Saturday, September 24, 2011

Autumn, day two

Yesterday was the first day of autumn, and blessed relief, it felt like it. After the wicked, wicked summer we just experienced, the cooler air is enough to make me want to weep with happiness.

And now, it is the weekend following that opening day, and I plan to take advantage of it. First up on the agenda,  a return to the garden. Nothing major today (though I have big plans for later in the season), but some general weeding and sprucing is needed before I can turn my attention to other things.

Though it would be a perfect day for a bike ride, I'm going to resist temptation. I went for a fabulous tempo ride yesterday, and tomorrow I plan to go out with the Lubbock cycling club, so today I'm giving myself permission--nay, ordering myself--to use this temperate weather to get out into the shop and work on my new bicycle. There is almost nothing I enjoy more than working in the shop during the fall months. I throw open the windows and doors, turn on the radio, and putter to my heart's content.

The replacement head tube came in yesterday's mail, and this time, I got the measurements right. Here are some photos:

Today, after the mandatory weeding, I'm going to go looking for some mild steel and a Mapp torch to start my practice brazing.

It would be better if I had someone to teach me how to do this, but I haven't been able to find that person (or a class nearby), so I'm just going to dive in. This may seem strange to people not used to tinkering, but it doesn't feel strange to me. After all, I have been a semi-serious woodworker for nearly two decades, and I'm very comfortable around tools. The worst that can happen is that I will fail at making a decent frame. (There is a need, of course, for understanding tools and for some advance research on how to safely use them, especially when fumes and flames are involved, but I have this covered.) Since I'm looking at this first frame as practice for the second, I am completely comfortable with that idea. A greater failure would be not to try simply because I've never done it before.

Sometime in the future, after I've got a frame or two under my belt, I'd like to take a frame-building workshop. This might seem backwards, but I think I'd get more out of a short course with a little foundation. (Plus, I'm too curious about it to wait that long.) I have one picked out, in Austin, and so I'm going to start saving my pennies for it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tinker, tinker, tinker: And so it begins

I was looking at an airplane when it struck me that I was going to build a bike frame from scratch. My sibs and I were at the airport in Midland, picking up relatives who were flying in for my mother's funeral. Because everyone was coming in on different flights, but within an hour of each other, we'd decided to just make one trip to the airport. It meant a little extra waiting, but we had each other for company.

Conversation lagged after awhile, as it sometimes does even among family. I got up to stretch my legs and while I was walking around, I noticed an old airplane hanging from the ceiling. And when I say old, I mean that it was from sometime around the turn of the twentieth century, as in pre-Sopwith Camel.

This old bird was hardly bigger than the pilot who must have sat in it, and everything was exposed on it--struts and wires and pulleys. Because nothing was hidden by fabric or metal, I could stand there and puzzle out how it worked. If the pilot pushed down on that stick, then this flap would move. A push of that pedal would move a rudder. And so on.

The more I looked at it, the more it became clear that it was really a very simple machine. In fact, the more I looked at it, the more it seemed like something I could make, were I not terrified of flying in general and therefore unlikely ever to build an airplane, much less fly it when I was finished. Still, if I were to make one, it would be fun.

That's the way I've always been. I'm more interested in building something than actually using it. I've always, for instance, wanted to build a greenhouse. I don't want to use  one, as it seems like a lot of work to do so. I'd sure like to build one, though.

I've always wanted to build a sailboat, too, though I've never lived anywhere near an ocean. And I went through a period where I did a lot of fly-tying and even dreamed of building fly rods, though there is not a fishable stream around for miles.

I do sometimes build things I use. I built a telescope once that I carted outside several nights for about a year, until a car accident left me with chronic vertigo that often bothers me when I look at the night sky. It doesn't matter, though, since it was really about the joy of making the telescope, and not the galaxy itself. I don't miss the planets and stars. I still have the telescope.

So given my history, it is not so far-fetched to imagine me building an airplane without any expectation of ever using it.

Thankfully*, as I was standing there looking at the plane, it occurred to me that it wasn't much more complicated than a bicycle. And then I remembered that Orville and Wilbur Wright were bicycle mechanics before they were airplane builders, and so of course it made sense that one could see elements of that simple and elegant machine in the primitive airplane that hung from the ceiling.

And I thought, "How hard could it be to build a bicycle? Those Wright boys did it. What makes them so different from me?"

Maybe it seems strange that I was thinking about building a bicycle when the matter at hand was my mother's funeral. But as has happened so often in my life, the thought of a project steadied me. It also made me think of my father, who was a tinkerer like me, and that felt right, as if something was coming full circle in those moments between puzzling out the airplane, musing about those other tinkerers, the Wrights, and deciding to make the bike.

*I say "thankfully," not just because I was saved from building an airplane, but because a bicycle is something I might use.

And so it begins. I got a book, Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction, A Manual for the First Time Builder, by Marc-Andre R. Chimonas, read it more or less cover-to-cover four times during the past month (though simple, the individual steps are many and critical to do in the right order), found a set of tubes and lugs on sale at Nova Cycles, took a deep breath, and plunged right in. Here are some pictures of the progress I made this weekend.

I put the dimensions of the tubes and frame into a free software program on Nova Cycles called "Tube Notcher," which prints out a paper template for the individual miters that I attached to the tubes as a guide for cutting:
(The bottom line is the "cut" line.)

