Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Creaks, Squeaks, and living in the moment. (or How I got rid of that Annoying Noise)

This past week or so I’ve been dealing with a creak that has shown up in one of my bikes as I pedal up the hill, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to throw out some suggestions for what to do and look for if you run across the same problem. Personally, creaks and squeaks when I am pedaling along drive me up the wall. They disrupt an otherwise peaceful and therapeutic ride with the nagging audible reminder that something on my bike is not functioning the way it should be.

The first thing to do is to clean your bike. Make sure you get all the little dirt deposits out of the nooks and crannies where all the frame tubes come together, the head tube area, the bottom bracket area, the top tube and seat tube junction, and where the seat stays and chain stays come together. You will also want to really make sure your derailleurs, chain, crankset, pedals, and cassette are clean too. Once you have completely cleaned and dried these areas, inspect all the frame junctions for cracks. A crack in the frame could possibly create a creak while pedaling and is a sign that your frame needs to be replaced. I have heard that mountain bicycle frames are really only designed to last about 5 years. Of course, depending on your riding style, your frame can last more or less than the recommended time. I have a bike that I purchased around 1994, and I have pounded it mercilessly for years…and it is still fully functional.

After checking the frame junctions, lubricate the chain and take the bike for a short test ride, just to make sure that the creak is still there. Do your best to recreate exactly what causes the creak to happen. It could be that there was a bit of dirt someplace that washing took care of, and now the offending noise is gone. If the noise is still there, do a visual inspection around the bottom bracket, chainrings (crankset), pedals, seatpost, and cassette. If you see any residual dirt, you will need to disassemble the parts and clean everything thoroughly. My suggestion is that you start with the easiest items first, for instance this order:

Cranks to bottom bracket
Bottom bracket (worn, loose or dirty)

I have had creaks and squeaks due to everything on the list. And just because it sounds like it is coming from the bottom bracket, doesn’t mean it is. Those annoying noises travel through the frame and seem to stop at the bottom bracket (I think it’s a conspiracy), making it hard to really pinpoint what is going on. Another word of advice, if you are taking the time to take something apart, clean it very thoroughly before reassembling it, even if it doesn’t look like it needs it. A few extra minutes of care may result in preventing another problem that was waiting to happen. Also, don’t use grease or oil on anything when reassembling, unless there are instructions to deliberately do so. Grease and oil are great, until you actually hit the dirt, then they just attract the dust like a magnet and those nasty creaks are back.

If your visual inspection doesn’t seem to show anything is amiss, start cleaning the things on the list in the order that I have given (easiest first). Do them one at a time, and after cleaning and reassembling each one, take the bike for a test ride to see if the noise is gone. There is no use in doing more work than you need, and it is a learning experience to find out what is causing that particular noise. The next time you hear the same noise, you might just be able to zero in on the problem immediately.

Of course there is nothing wrong with continuing down the list and cleaning everything. Sometimes it is the Zen of doing mountain bike maintenance that gives you that little bit of calm for the day in an otherwise hectic schedule. Losing yourself in the mechanics of repair and cleaning, being able to empty your mind of the other chores and stress of the day and focus on just the moment, can be worth the extra time taken to clean, repair, and ensure functionality….for both the bike and you.

P.S. If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them for me. I am always looking for ways to improve myself, and to help others get the most out of every day.....

Friday, June 18, 2010

The California DMV and Mountain Biking

So I’m going to tell you a story about my experience at the California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles)…it’s not pretty and this is a bit of a rant. In fact it is a testimony to the incompetence that the DMV seems to celebrate with the hiring of its employees. I live in the Glendale California area, and I’m not saying that I went to the Glendale DMV, but it would be out of my way to do otherwise.

I was going to the DMV to try to complete the registration of one of my motorcycles, and all that I needed to complete was a brake and light inspection. Now, just to preface the situation, I had been trying to find a brake and light inspection station (from this point on I’ll call it the BLS) off and on for about 2 years. Unable to find one locally, I fell back upon the DMV rule that said,

“Exception: When an official California brake and light station that inspects specific vehicles, such as motorcycles or large commercial vehicles is not located within a reasonable distance, the DMV will accept a Statement of Facts (REG 256) from a California repair shop certifying that the brakes and lights are in proper working order.”

So this is the course of action that I followed with no official California BLS within a reasonable distance from my house. I went to a nearby Honda motorcycle dealership and they did the Statement of Facts (from this point on I’ll call this a SOF). Now, you need to remember that dealerships repair the vehicles that they sell, hence a car dealership fixes cars and a motorcycle dealership fixes motorcycles…this will be important later. I know that any intelligent human being understands this, but you will see later that I was not dealing with intelligence.

So with past paperwork from previous DMV visits and my new SOF sheet from the dealership in hand, I go to the DMV to finally get my motorcycle on the road. Once there I waited in line and finally was given the chance to speak to one of the fine state licensing employees, who turned out to be a middle aged gentleman with a rather bored and vapid look about him. I explained what I needed, and what I had, and handed the whole shebang to him. He looked at the papers and I saw that he immediately threw away my shiny new SOF and began typing on his computer. Well to make a long story shorter, he typed and filled forms and typed some more and then asked for $303 from me. Now anyplace else you would receive merchandise upon payment of funds, but at the DMV you apparently get to pay for the privilege of watching them “work”. He took my check and handed my paperwork back and told me (with a thick accent) that I need to provide a BLS inspection certificate. I looked at him with my best “you’re kidding, right?” look. He continued to look blankly at me for several seconds before I pointed out that the SOF that he so quickly threw away at the very beginning of our business transaction was exactly what fulfilled that requirement. With a large sigh he shuffled through his garbage can and found the needed papers. Now, I have to say that almost the whole time that I was watching him type and fill out papers, about 20 minutes or so, there was a rather large woman (another fine state employee) standing behind him and jackjawing to another equally rotund and fine state employee. At this time he turned to the first robust woman (a supervisor) and showed her my SOF. They mumbled to each other for a few moments and she turned to me and said that they needed an official BLS certificate. I told her that there wasn’t a motorcycle BLS station within a reasonable distance from my home and so I fell back on the DMV rule that said I could use a SOF, and further explained that if she were to look on the internet at the official DMV site she could see the very same information. She promptly told me that BLS stations are all over the place. Yes, I replied, for cars but not for motorcycles. OHHHHH, she said, yeah they are hard to find for motorcycles. It seemed to me that I had won a point and that things were looking up. My buddy the paper pusher had assumed his vapid and completely blank look….

Here is where the laws of physics and logic broke down. I must have fallen into Alice’s rabbit hole because the absurdity of what I was about to go through was mind boggling!

The supervisor then told me that I needed a SOF from a BLS station. I looked at her. Hmmmm, well if I had found a BLS station, I would have a certificate….wouldn’t I?! I again explained that the DMV website explains that if I can’t find a BLS station the SOF would suffice. So captain vapid typed some more and moved his computer mouse around frantically…and they both leaned in toward the computer screen. The illustrious supervisor then read to me the definition of what a BLS station is. I told them that was not what I saw when I looked at the site and that they were looking in the wrong place. Super duper supervisor looked at me and said, “I’m looking at the DMV site right now and that is what it says.” I calmly told her that we didn’t need the definition of a BLS station, but the rule about when I could use a SOF, and that was on another part of the site. She looked at me, I looked at her, capt. Vapid stared off into space. “I’m looking at the DMV site and that is what it says“ she restated. I realized that I was not dealing with someone of even average intelligence, that the DMV hiring process seems to have struck again.

I needed to take another line of attack. I decided to agree and then redirect…I told her that I realize that the rule says I needed to go to a BLS station, and I was not arguing that point whatsoever. But that if I could NOT find a BLS station I could use the SOF as a replacement. She actually seemed to accept what I said and looked at the SOF. At the bottom of the SOF it was signed by the service manager of the Honda motorcycle dealership. Now, remember when I told you at the beginning that dealerships also repair the vehicles they sell? Well here is where that comes into play. She looked at the signature and saw that it was a dealership that signed the document. She quickly seized upon this point and stated, “I see here that it was a dealership that signed this SOF, and when I see that I know that dealerships only SELL motorcycles.” AHAAA!!! She made such a point that she could not help getting a very smug look on her face. My jaw dropped open, my eyes stared….my mind thought “ARE YOU F’ING KIDDING????!!!! HOW STUPID ARE YOU????!!!!” I closed my mouth and I calmly explained that it is a motorcycle dealership and dealerships also repair motorcycles, just as if she took her car for a repair to the car dealership. She looked at me, I looked at her, captain vapid looked off into space.

Now I’ve found that stupid people, when confronted with superior logic, tend to let their trains of thought randomly derail and jump tracks, rather than actually admit defeat or have to think. Case in point, she immediately said, “But you need a certificate from a BLS station.” Back to Square One. Ok, so again I am going to jump forward to save time, but let me say that we went through this rigmarole several times, almost exactly the same verbiage coming out of both our mouths…and there was never any sign of her making any kind of logical or intelligent connections. At one point I actually had the gall to suggest that she call the Honda dealership and ask if they repair motorcycles. Of course that meant actually doing something other than talking to her friend, so that was out of the question. I again asked her to look at the correct spot on the DMV website to actually see the rule instead of a definition…she refused that too. I could not believe that someone could be so inept and unwilling to actually do their job that they were volunteering to look like a complete idiot.

This is why the state of California is losing money, we hire people that have realized that they don’t need to do ANYTHING and they still get a nice paycheck….which means the state then has to hire another person to actually do the work that the first person isn’t doing.

Oh, I still have to go back to the DMV…I paid $303, but I didn’t get what I paid for yet. Tell me how they get away with that?

So, you are probably asking how this relates to mountain biking. I’ll tell you. That night I went for a ride with one of my buddies…and as I pedaled down the trail the stress of the day melted away. Once I’m riding the world is a better place and I get to leave the idiocy behind…

Friday, June 11, 2010

Surviving the Recession

In this recession I keep seeing several things more and more. I am seeing more motorcycles on the road. With Gas prices continually rising, the savings (and fun) of riding a motorcycle make a lot of sense. More bicycles are sharing the streets with the cars. If you live close enough and enjoy riding, why not save even more money, get in shape, and avoid the high cost of paying for parking? And I have noticed more people running a business from the comfort of their home, for example, the garage mechanic.

There are great reasons to use the garage mechanic in these times. With the recession (depression?) in full swing and no real end in sight, many people are tightening their budgetary belts and trying to find new ways to not only save, but earn money. Our communities are seeing a flood of newly unemployed people, many of which will never be able to get the same jobs again or continue their career where it was so rudely cut short. These same people are resorting to finding new ways to pay the bills and take care of their families. With little or no money the only option is to run a business out of the home. These situationally created entrepreneurs work hard to get new customers and to do quality work for less money than if you had the same work done at a shop. In fact they are more likely to work harder for you and your business than the shop because they need to pay their bills and put food on the table and only through that hard work can they gain the trust and the business of more people. Have you ever been to a big shop and been treated as though you don’t matter to them? We all have. Yet I have had work done on my car out of someone’s garage and they treated me, not only with respect, but as though I was the only customer they had or wanted. What a refreshing feeling. The garage mechanic also will most likely not charge you tax or make you pay a premium for their hourly wage.

I do work out of my garage on bicycles, and I like giving my customers a degree of service that I know for a fact they don’t get from the big shops. I will take the time to ask them questions about their bicycle that the shop just doesn’t care about. I will spend a few more minutes setting up the bicycles suspension for my clients, with the actual client as the test subject, as it should be. If I need to spend an extra 15 minutes cleaning a part to make sure the bike works correctly, I’ll do it no extra charge. I take personal pride in watching the customer get on the bike for a test ride and come back with a huge smile because the bike works perfectly. And I don’t charge a high price for this service. Because I don’t have to share my earnings with the shop, I get to share those savings with my clients.

