but that's to be expected. The only particularly odd thing about this frame was the tire sizing, which is pretty typical for frames from this era. The Roadmaster Skyrider Deluxe uses the Schwinn standard 26 x1-3/8 tire. This is always confusing for customers because there are multiple tire sizes that are called 26 x1-3/8 and they are most definitely different tire sizes. Speaking very generally Schwinn used tires that have an ISO diameter of 597 millimeters. Again speaking very generally Raleigh used 26 x 1-3/8 tires that have an ISO diameter of 590 millimeters. Why? Because they could, and because these two companies hated bike mechanics with a passion. The other fun part of this equation is that 26 inch mountain bike tires are not even close to the same size. Standard 26 inch mountain bike tires have an ISO diameter of 559 millimeters which means that, yes, you could stretch it to fit, but it's probably a bad idea.

If you come across this situation in your personal life, and I'm sure you will any day now, there are two tricks to remember...
  • Check if the tire size is expressed as a decimal or a fraction. Tires that use decimals (ie, 26 x 1.5) are standard, modern mountain bike tires. Tire sizes that are expressed as a fraction (ie, 26 x 1-3/8) are old and weird.
  • I'm a big fan of mnemonic devices. Schwinn tires were sized to fit on their "S" series rims (S-5, S-7, etc). Repeat after me: "'S' rims needs 7's", meaning of course ISO-597 tires. Raleigh used what they called E.A.3 rims which were designed for use with ISO-590 tires. Generally you'll see these on old English 3-speed town bikes, so when you see one of these beasts in the wild just put on your best bad British accent and use this acronym:
    • Egad
    • Another
    • 3 speed
And when in doubt you can always fall back on the words of the master, Mr. Sheldon Brown. He has more information on tire sizes than you will probably ever want or need.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Washington Park

Washington Park is one of Denver's largest and most heavily used city parks. It is bound by Virginia Avenue on the north, Downing Street on the west, Louisiana Avenue on the south, and Franklin Street on the east.

The beginnings of Washington Park can be traced back to 1886 and the development of South Denver, the Denver area's first suburb. Created as a separate city, South Denver extended from Alameda Avenue south to Yale, and stretched from Colorado Boulevard west to the South Platte River. It has been said that the creation of a separate city was primarily a legal maneuver intended to keep Denver proper's "liquor element" from continuing to move south, effectively making it impossible to open a saloon within the city. They also banned "gambling, dog fights, cock fights, gun fights, human fights, lewd dress, vulgar language, reckless operation of a horse, dancing on Sundays, and the selling of liquor to anyone deemed idiotic, insane or distracted". Much of the impetus for this social legislation was the desire to maintain the University Park neighborhood as a Methodist-inspired prohibition suburb that would compliment the ethics and goals of the nearby University of Denver, which was a largely Methodist institution. The city of South Denver was also successful in fighting off DU founder and local millionaire John Evans, who wanted to open a massive cattle feed lot in the heart of southern Denver where he hoped to establish a rail hub to distribute Texas cattle to national markets.

The plan worked for about eight years until the silver bust of the 1890s when the city of South Denver was annexed into Denver proper due to financial difficulties. This was seen as a mutually beneficial move since the city of Denver wanted South Denver's tax revenue, and South Denver wanted out from under its growing burden of debt. Once a judge had determined that the saloon and liquor bans could stand after the annexation, South Denver quickly gave up its independence.

Construction of the park proper began in 1899. The landscaping was designed by German landscape artist Reinhard Schuetze, with later additions to the park being designed by Saco Rienk DeBoer and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The park began as 20 acres of undeveloped farmland, but by 1916 had been expanded to its current size of 116 acres. By 1901 tram lines had been extended down Franklin Street into the park and interest in building in the immediate neighborhoods surrounding the park took off.

There are a number of water features that are central aspects of the park. These features, including Smith Lake, Smith or City Ditch, and Grasmere Lake occupy important places in the park as well as in city history. These water features were initially designed to carry and store irrigation water to farmland that was south of Denver. Smith Ditch, a 25 mile irrigation ditch, was dug by John W. Smith in 1864. Along the way the ditch, which has been called Smith's Ditch, City Ditch, or the Big Ditch, passed through a buffalo wallow which was in turn expanded and became Smith Lake. Because of the importance of Smith Ditch to early Denver residents the city purchased the ditch from John W. Smith in 1875 for $80,000. Grasmere Lake was created in the early years of the 20th century for additional water storage.

