Friday, November 30, 2012

What's in the Stand: Aging Flatbar Shifters

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What's in the Stand...
Shimano flatbar shifters have a tendency to age poorly. There are a couple of reasons for this. The more destructive reason, and the less fixable, is that something in the shifter itself is broken. It happens. The insides of these things are mostly plastic these days and sometimes the teeth on the pawls get stripped, or you manage to snap something to small pieces during some epically mistimed upshift. We've all been there I suppose.

The more common reason these things stop working, and the one that you hope happens to you, is that the grease inside has solidified into something resembling brown taffy. The good news about this particular problem is that it's more than likely fixable.

Here's how we break down the diagnosis....
-A customer comes into the door and says something like, "Sometimes when I shift it doesn't feel like there are any clicks. The lever just moves and nothing happens."
-You, being the expert at bicycle maintenance that you are, inspect the bike. Does the shifter fail to engage? Or does it engage inconsistently? If so, huzzah! Take the bike from the customer, tell them it will be ready by tomorrow, and then whisk it away to the back.
-Hose out the shifter with Speed Clean aerosol degreaser, or something similar. I like residue-free degreasers for this job. If you can open the shifter, or remove part of the cover, then so much the better. If not, put the nozzle into the derailleur cable hole and let 'er rip.
-Immediately begin shifting the bike enthusiastically. If the stars are aligned then the shifter will wake up and start to work better almost immediately. If not, it may take a couple of hosings or letting it soak overnight to break down the grease further.

Hopefully this solves the problem. There are a handful of times when I have tried this remedy that it has not worked. If it's a nicer shifter (LX, XT, etc.) then you can usually take the thing apart and have full access to the shifter mechanism. This makes cleaning it out much easier.

Time for a horrible explanation with next to no visuals because I'm not that tech savvy. The shift levers wind the shifter internals, which are held under tension by a spring. The clicks in the shifter are caused by detents in the shifter internals. There are a pair of spring loaded release catches attached to the shift levers, and it is these catches that click into the detents and hold the internals in place. If you take a shifter apart the two catches will be really obvious. You'll see them as soon as you start clicking the shifter around. Gunk tends to get built up on these catches and they can bind. Find them, blast them with degreaser, and then use a small pick to manually move the catches on their pivots. This has revived shifters that I thought were total goners. This is a repair of last resort though, and since it's time consuming and not a sure thing you should probably only try this on shifters that the customer is completely unwilling to replace.

But you should also ask yourself something...Why are you trying to revive these shifters? If you're doing this repair then they already meet two of the three criteria in my trifecta of standards that almost guarantee replacing the part (#1, "Old and nasty", #2, "Broken". #3 would be "Unsafe"). There are good reasons to try and do this for a customer, but there are equally valid reasons to not do this and simply replace the part.

This repair should go one of two ways. First, you could restore some function to a part that would ideally be replaced. You need to use your judgment whether or not this is a good idea and whether or not the customer will be best served by reviving a used part. Sometimes we do this to be nice, others because of a customer's budgetary concerns. Second, you could replace the shifter (and cable since most new shifters come with a new derailleur cable attached), and more than likely improve the shifting performance for not that much money. It's up to you to decide whether or not your time is better spent fiddling with old broken parts or selling new working parts. You also need to know your customer well enough to know whether or not they're ok with the potential for marginal functionality in an old rehabbed shifter, versus the guaranteed shifting performance of a new part.

So there ya go. Be sure to only use your new-found knowledge for good.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baron Richtofen's Molkerei

First things first....
Cycling Through History has a new home, new web site, and new look, all thanks to the hard work of my brother James. Click on the link and be sure to contact him for all your graphic design, illustration, and web development needs.
I will be phasing out this site, though it will remain up for the sake of link continuity. I will be migrating all content over to the new site in the next couple of months and will stop posting on this Blogger site at the end of 2012. I would greatly appreciate it if all of you would move over to the new site with me and change whatever links, RSS feeds, or other contact info that you may have to the new site. The link is below.....

