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Bicycle Chain Cleaning

I clean my bike chain with odorless mineral spirits.

Drivetrain Cleaning Tools

I’ve been doing this for about eight years now, after a handful of years of using water and dish soap. The disadvantage of a water-based solvent is that you have to be careful to dry the chain thoroughly, including the area between the links. After cleaning a chain with mineral spirits, the chain can be wiped mostly dry. What’s left after that will mostly evaporate. What’s left after that can just be ignored. Mineral spirits are often used as one of the ingredients in home made chain lubricants; the small amount of residue left over after cleaning isn’t going to hurt anything.

The drawback to mineral spirits is that it is usually considered a hazardous material. Disposal must be completed at special facilities, not your kitchen sink. Fortunately, it can be reused for a long time. When I’m done cleaning my chain, I dump the used mineral spirits into a mason jar for storage. The debris settles to the bottom of the jar. The next time I need it, I can easily pour off the clean mineral spirits without disturbing the debris at the bottom. This same cycle can be repeated for years.

I use mineral spirits in a few different ways depending on how dirty the chain is:

  • Sometimes I’ll break the chain at its reusable link, place the chain in a Nalgene jar, and cover it with mineral spirits to soak. The dimensions of the Nalgene jar are superior to those of the Gatorade bottle mentioned in the previous dish soap post. I can cover the chain using less solvent, and it’s easier to fish the chain out.
  • Sometimes I’ll use a chain tool to clean the chain on the bike. These work just as well with mineral spirits as they do with specialized solvents. The Finish Line Pro Chain Cleaner is the only one of these tools that I don’t hate. I think it is a better design than the Park CM-5.2 Cyclone and Pedro’s Chain Pig.
  • Sometimes I’ll soak the bristles of a brush in mineral spirits and scrub with that. The Finish Line Grunge Brush is the best chain cleaning brush I’ve used. (The Park GSC-1 GearClean is great for the cassette and crank.)

During the less rainy part of the year, I often don’t need to use mineral spirits at all. I just wipe the chain clean with a dry rag.

After cleaning, I’ll lubricate the chain and wipe off any excess (unless I only wiped the chain clean without using any solvent, in which case applying more lube is likely not necessary), and pedal off into the sunset with a buttery smooth and silent drivetrain. This system helps keep vehicular maintenance costs very low.

This post was published on . It was tagged with bicycle, ablution.

Mirrors on a bike are no different than mirrors on any other vehicle.

They aren’t a replacement for turning your head, but they can be a useful supplement for maintaining 360 degrees of awareness.

Drop Bar Mirrors

I purchased a pair of Sprintech Drop Bar Mirrors last spring. I had never used a bike mirror before, but I’ve grown fond of these over the past three months of use. The viewport is small, but adequate to identify vehicles of any size. I keep the mirrors canted outboard slightly, which means they move if I lean the bike up against a wall. Sometimes I’ll bump one when straddling the bike at a stop light. But they’re easy to move back into place, and I’ve never had them move on their own – rough roads aren’t enough to rattle them – so I don’t mind this. Having never used any other kind of bike (or helmet) mounted mirror, I can’t compare them against their competition, but I think the Swiss are on to something with these. I’d buy them again.

Virginia Tech rates bike helmets.

The CPSC standard is of limited practicality. It seeks only to test if a helmet can prevent a skull fracture from a direct impact on the top of the head. It was refreshing to find Virginia Tech’s helmet ratings, backed by a test methodology that actually seems to appropriately model reality. I was pleased to see that my Smith Overtake scored 4/5. The Overtake is four years old and still in fine shape, but whenever it comes time to replace it I’ll use these ratings to make a purchase decision.

This post was published on . It was tagged with micro, bicycle.

The Tube Roll

I carry a spare tube underneath my saddle.

The Tube Roll: Mounted

  • The Tube Roll: Unrolled
  • The Tube Roll: Rolled

With my Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires I rarely get flats. When I do, I usually prefer to use a patch, but sometimes you need to replace the tube. To protect the spare tube from the elements – UV rays, abrasion from dirt, etc – I wrap it like a burrito in a piece of black Tyvek. This is then stuffed underneath my Brooks B17 and secured to the rails with a 12” nylon buckle Voile Strap.

The package is easy to get to when I need it, doesn’t move until then, and isn’t very visible unless you’re looking at it. When I moved the spare tube from my pack to my bike, I wanted to avoid a noticeable bag like my Revelate Jerry Can. I’ve yet to have anyone steal this setup, but if they do, I’m only out $5 for the Voile strap, $8 for the tube, and a few pennies for the Tyvek. I can live with that.

In the case of a tire blow out, I’ve wondered if a piece of the Tyvek could be cut, folded, and used as an emergency boot like a dollar bill. I have not had the opportunity to test this, because I buy good tires that don’t blow out. The repair kit I carry in my bag also contains a couple actual reifenflicken, more so because carrying them increases the opportunities that I have to say reifenflicken than because I feel I actually need them.

This post was published on . It was tagged with bicycle, gear, edc.

ABUS Ugh Bracket

For the majority of my time on a bike I’ve carried a U-lock in my bag. I’d rather have the weight on the bike than on my back, but I’d never found a way to accomplish this without unacceptable compromise. Mounting the lock inside the triangle interferes with throwing the bike on my shoulder when going up or down stairs. Bungee cords on a rear rack can hold the lock securely, but don’t prevent it from rattling around, and I place a very high value on the ability to move silently.

A little over a year ago I solved this problem by purchasing the ABUS Ugh Bracket. The Ugh is a three-piece bracket that mounts to the arms of any rear rack. Each component has a groove which holds the U-Lock arm and a small elastic band with a toggle which locks the arm in place. The bracket is clearly meant for large sized U-Locks, but I was able to make it work with my compact ABUS GRANIT Plus 640 and Tubus Vega rack by mounting at the bottom of the rack where the arms are closest together.

ABUS Ugh Bracket

The Ugh holds the lock securely and silently. It gets the weight off of my back and ensures that the lock is always on my bike. It makes accessing the lock quick and easy. I would like to see the elastic strap replaced with some material with a longer life, but other than that I have been very happy with the bracket. I think it’s one of the better options out there for carrying a U-Lock.

When the bracket is installed, a pannier cannot be mounted to the same side of the rack. I use panniers when touring, but I don’t tour with a U-Lock, so this isn’t something I care about most days. It only takes a couple minutes to uninstall, but it is annoying to do and another barrier to heading out on a multi-day trip.

When I purchased the Ugh I couldn’t find anybody selling it in the US. I had to pay for it in Euros and ship it from Germany, which made it an expensive experiment. It is now carried by Lockitt, though at $32.00 it remains a pricey item. I’ve been happy enough with mine that I’d buy it again, but it is definitely pricier than throwing a couple Twofish Blocks on your bike.

Sometimes you need a tub of grease.

But more frequently you just need a little. A few months ago I bought myself a Dualco 700231 Grease Gun and a Dualco 10547 4.5” nozzle. I filled the gun from a tub of Phil Wood Waterproof Grease that I’ve been working through for a handful of years. This made servicing my pedals much easier and less messy than previous jobs. Purchases like this make me feel more like an adult.

Grease