Washington Park has all the things that one would expect from a large city park. There was swimming in Smith Lake until 1957 when the lakefront was closed. There is a boat house, picnic sites, recreational facilities, walking and cycling paths, etc., etc. Newspaper reporter and children's poets Eugene Field's house was moved to the park after being purchased by "unsinkable" Molly Brown of Titanic fame. It served as the Eugene Field Branch of the Denver Public Library for many years.

 Washington Park is really beautiful and the city does a wonderful job of maintaining it. It is also very heavily used by the surrounding neighborhoods and on a sunny Sunday morning you will see crowds of people walking, relaxing, and generally enjoying the park. These pictures don't do the park justice and it's worth a visit in person.

Getting There By Bike...
I like to get to Washington Park by riding down Louisiana Avenue, which has some nice bike lanes running most of its length. If you go on the weekend expect the area around the park to be filled with pedestrians, other cyclists, and cars filled with prospective park users trying to find a parking spot. If you're feeling very fit, and are on a time crunch, you could join the teams of cyclists in full kit that seem to be endlessly circling "the loop", a circular street designated for cyclists and joggers within the park.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What's in the Stand: Shimano Nexus Hubs

I thought that I would try something new with the blog. I'm privileged to work at Campus Cycles in Denver, a great shop where I get to see a lot of really interesting bikes, parts, and riders. I thought that I would add a semi-regular feature where I showcase something that I saw in the repair stand recently that caught my eye.

First up is a Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub that came in for service. These hubs are great for commuters and people who desire a really low-maintenance bike. This hub was on a Breezer town bike that was getting a pre-winter tune up with some new tires brake pads, and a deep clean on the drive train. The hub was a little grumbly so I thought that it would be best to service it, especially since the rider is a 365 day a year commuter who tends to work the early, early morning shift at our local public radio station. The snowy streets of Denver at 2:00 in the morning demand smooth, reliable shifting.

This was a neat repair since these hubs rarely need servicing. The maintenance interval for Shimano internal hubs is something close to 10,000 miles and very few people will get anywhere near that total in the course of normal around town riding. After I gave the bike back to the customer he told me that he had rolled over 10,000 miles on this hub long ago so it was certainly due!

Servicing the hub is very easy. The hub internals come out of the hub shell in a very straightforward manner. After a quick dunk in the parts washer to get the old grease out of the works the hub gets soaked in Shimano's special internal hub oil for a while.  Per the really great instructions I got off of the Golden Wrench's blog I painted the bearings and the roller clutch with some lithium grease and put it all back together. The result was a noticeably quieter and smoother hub and a happy customer.

 I really enjoyed working on this bike. There are certain perks to working on finely tuned race machines or the latest full-suspension gear, but I like to see a bike that has been ridden, really ridden, in all kinds of weather and all year long. I blame it on my years spent at Tip Top Bike Shop, Oakland, California's commuter bike superstore. The other mechanics warned me that this customer was a little picky and was very involved with his bike, but after meeting him I realized that he's just a committed cyclist who loves his ride. I was happy to work on it and glad that it left the shop in better shape than when it came in.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Golden National Guard Armory, Golden, CO

The Golden National Guard Armory was built in 1913 for use by the Colorado National Guard as quarters, mess hall, auditorium, and, perhaps not so surprisingly, an armory. The building is located at 1301 Arapahoe St. in downtown Golden, CO.

The building is notable because of its construction, using local cobblestone and fieldstone.The building was designed by James H. Gow, an English architect who had designed similar buildings in his home country. The Golden Armory is said to be an exact duplicate of a building that Gow had built in England using much the same materials and methods of construction. It has been claimed that the Golden Armory is the largest cobblestone building still standing in the United States, and it is certainly the largest cobblestone building west of the Mississippi River.

Local historical lore mentions Gow walking along Clear Creek in central Golden collecting river rocks and throwing them into his horse-drawn wagon. While residents at first thought nothing of the habit, they became curious when they realized that Gow had collected some 3,300 wagon loads of stone, totaling nearly 6,600 tons of cobblestone, fieldstone, and native quartz. It took nearly three years of hard work, but by 1916 the "Globe" a local Golden newspaper, was reporting that the building was near completion and that the Colorado National Guard was preparing to move into their new headquarters.

During the 1918 influenza epidemic the Golden Armory was used as an emergency Red Cross hospital, and in 1933, during the height of post-Depression federal works projects, the building was used as the regional headquarters for the Civil Works Administration.

The Golden Armory was used by the Colorado National Guard until 1971, when the building was purchased by a private investor. It has served a variety of uses since then, with the upper floors being used for office space, and the lower floors offering commercial and retail spaces.

Getting There By Bike...
The Armory is located just outside of downtown Golden, which is a great place to do some historic exploration. The city has done an excellent job of developing plaques and historical guides for the area. There are also some great parks along the banks of Clear Creek. The main drag through downtown Golden, Washington St., is not super bicycle friendly, but a lot of the streets that parallel it are fine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gold Hill, CO

Gold Hill, CO was founded in 1859 and has the distinction of being the first permanent mining town in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

The Gold Run, the first lode discovery of gold in the Colorado Rockies, was found on January 15th, 1859. By the end of the year the town boasted a quartz stamp mill (the first such piece of equipment in the area), and had four productive veins being worked, the Scott, the Horsfal, the Alamakee, and the Cold Spring.

 A mining boomtown quickly sprung up and Gold Hill boasted nearly 1,500 full-time residents when the mines were at their peak. The discovery of gold in the area pre-dated the creation of the state of Colorado by roughly three years. The miners found themselves in what was essentially ungoverned land. At the time, the United States government claimed that everything above the 40th parallel (now Baseline Road in Boulder) was a part of the Nebraska Territory, and everything south of that line was a part of the Kansas Territory. Because the town was so far from the territorial government the community created what was known as "Gold Hill Laws" in March of 1859. Calling their jurisdiction Mountain District Number 1, Nebraska Territory, the miners of Gold Hill have the distinction of establishing the first regional government for a mountain mining district in the Colorado Rockies. Within Mountain District Number 1 free men were allowed to vote and the government created property laws, issued mining claim certificates, and elected city officials.
Justice in Mountain District Number 1 was rough and tumble, with corporal punishment, banishment, and capital punishment constituting the bulk of the penalties that were available to offenders.

Gold Hill was subject to the cycle of boom and bust that was typical of mining towns. Like Caribou, CO, Gold Hill saw its population rise and fall with the success of its mines. The initial gold rush that settled the area had petered out by 1861 and the town had shrunk as miners and prospectors left the area to try their luck elsewhere. However, the discovery of tellurium in 1872 led to a second boom. The nearby town of Sunshine, CO also benefited form this discovery and the mining district saw people flooding back in to work newly profitable mining claims.

The town was unique at the time because, despite its relatively isolated location, it boasted several newspapers and hotels, including the Mines Hotel, immortalized by Denver-based poet Eugene Field who wrote a poem about the hotel while he was staying in the area on assignment. Gold Hill was also the site of a one-room school that, despite all the ups and downs of the mining town and several major forest fires, has continued operations from 1873 until the present, making it the longest continually serving school district in the state.

Getting There By Bike...
Are you ready to climb? Gold Hill is located in the foothills above Boulder and it takes some fairly serious climbing to get there. There are two easy ways to get to Gold Hill from Boulder. The first follows Lefthand Canyon Road via Lick Skillet Road, which has the distinction of being the steepest county road in the United States. One mile long with no switchbacks, it averages 14%, with the final quarter mile averaging 18%. Slightly easier, though still a tough climb, is Sunshine Canyon Road. Both of these roads are well known favorites for area cyclists looking for a tough climb and you'll likely encounter a number of cyclists grinding their way up the mountain.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

William Larimer, Jr., the Founding Father of Denver City

General William Larimer, Jr. was born in Pennsylvania in 1809. In relatively early adulthood he was already a successful merchant, banker, and railroad man, acting as the president of a small Pennsylvania railroad company. He was an active member of the Pennsylvania state militia where he held the rank of general, a title he would use in his personal affairs to the end of his life.