Cycling Through History

On to history...
The Molkerei was built by Baron Von Richtofen in 1898. It is located in the Monaco Hill neighborhood, not far from the Richtofen Castle, on E. 12th Ave between Oneida and Newport Streets.
Baron Walter Von Richtofen came to Denver in 1877. Like most people who moved here in the early days of Denver he had hopes of striking it rich in the Mountain West. Instead of gold and minerals, Baron Von Richtofen came to Denver to develop real estate and to try his luck in what he hoped would be a booming cattle market. In fact it was booming, but for nearly everyone else besides him. In 1885 he published a book titled "Cattle Raising on the Plains of North America". He claimed that the Great Plains, and specifically the Front Range of Colorado, was the premier area for raising cattle and believed that North America would shortly become "the most important beef-producing country in the world". His book was a success in that he sold a lot of copies and it attracted a large number of wealthy investors to Colorado. He, however, failed in the cattle business and lost a great deal of his own fortune as a direct result of the winter of 1886 where crushingly cold temperatures killed cattle kept out in the fields. But the book sold well so he was able to use the profits from that to continue developing real estate east of downtown Denver.
In 1885, the same year that he had published his book, Von Richtofen built his Molkerei, or "milk house", one block west of the Richtofen Castle. It was originally intended as a tuberculosis sanitarium where the patients would rest and recover by consuming fresh milk from the Baron's cattle that were kept in the basement of the building, and by breathing the healing barnyard odors that swept upwards through the slatted floors of the building (No, really).
The Molkerei didn't last long as a sanitarium, becoming an insane asylum and then eventually the Montclair Community Center. The building is still in great condition and the Montclair neighborhood is really attractive, with lots of great historic homes to look at.

Getting There By Bike...
I approach this neighborhood from the south by riding up Kearny until it connects to 1st, and then crossing over to Oneida. There aren't any good bike paths that connect to this part of Denver so you need to ride through neighborhood streets. There are a lot of quiet streets along the way though and a little time with Google Maps will help you find an easy path to the Molkerei.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Henry Cordes Brown; Pioneer, Hotelier, Mild Curmudgeon

Henry Cordes Brown became a Colorado resident on his second attempt to strike it rich. An earlier move to California to try and make a fortune in the gold rush there failed and he had moved back to his home state of Ohio. In 1860 Brown moved to Colorado to try his luck in the Rockies.  A carpenter by trade, he opened a shop in Denver and staked a claim on a 160-acre plot near the edge of the town.

Brown's initial property investment turned out to be the smartest move of his life. He donated ten acres of his land to the city to be used as the eventual site of the state capitol. In response to this, other wealthy citizens began to buy pieces of his land to build mansions near what would become the center of state power.

Even a setback during the economic panic of 1877, when many Colorado millionaire's fortunes were lost due to the devaluation of the silver market, didn't slow Brown all that much. Though forced to sell his Capitol Hill mansion he was able to use the funds to continue investing in and developing property in Denver and within five years was one of Colorado's wealthiest men once again.

In 1879, nearly a decade after Brown had donated the land to build the new state capitol, he was still waiting for the groundbreaking to occur. In a fit of pique at the state's inability to take advantage of his generosity Brown attempted to take back the land that he had donated to the state. He built a fence around the ten-acre plot and sued the state to get possession of the land back. He lost the case in 1886 and was so upset by it that he refused to attend the official dedication of the new building.

Brown's best known legacy in Denver was the construction of the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa. In 1892 he began construction off what would become Denver's leading luxury hotel. He spared no expense in its construction, spending what was then the astronomical amount of $1.6 million. In what is most likely an apocryphal story, Brown is said to have built the hotel because Denver's most luxurious hotel at the time, the Windsor, wouldn't let him in while he was wearing his ranching clothes. Brown also served on the Colorado Board of Trade and was instrumental in getting the railroad spur from Denver to Laramie built, and he helped to found the Denver Tramway Company, the Bank of Denver, and the Denver Public Library.

Henry COrdes Brown died in 1906 after moving back to California to retire. His body was brought back to Colorado and he was placed in the rotunda of the state capitol for public viewing in return for his services to the city if Denver. He was buried in Fairmount Cemetery.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What's in the Stand: On Oiling Your Chain Too Much

This is a scene I see far, far too often. Somewhere along the line this person was told by someone, typically a friend, well-wisher, or, God forbid, bicycle mechanic, that they needed to oil their chain regularly to get the highest level of performance and service life from their equipment. Since people generally like to take care of the things in which they've invested the rider took this advice to heart and oiled their bicycle's drivetrain regularly and with enthusiasm.
But here's the problem; it freaking nasty and gross. Nothing good is coming from having your bicycle drivetrain looking like this. In fact, there are a great many bad things that come from having a bike that looks like this. First of all, the excess oil acts like glue, trapping dirt and grime and coating the parts of your bicycle with an abrasive glop that wears out parts. .

The two cogs pictured are a great example. The cog on the left is shiny and new,the cog on the right was removed from this bike. The teeth on the used cog shouldn't look like that. The teeth on the middle chainring looked the same. At this point there is nothing to do here but start replacing parts. This is the kind of job I don't particularly like because it frequently leads to a kind of domino effect, where changing one part leads to having to change just about everything else. A chain replacement ($40) can quickly spiral into a drivetrain replacement ($145-ish for parts and labor), and that still may not solve your problems. When a bike is this worn out it's a slippery slope to having a repair bill that's worth more than the bike.

Second, the filth is not isolated to your drivetrain. All the moving parts of the bike spray filth across the back half of the bike. The frame, wheel, and cranks all get covered with a heavy misting of sticky, black gunk. You can see it on the rim in the picture. The bigger problem with the filth on the rim is that the oil is getting sprayed on the brake surface which means that every time the rider uses the rear brakes oil and dirt are getting ground into the brake pads. This means less effective stopping power, increased pad and rim wear from the contaminants that are being ground into the parts, and, more than likely, squeaking brake pads. The solution for this is more new parts (brake pads), and a thorough cleaning of the rim.

Long story short, your bike shouldn't look like this. If your bike does look like this then you're doing something wrong. It's that simple.

How Do I Oil My Chain?
It's a lot simpler than most people are willing to admit. Glossing over a whole other argument over what kind of chain oil to use (In a nutshell: as long as it's intended for bicycles, go for it. Never use WD-40), I recommend applying the chain oil liberally and then, here's the crucial step, WIPING THE EXCESS CHAIN OIL OFF.
If you can see wet oil on the chain, you are not done wiping. If the chain is still black and crusty then you are not done wiping. Most chains have some kind of writing stamped on the outside of the plates. Can you read it? No? Then keep wiping. Your chain should look shiny, silver, and mostly dry. The oil has already gotten to where it needs to be (the inside of the chain rollers and in between the plates) and no amount of wiping will make that oil go away. If you're wondering if you've wiped enough then the answer is no, you probably haven't. Give it another wipe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Brown Palace

The Brown Palace Hotel was built in 1892 and is Denver's second oldest operating hotel. It is located at 321 17th St. in downtown Denver.

The Brown Palace Hotel dates back to the boomtown period in Denver's history. The Denver railway spur to Laramie had been completed twenty years prior and the city itself was developing rapidly. People were flooding into the Front Range, many of them to take their chances as residents, but also, in steadily increasing numbers, as tourists.

The Brown Palace Hotel was built by Henry Cordes Brown, a carpenter turned real estate entrepreneur who had moved to Denver from Ohio in 1860.  When he settled in Denver Brown purchased a number of plots of real estate in the downtown area, generally being recognized as the primary homesteader of the Brown's Bluff or Capitol Hill area. Following his homesteading of what would become Capitol Hill, he shrewdly donated ten acres of his land to the State of Colorado as the site for the new capitol building. This act of charity worked out incredibly well for him; by donating the land for the state capitol Brown ensured that the rest of his land would increase in value almost immediately and he made a large fortune selling plots to Denver's nouveau riche who wanted to build mansions near the seat of state power.

With the fortune he made from real estate Brown decided to build a luxurious hotel and spa in downtown Denver.  One of the original plots of land that Brown had purchased was a small triangular piece of property at the intersection of 17th, Broadway, and Tremont. Originally used to graze his cow, Brown chose this piece of property as the site for his new hotel. Hiring architect Frank E. Edbrooke, Brown spared almost no expense in building his hotel.  Work began in 1888 and continued steadily for four years. Total costs for the hotel's construction were in excess of $1.6 million, a staggering sum at the time, and included red granite and sandstone from Colorado and Arizona, imported onyx for the atrium floor, the "Onyx Room" on the second floor, and the eight-floor ballroom, and $400,000 for furniture.

Fun Facts
  • The atrium lobby rises eight floors to a stained glass roof and every floor has a balcony lined with ornate iron railings and grillwork. Two of the grillwork panels are upside down and have been since the hotel was finished. The first was intended to be a craftsmen's statement regarding humanity's inability to attain perfection, while the second is said to be the action of a disgruntled builder.
  • The hotel was billed as Denver's second fireproof building, with no wood used in its construction. The walls are built of hollow bricks of fire retardant terra cotta.
  • The hotel derives all of its water from a privately owned artesian well located in its basement.
  • The hotel has never closed. It has been open continually, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, since August 12th, 1892. All renovations, restorations, and repairs have occurred while the hotel has been open for business.
  • Pets are welcome at the Brown Palace Hotel, and they receive complimentary treats and pet beds when they stay there with their owners.
  • Because of its triangular shape the Brown Palace Hotel is considered a Flatiron-style building, much like the Sentinel Building in San Francisco.
  • Frank E. Edbrooke, the architect who designed the Brown Palace Hotel, was responsible for designing many of Denver's historic sites, including the Masonic Temple Building and Central Presbyterian Church.
Getting There By Bike...
 I still have a shaky notion of how I get places by bike in downtown Denver. Usually I just head in the direction that I think I need to go and then check the map on my phone after I realize that I've gotten lost. This also means that I don't have a great list of bicycle friendly streets to speed around on and end up doing a lot of miles on the shoulder of busier roads.
I rode west on 18th St. after I had gotten lost in City Park. 18th St. basically dead ends at the Brown Palace Hotel, where the street merges onto Broadway. I haven't ridden to it from the other side, through the middle of downtown Denver, so I don't think I'm qualified to give a great route if you're coming from that side.
A bonus stop in the area would be Trinity United Methodist Church, which is almost directly across the street from the Brown Palace Hotel.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Plea to my Readers

A snapshot from a recent weekend ride near Boulder.
Hi all;
I deeply appreciate how many people take the time to read my blog. Numbers have been increasing rapidly and I'm impressed (and kind of intimidated) by the volume of people who are flipping through my blog entries on a daily basis. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I have a couple of very small favors to ask.

First, I would love it, absolutely love it, if you would "like" my page on Facebook. It's kind of an ego thing, but it also streamlines content delivery. If you don't use an RSS reader to get automatic updates when I add new content (which of course you already do), then liking Cycling Through History on Facebook (you can see the link in the sidebar to your right!) means that you'll get updated in your Facebook stream.

Second, if you liked what you read, or found it slightly informative, please +1 my articles on Google. This helps dramatically with page ranking and means that my posts will become more relevant in the Google search algorithm, and that more people will potentially be able to read what I have written.

Both of these favors are profoundly self-serving and I have no illusions about that, but I would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to helpo me out with these two simple tasks.

Thank you again for reading,

Friday, November 9, 2012

What's in the Stand: Not Much

These hands used to be busy.
So...It's winter (or nearly winter) and things have slowed down. A lot. Which means that there aren't nearly as many neat things to look at and work on right now. This is a huge bummer for me because I prefer to be busy and have lots of neat bikes to tinker with. Instead, I'm drinking lots of coffee, eating too many pretzels from our keg 'o pretzels, and generally getting antsy.

And thus I'm reduced to providing you with one neat thing that I saw this week, and one photo I took ages ago that I laugh at every time I see it.

The neat thing first...This is a brake-activated rear light. The black plastic bracket that you can see clamped to the brake cable between the cable housing stop and the pinch bolt has a small switch in it. When the brake is used the cable is pulled, which then pushes the switch against the bottom of the cable housing stop, and the light turns on. Pretty neat idea and fairly well executed, like a brake light for our bike, but still kind of useless. If it's daytime no one will be able to see your little brake light turn on. If it's dark out then your rear light should be on and blinking all the time, which makes a brake light rather less functional. Still kind of neat though, and I had never seen this setup before I worked on this bike.