I made the first, rough cut using a Dremel tool:

Cleaned it up using a grinding tip on the Dremel, and a bastard file:

The goal, according to the book, is for a miter that fits with gaps no bigger than a fingernail. It's hard to tell from this photo, but the gaps fit the criteria:

Subsequent cuts on the top tube are aligned using the lugs and protractor:

Starting to look like a frame:

My miters kept improving as the weekend progressed, partly because I was putting a beveled finish on the edge to accomodate the dimensions of the mating tube:

Figuring the length of the downtube:

Et voila! 

I made one fairly significant mistake when I misunderstood how to measure the length of the head tube, and so I wound up cutting it too short. A new head tube only costs eight bucks, however, so if that's the only mistake I make on the frame, I'll be more than satisfied. Everything I've read over the past month on frame building forums suggests that the first frame is all about learning how to make the second frame.

I ordered a new head tube yesterday, along with all the bits and pieces I will need to finish out (seat stay caps, dropouts, etc.) and it should all be here by the weekend. Hopefully, Ill be able to start brazing this weekend or the next.

So far so good. If I had to rank it, I'd say this project ultimately will be slightly more complicated than a telescope, but probably less so than an airplane.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It turns out that blowing snot rockets on the bike when you have a head cold is not such a good idea

Perhaps I do not have to explain why. Even so, the ride made me feel better and did clear my head. It even made the migraine with which I awoke a tad less bothersome. But the best part of the ride was spotting this:

My sibs will know why.

It was a bonny autumn Saturday morning. Hope yours was as well.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Well, honestly, the garden season was a bust. It was simply too hot and too dry. I have much to do out there, but it is order of cleaning up what didn't survive rather than showing off pretty pictures. And so it goes.

I am re-thinking the garden for next year, however. Word is that La Nina is re-forming, and so we are in for long campaign. Given that, I have decided to do some hard-scaping over the winter to transition the garden to an even more xeric environment. The plant palette will be changing, too. Gone will be the pretties that require a less hostile climate in order to get established. In will come the tough nuts of the plant world, thorns and all.

The vicious heat has finally broken, though, and unlike the rest of Texas, we've even had a bit of rain. With the change in temperature comes a willingness to work outside again. I haven't been doing that at all this summer, because the only time of day in which the temperatures were bearable for living beings was morning, and mornings were reserved for the Bike Garden Challenge. There weren't enough cool hours of the day to do both, and so choices had to be made.

The Challenge is going well--so well that I feel relaxed enough to slow things down a bit and start other kinds of transitions, from road bike to commuter, from cycling to running, from long miles to rest. I suppose the slow down in mileage comes at the best time possible, since school has started again, and thus begins yet another transition...

One more transition that I will be making is the move back into my shop for some projects. I've needed a good build project to set my head straight for a while now, but the few times I went out to the shop to work this summer were brutal. It was dangerously hot in there, and so I put my need to build things on hold.

It's nice out there now, however, and so I've started a project I've been wanting to work on for several months: building a bike frame from scratch. I ordered the parts a while back, when I found them on sale on the interwebs at Nova Cycles. Have a gander at my new bike:

And that's the way the blog turns--there will be garden things again one day, but for now, there be bikes.

P.S.--Get those check books and debit cards ready! I'm aiming for finishing the Challenge sometime in October...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Apple Butter Festival Ride

It is the third week of classes and I am already behind in everything I need to do. I also have come down with a head cold. Both are occupational hazards and right on schedule. Ah well.

There is good news to report, however. The ridiculous heat wave known as summer finally broke last week, and we enjoyed a spate of loveliness. So all was perfect, weather-wise, on Saturday as I set out on the TTU Outdoor Pursuits' annual Apple Butter Festival Ride to neighboring Idalou. The ride was slated to be 46 miles round trip, which was 6 miles farther than I'd ever ridden. I'd had trouble with bonking* when I rode that previous 40 miler, so this time I was prepared with plenty of fuel for the ride:

Since the weather report was variable and we'd be walking around at the festival once we got there, I decided to empty out the contents of my bedroom closet and take it along as well:

We set out around 8:15-ish, in cool, light rain:
Jo Jo, here on the left, was our pleasant and capable leader:

Is there anything more glorious than riding on a rainy morning in a land that has not seen rain in a very long while?

We had a support vehicle, primarily to be there to carry back all the jars of apple butter we planned to buy, but also available to fix flats:

At the Apple Butter Festival, there was, well, apple butter:

A petting zoo:

Mid-ride fueling:

More music:

And of course, bikes:

After the ride back to LBB, the legs felt so good I decided to take a couple of laps around the campus and bust through the 50 mile ceiling. For me, this was a big leap psychologically, since it put the memory of my 40 mile bonk to rest. There is much to be said for overcoming memories that hold us back.

*Note for my British readers: In the States, "bonking" refers to the stop-in-your-tracks exhaustion that occurs during endurance exercise when you have not kept up with your fuel or water. VP tells me that it means something else to y'all. ;-)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Scenes from the native lawn

I finally had to "graze" my native lawn this week, for fear my neighbors would start complaining about how it looked. But before I did, I took some shots of how lovely it was shortly after we got some welcome rain. Is there anything as pretty as blue grama seed heads when the morning light catches them? They are like flags filled with sun: