Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Busy as a bbbb

The holiday weekend just wasn't long enough, so I took the liberty of making it longer. I took Friday off work and ended up taking Tuesday as well. But don't think that me taking a 5 day weekend means long naps at the beach, nope it was productivity all the way. I had to keep up my reputation as the most productive human alive (as Tarik may claim). So...

Friday I stayed home to paint bikes, Yup, bicycles that I built. I've been really crankin lately down in the shop, I managed to crank out a frame last week as well as an S & S retrofit and I had a few other odds and ends to paint up. I spent the morning doing paint prep and masking. The coupler job required just masked panels around the couplers, which in turn means I have to mask the couplers, then nice panels around them and finally the rest of the bike. That's a lot of masking for a touch-up. Then between masking jobs I got distracted by the Miata again. Still trying to make it run perfect, I decided to add a couple gauges so I could check the air/fuel ratio while driving (I suspect it's running lean). Once I got into that, I had the center console pulled apart so it seemed like a prime time to change out the radio too. My old Alpine stereo is fantastic with the exception of one glitch, the knob doesn't work when it's hot or humid. I've tried everything to clean it, but most of the time you just never know what's going to happen when you turn that knob. The one thing you could count on was that the volume probably wouldn't change. So Beth had an older pioneer stereo knockin' around the house for a while, so I threw that in. It has no knobs. Now if I could only figure out how to set the clock and turn off the annoying beep everytime you hit a button. I've installed many many car stereo's and I've never had one beat me in not being able to set the clock like this one has!

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah Friday. So after that I went for a nice ride on my bike and met up with friend Dean for a spin around St. Paul. We headed back over to the house for some BBQ action afterwards since he hadn't seen the place for a few months. We grilled, hung out, and I gave him a ride home later on. That was the end of the relaxing for the weekend.

Saturday I still had paint work to finish up, so I got up at 7 and started spraying. Finished up all that work by 10 am. Then it was time to get going on outside house projects. The retaining wall was first. The wall was all up, but the whole thing had to be capped yet (those are the finished blocks that get glued down on top of the wall to make it look all purdy). So we made a couple trips to Patio town to get caps since the trailer can only take 1000 lbs per trip. Unfortunately due to the slop of our front yard, the wall is stepped down many times and at each step, you have to split one or two of these blocks to get the spacing right. That means I had to split about 20 concrete blocks. Fortunately I had a great idea sometime back (though not far enough back for me to have used it on the actual retaining wall when I really could have used it!). I still had the electric hammer from my Grandfather. This thing is awesome, it's basically a miniature electric jackhammer. I put the wide chisel blade on it and went to work, it cut the rock splitting time from about 4 minutes of hammer and chisel time with about 30 seconds of power tool use. So I'd fit the blocks up, split them and Beth would epoxy 'em down as we went. Sounds easy enough, but they're 50 lbs each and they're just about all overhead, so it worked over our arms and backs pretty good.
That work took us through early Sunday, then it was time to put on my mason's hat. The stone facing for the garage exterior was next. Up till now, the outside of the walls of the garage had just been bare rough concrete. We bought these cast concrete stones for the exposed faces last fall but just hadn't gotten around to installing them yet. I hadn't done much stone work before so this was a learning experience.

I had to start off with putting metal lathe over the wood header for the garagedoor and then putting down a scratch coat of mortar on that.

That went pretty good other than the fact that there isn't much room up under the roof overhang to work. Next the directions said to install the corner pieces first and fill in after that. It also claimed that the mortar should adhere fine to the existing concrete surface without a scratch coat on that. I started installing corners at the bottom and worked my way up. about 2 feet up things went awry and stones started falling off and I started losing my patience. As it turned out the mortar didn't adhere well to the older cured concrete, it was just too smooth of a finish, so I ended up propping a lot of the stones in place with sticks and scratchcoating most of the existing concrete. That pretty well took care of Sunday.
Monday we finished up the corner stones and started on the part above the garage door. Those stones held much better since there was a nice rough scratch coat up there. All the stones are different shapes and colors, so the process of piecing them in took quite a while. Infact I thought this would be a 1-2 day job at the most, and it ended up taking 3 so far and I still haven't grouted anything! I stayed home yesterday and finished up the rest of the front face and the side by the sidewalk.

Even though it's not grouted yet I'm really thrilled with how it looks. The stone goes so well with the retaining wall and the colors of the house. It was really worth the effort as I think this is kind of the finishing touch on the curb appeal of the house.
Here's the finished view from the driveway, click on the images for bigger versions.

And since I haven't been updating this too much with other house progress, here's one picture of the new front door. We installed this and the new screen door a couple weeks back. Beth put a few coats of paint on the door this weekend too, but it doesn't appear to have adhered properly. So much for the supposed "factory primer" finish on the door, nothing want' to stick to it. It think we're going to have to take it down, scrape this paint off and spray the door. Other than the paint issues, it's great. The stained glass looks really nice inside the house.

Well, I've got more bike stuff I'd like to talk about but I'm about out of writing time, so I'll write about that later. I should have some pictures of my latest frame this week too, once it's all built up.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

To finish the story on the tandem repaint from my last post:
I have to say Hat's off to the Big S company in that they stand behind their product. The owner of the tandem called them up and sent some digital pictures I had take of the defect and they told him to send it in, sounded like a warranty repair. So he'll get that fixed and end up with a new paint job at no cost. Good deal all around, customer gets his bike fixed and repainted for free, and I don't have to hassle with the thing anymore.

JimG posted a comment on the last entry as well asking for a picture of the distorted chainstay from the other paint job I spoke of. Here you go:

It's somewhat difficult to see in a photo, but there is a fairly sharp ridge formed where I've circled and there's a matching one on the other side of the stay. These happen to be very thin chainstays (This wouldn't have happened on a thicker stay) and the stop was brazed with brass. I have no idea why anyone would install a cable stop on a tube this thin with brass, that's just a crummy idea to begin with and as you can see it's not the neatest brazing. There were a few other spots on the bike with some copper flash around brass brazing, which is an obvious indicator of far too much heat. Fortunately for the customer this appeared to be the only place with real damage though, so a new chainstay is going in.

Had a great ride Monday night. I headed out about 4:30 and rode towards Mlps. About halfway in I thought I'd see if Otree wanted to meet up for some riding on his way home from work. Good timing as he was just getting ready to head out, so I headed south and met him near the 494 bridge by the airport. From there we did some hills in St. Paul, up Ohio St., up the highbridge, then he showed me his scheme of connecting up the Grand Ave hill, Ramsey hill and Alley D'uez. By the time we got up all those I was really starting to feel it, so I peeled off and headed home and he did the same. All in all about 2 hours of mostly hills on a beautiful day.

Yesterday I was still feeling the hills in my legs, so I worked on bikes instead. I'm trying to finish up a frame right now and I got pretty close last night. Finished up the seatstays, installed all the bosses and did a little finish work on the lugs. Set it off to soak overnight and I'll try to wrap it up tonight. I still have to finish up the fork, but I think I may get that done this week too. It feels good to start catching up on some of this work around the shop, I just wasn't really able to spend any quality time in there in April.


Monday, May 22, 2006

bikes -n-cars

Well I was finally home for an entire weekend. Felt good.

I thought I would do some catching up in the bike department and try to crank out a couple of paint jobs that have been waiting. I stripped both frames and amazingly found defects in both frames. Talk about a bummer, especially for the customer.
One of them was brand new, a custom build by a low-buck midwestern builder who shall remain nameless. He had overcooked the chainstay in the simplest of operations, installing the rear deraileur cable stop. Really dumb mistake, but he buckled the chainstay right at the stop and created an almost certain future failure point. So now I have a paint job and a chainstay replacement to do. Sigh.

The other frame was a tandem made by the biggest marketing company in the world of tandems, the big "S". I'm amazed at this one as they typically overbuild all their stuff by about a factor of 3, yet buried under that paint was a buckle in the captain seat-tube caused by a mistake in welding and a few years of riding.

It really sucks having to make those phone calls to people to tell them the frame that they innocently brought in for a repaint has a pretty major problem buried in it. It's a really rare occurrence, infact I've hardly ever had to do it before, but here I was having to make two of those calls in one weekend. yuk.