Secondly, if your bike comes in with warnings like this taped to the handlebars, or if you have ever created a warning like this for your bike, then you have slightly larger problems than a poorly functioning brake. I'll beat the mechanic's drum once more and say unto the world: "Fix your bikes!" A barely legible piece of Scotch tape might help you out while you cruise slowly around town, but I bet that during your next panic stop you end up grabbing a whole fistful of non-functional, totally unsafe brake lever. Please...just fix your bikes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Baseline Road, Boulder County

Baseline Road is a major East-West road that starts in Boulder County and extends East through Weld, Broomfield, and Adams Counties. It stretches roughly 38 miles from end to end.

Baseline Road has a little more history to it than just being a major thoroughfare and a quick way to get across town. One of the more salient facts about Baseline Road is that it follows the 40th parallel. Most people who have lived in the area know this and it's a well-known bit of local trivia. The 40th parallel, and by extension Baseline Road, also served an important historical function prior to the existence of the state of Colorado.

The creation of Baseline road dates back to the 1840s and the various Territories Acts that the federal government put in place to control settlement and development of new land in the western United States. The creation of these territories, among them the Nebraska, Kansas, and, eventually, Colorado territories, tied together a handful of historical topics that shaped the development of the western states. Central to the creation of these new territories was the desire to build a transcontinental railroad. As early as 1845 the creation of a Nebraska Territory had been suggested as a first step towards building a transcontinental rail network. Previous plans to develop a transcontinental rail system had failed over arguments as to whether the railroad would follow a northern or southern route through the western United States.

The creation of these territories is also connected to the (potential) spread of slavery throughout new U.S territories, the growing friction between Northern anti-slavery politicians and Southern pro-slavery politicians, and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1852, haggling in the Senate had tabled the creation of the Nebraska Territory after Senators had refused to pass the bill if slavery had not been allowed in the new territory, the allowance of which would have broken the Missouri Compromise which explicitly forbid slave ownership in parts of the former Louisiana Purchase that fell above the parallel 36-degrees, 30-minutes north. The Nebraska Territory, as it was originally proposed, would have decided the question of slavery through popular sovereignty, the right of residents to decide whether or not to allow slavery within the new territory. As it was pointed out in Congress this did not solve the problems that arose concerning the Missouri Compromise, but instead ignored them, allowing for the creation of pro-slavery states above the 36th parallel. The solution, as was eventually proposed through an amended bill, was the creation of two new territories, The Nebraska Territory and the Kansas Territory.

And Baseline Road became important because the 40th parallel was the dividing line between the two territories. The Nebraska Territory was to the north and the Kansas Territory was to the south. The creation of these two territories is historically important because they divided the country over the topic of slavery and pointed towards the conflict that would become the Civil War. Since slavery within the territories was being decided by popular sovereignty large numbers of both anti- and pro-slavery activists crossed into the territories to vote. Ballot rigging, intimidation, and widespread violence were the result. This was particularly true in Kansas, with pro-slavery "border ruffians" crossing in from Missouri and anti-slavery "Jayhawkers" moving in from the east for the express purpose of making Kansas a free state.

The creation of these two territories, and the changes they caused in terms of notions of popular sovereignty and national politics regarding slavery, led to the effective nullification of both the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. The political upheaval over the creation of these territories also split the Democratic and Whig parties apart, leading to the creation of two new, and largely geographically defined, political parties; the Republicans, centering in the anti-slavery North, and the Democrats, based in the pro-slavery South.

An interesting side note...
In school we always heard about the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Everyone who took public speaking or participated in school debates heard all about these public debates between Abraham Lincoln, then a relatively unknown Senatorial candidate from Illinois, and Stephen Douglas, the incumbent Senatorial candidate and the author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The general topic of the debates was slavery, and one of the primary themes was the expansion of slavery into new U.S. territories. A major talking point was Douglas' insistence on popular sovereignty in the new territories, a stance which he claimed would ensure the representation of the people but his opponents said was a tactic to prevent him from having to take a stance on the expansion of slavery and avoid any political problems. Abraham Lincoln argued that popular sovereignty nullified the Missouri Compromise and effectively nationalized and perpetuated slavery. It's an interesting argument and I have to say it's a lot more interesting now than when I was taking debate in high school.