Saturday, September 15, 2012

World's Slowest Bike Repairman

The new seat for Big Nellie came this week so I decided to devote today to bike maintenance.  It was a beautiful day outside and I really would rather be riding, but sometimes you have to call time out to get the fleet in good working order.

The first order of the day was the new seat for Big Nellie. Big Nellie is my Tour Easy long wheel base recumbent. The seat has two parts, a seat base that attaches to the bike's frame and a mesh seatback that attaches to the base and to the rear triangle of the bike by means of some seatback stays. 

The seat base is a cushion made of three kinds of foam. The foam is covered by a thin black fabric. It will last me a good 15-17,000 miles.  The seat back is an aluminum tube shaped like a U. Filling the inside of the U is a mesh backing that is tied to the U with a cord of some sort.  The foam in my old seat was compacted.  The seat mesh - which was attached with zip ties in the old version - was torn and sagging.  (When I threw it in the trash I discovered one other lovely aspect of the old seat. It stunk!)

It took me about 45 minutes to get the old seat off and the new one on.  Positioning the seat and seat back on a recumbent is every bit as important as positioning a saddle on a conventional bike. On a Tour Easy it takes three times as long because the fore/aft position, the tilt of the seat back, and the orientation of the seatback stays all are interdependent. And all take different tools to adjust. 

I did a couple of trips around the block and was satisfied that Big Nellie was vastly improved.  Unfortunately, I forgot about putting on my underseat rack. This is a present I got from my wife a long time ago and never got around to putting on the bike. The advantage of an underseat rack is that it puts the weight of any load you are carrying well forward of the rear of the bike. This improves the fore/aft weight distribution of the loaded bike and, with it, the bike's handling.

My first task was to remove the fender mount that secures the rear fender to the frame. The mount is attached with a small Allen screw under the seat back. For the life of me I couldn't get the damn thing to budge. Reluctantly I removed the seat to get a better angle on the screw. No luck. I sprayed the screw with WD40. Nothing doing. I drove to the hardware store looking for an Allen key that had a grip of it so I could get some oomph into the removal of the screw.  After discussing the matter with the hardware guy, it became apparent that maybe my problem was the fact that I was using a US Allen key instead of a metric Allen key. I drove home and found a set of metric Allen keys. Now I could get the screw to turn but it wasn't backing out of the frame. I turned it a few dozen more times then got the bright idea to look underneath the bike to see if the screw was hung up on something.

It turns out the screw was threaded through a nut on the underside of the frame.  I used a wrench to hold the nut and finally after well over an hour the screw came out. My son, who is mechanically inclined, would have had this figured out in five minutes. Unfortunately, he's away at college learning useful stuff like marketing, accounting and economics (assume a screwdriver).

The underseat rack comes in pieces and it's quite a puzzle. There are instructions with a few pictures so I should have been good to go.  It took some doing and some trial and error but I finally got the rack on. Next I put the seat back on, fiddled with the positioning again and took it for a test ride. Success!

Then it occurred to me to test the rack. Somehow the rack was oriented to closely to the underside of the seat. I couldn't get the top of my pannier between the rack and the bottom of the seat.  So, it looks like I'll have to take the rack off and remount it a little lower on the frame. (This is the second option in the instructions so I should be able to get it adjusted in a half hour or so.)

I put Big Nellie away, ate lunch (it was now 3 p.m.) and started to work on The Mule's brake pads. The Mule has cantilever brakes and they don't work very well.  When I took off the brake pads, I could see why.  There were all worn down. One of them had a ridge along the length of the pad, meaning that it had been oriented too low causing only the top portion of the pad to make contact with the side of the rim.

I hate doing brake work because you really need three hands and good vision to do it and I have two hands and my vision sucks (I have two ophthalmologists; one for my retinas and one for my cataracts. I'm thinking about getting a third for my astigmatism.).  None the less, I had all four brake pads swapped out in about an hour.  I took it for a test ride. The braking was somewhat better and there were no squeals during my test ride. Good enough.

I was pretty pooped at this point so rather than go for a ride, I decided to mow the lawn.  This frees up tomorrow for a ride on Big Nellie. I think I'll go out to Bikes at Vienna and buy me a new seat back bag.  My old one was all torn up. One of the advantages to Bikes at Vienna is that it is about a 45 mile round trip from my house. Just the distance to test out the new, improved Big Nellie.

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