In fact it is exactly these things that make it a win-win for everyone involved. The customer saves money, often gets their bicycle (car, motorcycle, whatever) back quicker, gets that personal service, and gets the satisfaction of knowing they are helping a family or individual survive the recession. The mechanic gets that much needed money to survive, gets to set his/her own hours, gets that very personal satisfaction of a job well done, and has time for the family that a regular 9-5 job would not provide.

The next time you need a bicycle tune up, or repair, try asking around a bit and see if you can find someone to work on your bike outside of the usual shop….you might just be surprised.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Of Goals and Attitude...fundamental life skills

So this is the second posting for my blog,  Wow, milestone.  I thought I’d start talking about how important goal setting and a good attitude are in life.  How they can affect everything around you. How setting goals can help you grow as a person, and how your acceptance of a situation is based on attitude.

For example…Every Wednesday night I get together with some friends and we go mountain biking on one of the many local trails.  I like this group because we have one basic thing in common, a positive outlook on life.  I am guaranteed to have a good time, and the chance to share in good conversation.  Two weeks ago we did one of our normal rides, but this time, at the top of the hill, three of our group of five decided we would ride a single track trail down the hill instead of going back down the dirt road we came up.

We parted ways with our other two friends and rode down the dirt road to the single track trailhead.  At that point we took the single track and started having a blast.  About a quarter of the way down the trail one of our crew took an over-the-handlebars spill, deftly avoiding getting tangled in the bike as he went over, he landed on his feet, but solidly on the bike’s fork.  I watched as his foot snapped the fork brace (that U shaped piece of metal connecting the two fork legs together).  Oh, boy.  Well, long story short we were able to piece things together enough order to allow the bike to be ridden and get him down the hill, but without a functional front brake. And off we went, finishing the ride with no further mishap.

I applaud his crash, commend the damage to his bike, and love that he went over the bars!!!  I can say this (having totaled a bike or two in my time), not that I want people to get hurt or see damage to their equipment, but when a mountain biker crashes it signifies something to me.  It signifies progress.

You see, in this case my friend had decided that he was at a level of riding that was comfortable.  And although comfort is good, in order to improve you need to set a goal.  During a conversation with one of the other riders, Daniel, he told me something that made a lot of sense in regards to setting goals, “In order for a goal to have any meaning, it needs to make you uncomfortable to achieve.”  I had never thought of it that way before.  But how true!  In order for a goal to give any personal satisfaction or to create any progress, you need to reach out of your comfort zone and learn something new.  You may not reach that goal the first time, but if you are persistent and continue to learn what you need to achieve that goal, the satisfaction, confidence, and  new level of  comfort is worth the effort.  When my friend crashed, he was pushing his comfort level, he had decided that he was ready to move forward and become faster and better at riding his mountain bike.  His crash was just a result of pushing the envelope a bit too much.

Now how does good attitude play into crashing and basically totaling your bike?  Easy, when he got up and the dust settled, his comment was, “I guess it’s time to buy that new bike.”  He looked at turning something that could easily have been taken as a negative into a positive.  His attitude was such that even though he had been telling me for several weeks that a new mountain bike was really not something he could afford, he now used this opportunity to support a positive outcome instead of becoming angry and upset at the damage.  He didn’t once complain about the crash.  He didn’t become depressed or morose.  He got onto the bike and finished the ride and  commented about how he now understands how important front brakes are (since the broken fork rendered the front brakes inoperable).

In effect, he set a new goal:  To purchase a new mountain bike that would allow him to continue to expand his abilities as a trail rider.  I’m sure the discomfort of this new goal will be explaining to his wife why he needs the money to do this….

Goal setting and attitude…fundamental to living life to it’s fullest.