Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Comedy of Errors

Today, Andrew, Aaron, Dave, and I met at Kraynick's to work on our bikes. More specifically, Dave finally had the parts to finish assembling his first fixed gear, and Aaron was set to help him across the finish line. I needed to replace my bottom bracket and put a brake back on the bike. Brakeless had always only been a temporary thing; it just became a six-month temporary thing.

It's worth noting that I'm not patient with mechanical tasks, not even a little bit. Add to that that I hadn't ridden since Monday and had spent the last couple of nights drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and watching basketball like the vegetable I sometimes feel compelled to be, and add to that that I woke tp a nasty sinus headache even a shower couldn't clear, and circumstances were all set to conspire against anything going smoothly or well.

First, getting up into Bloomfield: I packed a bag and, running late, headed up to a Bloomfield cafe for breakfast. This, unfortunately, required a quick ascent up Main Street from Lawrenceville into Bloomfield. Or rather it quickly required a slow, agonizing ascent. I was fighting gravity, my own pre-coffee torpor, and a bottom bracket that, once removed, would be the marvel of a number of knowledgeable bike people at Kraynick's: You were riding on this?

When I arrived, late, Dave had already encountered problems with one of his fancy new crank arms, which arrived cracked. I went to work on removing my bottom bracket, which proved nasty. Pursuant to the advice of Jerry, the sage proprietor, we tried to remove the BB on the assumption that the drive side was threaded left, instead of the standard right. Turns out, however, that both sides were right threaded. Girded by a generation of knowledge, however, Jerry disregarded our comments to that effect and provided me with the better of the two BB's he carries, which was right threaded.

The details don't matter, but over the course of the ensuing hour, while Dave was finishing up his attractive new fixie, Jerry realized and accepted that both sides of my BB were indeed right threaded, and we drew the conclusion that someone, at some time, had actually tapped my frame and rethreaded at least one side of it, making it a bit of a BB bastard. We managed to use the cheaper of the two BB's he carries combined with the receiving cup from my old BB to make the bike work, but the diagnosis remains that I should have the frame bored out to a greater diameter and rethreaded the right way for an italian bottom bracket; until I do, I'll have no choice but to use a cheaper, less durable and smooth component.

Having sorted this out, we turned to reattaching my front brake and running a line to it. I removed my fancy yellow bar tape and bought what Jerry had in cork: black, black, or black. Boring. Attaching the brake and running a new line, matters attended do by the more technically inclined Andrew while I reattached the crank arms to the new BB, proved uneventful, but once we replaced the front wheel it proved tricky to keep the brake from rubbing. Although a single pull front brake should be self-centering, it seemed to want to stay out of alignment and rub on one side. In a rather coarse gesture, we just opened it up wide enough that the rubbing wasn't a factor even with the brake significantly off-center. After all, the brake is there for assistance on downhills on long rides more than anything -- after riding brakeless all winter, I will not give up the workout that comes with braking through my legs.

Finally, we were ready to ride, and ready to watch Dave figure out what it is not to be able to coast. I should note here that Dave is a pretty serious cyclist when it comes to geared road bikes; the man has killed me on such rides in the past. But he's the last in our group to pick up or build a fixie, so in this one regard he's still learning.

From Kraynick's, we headed to the Quiet Storm for much needed bathroom brakes, coffee, and lunch.

After we were relieved, refilled, and refreshed, we hit the road. We recognized it was a bit late for a long ride, but still wanted to collect a few miles. My sinus headache had not relented, but I wasn't prepared to go home. We headed down Graham to cross Friendship and head into Shadyside and Oakland.

Turning onto Morewood from Centre, leading the group, I heard a pop and then a clang as something kicked up from the road to ricochet off my frame. I looked down to find that one nut had come off my front wheel axle. I pulled to the side, instructed Andrew to watch my bike, and jogged back to where I'd heard the sound. In the gravel by the side of the road, only eight inches from the oblivion of a storm drain, I found my nut, thankfully brilliantly chromed. I returned to the bike and threaded it back onto the axle, cranking it down harder than a front wheel requires, and cranking down its opposing nut equally hard. Then I cranked down the rear nuts just for good measure.

Almost immediately, though, the brake was rubbing again, and hard this time. Looking down, a skein of rubber fragments coated the brake and the fork. I pulled over again, no more than two blocks from where I'd last stopped. Examining the brake, I discovered that it had actually been rubbing the front tire and had created a frayed groove in the tire for its entire circumference. Removing my multi-tool from my bag, I used an alanwrench to loosen the offending brake pad and slide it down to the rim. But it dawned on me that the whole thing didn't make a lot of sense. The front wheel wasn't centered in the fork. Removing the front wheel, which proved rather difficult as it had wedged itself into the fork weirdly, I reset it and found it centered again. Now, the brake wasn't impinging, but the shoe on the rubbing side was too low. Once again, I loosened the alanbolt to slide the shoe back to where it belonged.

We proceded through Oakland without event, unless you count the car that bore up on me at the tail of our group and rode my wheel, simultaneously refusing to use the other lane it had to its left and to back off as anyone who didn't want a small slip up to end up in a large lawsuit would do. Refusing to be muscled out of our lane, let alone permitting him to pass only to harrass my friends ahead of me, I slid further out into the lane and offered, with my left hand, a Jersey salue. He rode his horn and remained behind me for far longer than circumstances required (the left lane still entirely available to him), and I just taunted him with my finger and my bike and my greedy determination to enjoy a fair share of the road. Eventually, he raced past me and I watched his brake lights blink once, twice, and a third time. I imagined him looking for an appropriate place to pull off the road and I checked the left lane to make sure I had an evasive option in that direction. He didn't stop, though.

Fighting a stern headwind down Fifth Avenue toward the Birmingham Bridge, a wind strong enough to obviate most of the benefits of the downhill, I pushed through the valley and up the other side. Behind me, I heard a metallic pop, and looked over my shoulder. Dave, behind me, called out, "That was my seat."

We pulled over again, and circled. His seat had fallen backwards, its nose sticking erectly upward. A few minutes of fiddling later, it was back in position, and again we were off. At Fifth and Grant, however, we found ourselves stopping again, to examine Dave's chain, which seemed to be popping on the odd rotation. That problem we identified (it related to a chain guard that was too snug with his track chain), but couldn't remedy at the time.

Deciding enough was enough, we turned toward the strip and shifted over to Smallman for the ride home. We stopped at 20th-ish, under the bridge, to say good-bye to Dave, whose return trip required the climb up Penn Avenue to where his car was awaiting him at Kraynick's. Before parting, however, we considered his crank arm, which still was noticeably loose. Deciding it was nothing, we parted, and Andrew, Aaron, and I continued down Smallman into Lawrenceville.

Andrew came to my house for a beer, Aaron continuing directly home to Blawnox. Upstairs, basketball on the television, my phone rang. I picked it up and it was Dave. "Do you know what talent is?" he instructed. But I thought he had asked what time it was.

"Six-ish," I said.

"No, what talent is."

"Oh," I said. "What's talent."

"Climbing Penn Avenue with one crank," he replied.

"You lost your crank?"

"Yeah, it popped off."

And as though that weren't bad enough, he's convinced that someone siphoned half a tank of gas from his truck while it was parked on Penn Avenue in Garfield. In broad daylight. On a Saturday afternoon.

Everyone is in one's piece. Everyone's bike is in one pieces -- or in Dave's case, two pieces. And hopefully everyone made it home intact. But all in all a rough day. And I still have that sinus headache.

The good news: the better of my two brackes is in seventh place out of 78 after three days of March Madness, and is positioned to finish very strong. I might be looking at a very healthy chunk of money here. Which I evidently will need to remachine and reequip my bike.


Blogger brian said...

these are sorts of things that happen when you slackers don't call me and tell me about the ride.


11:13 PM  
Anonymous May said...

What an interesting adventure!
It makes me want to go out right now.

PS - Your poor friend...perhaps next time he can join for a ride.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous binky said...

Man, I haven't thought about Kraynick's in over a decade. Glad to know it is still there.

2:27 PM  
Blogger eli said...

ha, great story.

1:03 PM  

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