Thursday, January 28, 2010

Old Bike + Wind = Power

My friend Gritstina sent this story to me a while back and I thought I would pass it along. It's a humbling tale of a young man in Malawi making a wind turbine out of, among other things, an old bicycle. I wonder how many of us could overcome the many obstacles that William did to make something like this even if we really had to.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Homemade Headset Press

For the do-it-yourselfers in the crowd, here is a HOWTO for making your own tool for installing a new headset, a headset press. Commercial versions of these tools can be quite expensive, well over $100. When you consider that the home bicycle mechanic might only use a press every couple years, it makes sense to think about making one yourself.

Headsets are the vital bearings that carry the load of the front wheel while still allowing smooth steering. Typically the bearings are made up of pieces that are press fit onto the fork and into the frame itself. A headset press is a tool for pushing part of the bearings into the head tube of a bike frame. Although it is possible to tap the frame bearings in with a hammer and piece of wood, the best way to install these without damaging the delicate bearing surfaces is with a press. Back in the day when I had access to a university machine shop I made the press shown below.

The simple device consists of a length of 5/16-24 threaded rod, two nuts, two washers, and a couple pieces of aluminum. The aluminum bushings were turned on a lathe so that they would just catch the inside of the needle-bearing headset that is currently installed on Jeebus. They have clear holes bored in them to allow them to slide along the threaded rod. I would make them longer if I made this again. Longer bushings keep the press centered in the head tube during installation. The advantage of bushings grabbing the new headset from the inside bearing surface or race is that this helps prevent the bearings from damage. If you do not have access to a lathe and don't want to ply your friendly neighborhood machinist with beer and tales of your bicycling glory days, you can substitute a small piece of plate aluminum for the bushings. Drill a "clear" hole through the Al plate (or bushing) just big enough to allow it to slide along the threaded rod. If the hole is too big, the plate or bushing will be able to tilt with respect to the threaded rod. This can damage your frame and the headset. To use the press, remove a nut, washer, and bushing from one side. Insert the threaded rod through one of headset cups, then through the head tube, the other cup, and finally the other bushing, washer, and nut. Tightening the two nuts will slowly push the cups into the frame. If you're like me, making and using your own headset press probably won't save you much in terms of time and effort and maybe even money, but you'll still feel like you came out ahead somehow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Freedom of Movement

It feels appropriate on MLK day to write about freedom. A reader recently commented on my post in which I gave a brief and totally subjective review of what it was like to live in several cities without a car. Joel's perspective was somewhat different than mine. His bicycling is being done not out of choice, but because his current economic situation prohibits him from owning a car. Without one, Joel says feels like he has lost some of his personal freedom. At the same time, there is a tone of guilt in his comment as if somehow his desire to be able to move around quickly and effortlessly is some sort of sin. It is not. Spoiled Labrador retrievers are not the only ones who like to hang their heads out of a moving car. The dogs and us, we're hard-wired that way for some reason. But there's more to it than the simple joy of mobility, and I'm not sure that my earlier post fully conveyed this point: even in an ideal situation people living in cities such as Orlando (as does Joel) can face very real hardships if they must adapt to a car-free existence. Bike riding amongst the angry cars is inherently dangerous. A number of circumstances - a long commute, a physical condition, family needs - can quickly turn an inconvenience into something more akin to a class barrier. I wonder if we really have a free society if those on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder do not have the same freedom of movement as those on the top.