Since I wasn't going to be painting Sunday I decided to do some work on my other hobby, playing with my 1992 Miata. Granted I'm a die-hard cycle advocate, I still love to tinker with this car, it's the only car I've ever actually enjoyed working on. It's logically designed and well laid out, easy to service and tune. Usually I have it out in mid-April, but due to all my travels this year I hadn't even taken it out yet. It's always started right up with no problems after a long winter's nap, but this year it started up fine but just didn't want to idle at all. This vintage of Miata is known for it's persistent idle drop problem, but this was far more, it just kept cycling up and down never leveling out.

I've done quite a bit of engine modification to this car in my continual efforts to draw far more power out of it than Mazda felt it needed. In the process I've developed a pretty good understanding of this particular engine, but this idle business was getting the better of me. The car has a pretty primitive computer set-up that reads about 10 different basic error codes if there are abnormalities. I kept getting a code for a faulty air-flow meter, but the voltages coming out of the meter seemed fine. I broke down last week and bought another used airflow meter from the junk yard to plug it in and see if it got rid of the error code. So I tore out the old one, installed the new one and things got worse. The fuel pump wouldn't stop running and the idle got even more uneven. Turned out Mazda had made a change in the wiring of the AFM in 1991, so despite the part # being the same for 1990-1995, the actual part was not identical. Bummer.
I decided the problem was probably not the AFM as it really seemed to test out fine. I checked every vacuum line in there, but found no leaks, so I started checking the fuel system. I have a supercharger on the engine with quite an array of fueling enhancements that run off the boost level and the engine seemed to run better when I tricked the fuel system into thinking it was under boost. So I checked the fuel pressure and found that the factory-set Aux fuel pressure regulator I had in there was completely mis-set, the engine was getting 10 psi of gas at idle and about 60 psi under boost. It's supposed to be getting 37psi at idle and and extra 5 psi for each lb of boost. That means the car is running waaaaaay lean. bad, very bad. I pulled the plugs and sure enough they were really dry and getting white. That's bad, hopefully I caught it before any serious damage was done to the pistons. The compression seems ok, so I hope I'm alright there. A quick adjustment of the Aux fuel pressure reg and things started looking better. it would idle, but still not as solid as it should be.
Eventually after a few more hours of measuring volts and checking connections, I checked the simplest part on the engine, the PCV valve. Shoulda done that sooner, it was plugged and wasn't opening all the way. A quick spray of carb cleaner and it moved free, reinstalled it and idle was rock solid. Doh. Still has some drop at start-up, but about 95% of the problem went away. I think I can live with it where it is now until I can find time to play with this last little idle drop. I think I'll be installing an air/fuel ratio gauge as well to make sure I'm not running lean anymore. it'd be a real bummer to melt down a piston since this engine really does run great now!

Oh well, now I can focus on bikes again, and maybe the house a bit too, still have much to do outdoors in the yard, but that can wait for anther day to write about....


Thursday, May 18, 2006

travels recap

Life on the road gets old, that's for sure. Looking back on my calendar I see that I've been home a grand total of 12 days out of the last 50 days. That's not a good ratio. I just got back from a trip out east which was a change of venue for me in recent times. The weather sucked as it rained most of the time, but I did get to get together with the Large Fella on a bike and family which is always a high-point. Incidentally the Large Fella is rapidly getting less large which I think is awesome, but what are you gonna do when the title no longer fits the man? : )

Prior to that trip I had the good fortune of actually having time in my schedule to ride in the Cable Classic bike race. It was kind of odd since I really haven't been riding my bike much this year, but I figured this was my best shot since I had been out in Fruita for 4 days of riding the week before and that just had to be some semblance of fitness as a result of that trip. right?

This race was a first for me. No, not the first time I raced it, I've been doing it for years, but this was the first time I had ridden this race (or any race in the area) on my own single bike. I've always done it on tandem, so I wasn't really sure how I should approach it. Naturally I decided to approach it in typical bbbb fashion: on a singlespeed with far too large of a gear on it.
My race preparations included looking at the bike for a while, thinking back to the old Cable classic route and then thinking hmmm that race is mostly fire-road, I should gear up. Of course anyone who actually has full use of their memory functions would know the race is mostly singletrack with a couple of fire-roads thrown in there.
So Friday I threw a 44t chainring on, left the 19t rear cog and put on a 22 toother as a backup, just incase I got soft. I figured with all those fireroads I'd want to be over 2:1, of course I forgot that there aren't really any fire-roads and I was riding a 29'er which makes the gears even higher.
Friday night is rained all night. Typical cable classic weather. Saturday morning it was still raining. That didn't bode well for my gearing choice as the mud was going to really slow things down. Oh well, I brought it, might as well give it a go. I lined up at the start, about 1/3 of the way back figuring I wasn't in great shape so I shouldn't start too far up there. Bad mistake. That fire-road I remembered, it's all at the start, so once the gun went off, I spent the next 5 minutes cranking the big gear around people trying to pass before we got in the woods and things slowed down. Well, the woods came too quick and i got stuck in a line moving about 5 mph. That just wasn't working well with the 44-19 gear, I think I was turning about 20 rpm for a while. Basically I had to stand the entire time we were in the woods, which was pretty much the whole time.
About 8 miles in my back was rapidly telling me it wasn't going to put up with this standing much longer, so I decided it was time to switch to the 22t cog in back. I pulled over and Deanwood and Scotty-Rob passed me right away along with about 20 others while I tried to change cogs in the mud. Eventually I got it switched and working and got back on. The gear felt immediately better, but I think all the damage had already been done. My back kept aching the rest of the race and my quads were not far behind. I kept trying to catch up to deanwood and Scott, but I just never could get them in my sites. Then about 15 miles in I realized my back brake wasn't releasing when I pulled the lever. The mud had gotten the better of the cable and the spring tension on the brakes wasn't enough to pull the pads away from the rim. So each time I'd use the rear brake, I 'd have to reach back and pull the brake arms open or it would just keep rubbing. I got pretty good at just using the front brake and kept the back as an option for emergency stopping action.

Slowly I was gaining ground, passing folks. My legs started coming around and I felt ok the last few miles of singletrack. The key was just getting off and running all the hills. I wasn't getting any traction on them in the mud and my "low" gear was still too high for hills, so all around that plan just worked better. Finally we hit the end doubletrack which dumps you onto about 2 miles of railroad grade and eventually the finish. I made it in, a couple places behind Deanwood and Scott, and just infront of WW (who would have been far infront of me had he not missed the start). I crossed the line and quickly found the rest of the Kenwoodies. They were all freezing from standing in the cold waiting for me to finish. I felt pretty comfortable with the clothes I had on, so I gave my rain coat to Stone and some spare gloves to WW and we all headed off on the long road ride back to the start (this is a point to point race).

Putting on the dry clothes I had in the car were by far the highlight of the day. Spent the remainder of the day driving back and picking sand/mud out of my hair. Not a bad day. Maybe I'll get back on my bike someday again soon...


Monday, May 01, 2006

You probably think I'm a complete slacker since I haven't written anything on here in over a month, but honestly nothing could be further from the truth. I'm always a busy guy, but this past month went too far past that point for comfort. I've been out of town for some part of each week for the past 5 weeks now, most of it down south in Little Rock.

I've been running an installation of several major pieces of equipment in a plant down there, trying to cram months of work into a matter of a couple weeks. Add in getting Bronchitis and then Strep throat in there and it's been a hell of a month. Last week I had to do my timesheet for work and I had about 380 hours of work logged in under 4 weeks, so needless to say I'm overdue for some rest.

Rather than do that though, I decided to stick to some travel plans I had made way back in Jan to go to the Fruita Fat Tire Festival. I debated pretty had even going since I was so tired when I got back in town from Little Rock, but I had bought the plane ticket months ago and I really wanted some time to just get away from anything related to work. Colorado seemed like a good place to do that.

This trip had started off slow way back when we were organizing it, it was looking like 3 or 4 of us were going to fly out there and ride bikes for 4 days. Well, by the time last week came around our Kenwood group was up to 11 people heading out from Wed- Sun. Big group to say the least, but what was even more amazing was how many other folks from Minneapolis headed out to Fruita for the fest. It seemed everywhere we went we kept running into people we knew from town. I'd say between the groups from Kenwood, Surly, Morc, CRC, and a last minute appearance by Geno, there were probably 40 or more people from Minnepolis out there. Kinda weird.