In 1854, Gen. Larimer branched into land speculation in the Kansas territory and founded a homestead near present day Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1857, acting as president of the Larimer City Town Company, he filed a second land claim for 320 acres near what is now Laplatte, Nebraska. Continuing his travels around the plains states, and in search of another business opportunity, he moved to Leavenworth proper in 1857, but in the fall of that year decided to try his luck in the Pikes Peak Gold Rush and led a party of settlers and prospectors west, settling on the eastern shores of Cherry Creek.

The site that Larimer chose, near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, had already been favored by prospectors and settlers as an ideal location for for prospecting for placer deposits of gold and as a site upon which to build a new town. Farther south on the Platte River the Lawrence Party had founded Montana City early in 1858. The Russell Party, led by William Greeneberry Russell and originally from Georgia, had established a settlement called Auraria between the arms of the South Platte and Cherry Creek. A third party, led by John Easter, had established a small settlement on the eastern banks of Cherry Creek, across the water from Auraria.

It's at this point in the story that controversy arises. The Easter Party, eager to get their claim to the land recognized, had established a settlement called St. Charles and then immediately sent the bulk of their party back to the government offices in Kansas to file their claim and get legal recognition for their settlement. The Larimer Party arrived on the scene and immediately recognized the benefits of the land where the Easter Party had built their camp. Laying on higher ground than the Auraria settlement, and located on the more accessible ground to the east of the Cherry Creek and South Platte watersheds, the spot was an ideal place for the settlement of a new town. In a letter to his wife and children back in Kansas Larimer wrote,  

"It is well the Pilgrims landed upon Plymouth Rock and settled up that country before they saw this one or that would now remain unsettled. Everyone will soon be flocking to Denver for the most picturesque country in the world, with fine air, good water, and everything to make man happy and live to a good old age." 

Taking advantage of the fact that most of the Easter Party had returned to Kansas, the Larimer party essentially took over the settlement by force, claiming the land and filing a counter claim on the site. Gen. Larimer himself platted the land by crossing cottonwood sticks and using them to mark the center of a mile-square town plat on November 22, 1858. Larimer centered the town near his own log cabin, which was built between what is now Black and Wazee streets in downtown Denver.The Easter Party, when they returned from the government offices back east, were surprised to find that the township of St. Charles no longer existed. In an effort to be magnanimous, and forestall complaints, the members of the Easter Party were bought out of their land claim after the fact.

Gen. Larimer named the new township Denver City in honor of James W. Denver, then governor of the Kansas Territory, in aan effort to ensure that the new town would be chosen as the county seat of what was then known as Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory. Larimer continued to engage in land speculation and sold parcels of land and mining claims to the settlers and prospectors that were flooding the state during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. Ever a force to be reckoned with in local politics, he claimed in a letter dated to 1859 that, "I am Denver City". By 1860 Denver City had eclipsed Auraria as the dominant civic force and the two townships were merged to form a single city. Larimer remained a powerful and important local politician through the bulk of the 1860s, where he was instrumental in the creation of the Colorado Territory in 1861. After being denied the position of the first governor of the newly created Colorado Territory, a post that went to William Gilpin as part of favors owed to him by Abraham Lincoln, Larimer became a judge of probate for the First Judicial District of Colorado and, during the Civil War, acted as a Colonel of the Third Regiment of Colorado volunteers.

Following the Civil War Larimer returned to Leavenworth, Kansas with his family where he served as a Kansas senator from 1867 until 1870. He was a lifelong radical abolitionist and fought for women's suffrage in Nebraska, though his political ideals ended up costing him in the end. Gen. William Larimer, Jr. died in 1875 in Leavenworth, Kansas and is buried in the Leavenworth National Cemetery. His name is commemorated by Larimer Street and Larimer Square in downtown Denver, as well as Larimer County in northern Colorado, and the Larimer neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.