The first two days out were pretty much a complete shock to my system as I hadn't gotten any kind of exercise in 3 weeks due to work getting in the way. Even the modest elevation out in Fruita was painful and my legs constantly reminded me they were in no condition for this riding. Wednesday we just went easy supposedly and did a little 3 hour afternoon ride at Mary's loop. Thursday however was a knock-down, drag-out grudge match of a ride around the Edge loop and a few other areas. The ride took us about 5 hours I think (I lost track of time) and I'd guess we put in about 40 miles. The ride was pretty much a long gravel road climb that kept getting steeper and steeper. Did I mention all but three of us were on singlespeeds? My 34-20 gear on the 29'er was great for most of the riding, but this climb was too much. I bet I walked about 2-3 miles of climb, but eventually made it up top. The descent after that seemed like it should have been great and it was for a little while, but then the trail runs in a dried up stream bed for several miles. So you're completely wasted from climbing a couple thousand feet over about 10 miles, then you get to ride down a deep, loose gravel stream bed with spear-like sticks jabbing you the whole way. Fun stuff. By the time we made it back to town to find some dinner I had a terrible time trying to stay away until the food arrived. That night I slept good.

The next day I didn't have a whole lot of fire left in my legs, but after a good meal and an hour on the trails I was starting to feel better. I think my legs were starting to remember how riding felt. We broke up the riding Friday, roughly 3 hours in the morning and 3 in the late afternoon. That worked much better for me as I had time to recover between rides and get some food. By the end of Friday I was actually feeling really good and took an extra run down Chutes and Ladders with the extra energy.

Saturday the riding got dialed up a bit. I figured that might not be in my best interest so I opted to cut a few miles of trail out early and ride with the Vitch (who had just arrived via moto bike), then hook back up with the group mid-trail. By the time the rest of the group showed up I was feeling pretty good, so I jumped in and we continued on the Troy-Built trail and climbed up to the ridge trail up top. Rowntree had described the climb up to the ridge to us before we got there, I think he said it was a "stupid steep gravel road" and it pretty much was. I managed to ride most of it, only getting off the bike twice. It was the first time this year I felt like I was starting to get my climbing legs back, felt good.

Saturday night we headed into town for some dinner then planned to check out the festivities downtown. Fruita has very limited dining, there's a great pizza shop, two mexican restaraunts, Munchies (a burger place) and a few fast food options. The brew pub closed unfortunately. A few of us wanted burgers so we went to munchies and the rest headed for pizza. We planned to meet up at the pizza place then head downtown. Well the pizza place was out of food (I guess they didn't plan on the big rush for the fest), but agreed to let them eat there and serve them beer if they wanted to get food elsewhere. So the rest of the group headed down to Munchies to get some take-out and bring it back to the pizza place, which they did. We all ended up at the pizza place hanging out and drinking fat-tire.

The pizza place closed and let us stay since it was practically free money to them serving us beer while they cleaned up. But the clean-up portion turned into basically a big party in the pizza joint and we stayed until after midnight. I won't elaborate on that much to protect certain folks, but let's just say there was Kenwoodie VS. Fruita-females arm-wrestling, a guy madly whipping a disco ball around over his head while sort-of dancing on a table, a walker, a mop, and a guy somewhat dressed like a cop writing people tickets. A very odd but incredibly entertaining night at the Hot Tomato pizza shop. I left sometime around 12:30 as I was wiped out from riding and not sleeping that much. I think some of the others left shortly after and headed to Troy's (the owner of the local bike shop) house for more partying.

Overall the trip was great even if it wasn't really "restful". I slept for about 10 hours last night and hope to do the same tonight. Maybe start feeling normal again.

As a side note about bikes. Punky Smurf was kind enough to drive out to Fruita on this trip and bring bikes with him, so I didn't take my usual S & S off road bike, I took the 29'er instead. I've been a fan of the 29'er for a while and have been riding one for 2 years now. After riding it out west on the rocky trails and rough terrain, I'm even more convinced. The big wheels just flow right over everything, my descending was so much easier and faster than it ever has been on a 26" wheeled bike. I think I'm going full on 29'er, time to put couplers in one so I can travel with it. Anyone want an S & S headshock 26" wheeled frame? I'll have one for sale soon...