Monday, October 24, 2011

When the moon is in the seventh house, or, how I learned to stop worrying and love frame alignment, part one.

Well, I was feeling all sparky and full of myself with my last two brazing efforts--attaching the articulated dropouts to the ends of the seat stays and chain stays, respectively. I mean, just look how pretty that articulated dropout looks up there--plenty of filler, minimal clean up. By the time I finished with the dropouts, I was convinced I had this process down.

And of course, you know where that kind of hubris inevitably leads. Next on the agenda was attaching the chain stays. Alignment is especially important here, since a wheel that is askew can create a wonky ride. I've been following this book by Marc-Andre Chimonas for guidance for my frame building adventure:

In it, the author suggests that rather than building a complicated jig for alignment, simply use an old wheel to get the chain stays properly aligned. Like this:

The problem I encountered when I tried this was that one of the lugs in the bottom bracket had some slop in it, and the chain stay would droop down, throwing the alignment of the wheel off. No matter what I tried, the wheel would slide cattywampus to the rest of the frame. I feared that if I tried tack brazing the whole shebang that way that tears would surely ensue.

Also, I didn't have an old wheel to use, and since heat is applied during brazing, Chimonas warns that this could ruin the wheel--something I wasn't too keen to have happen.

So I decided to build a simple jig to align the stays, instead of using the wheel. First I determined the length of the stays and cut them to be flush with the interior on the bottom bracket (shown here before cutting):

Then I attached two piece of angle iron and made sure they were flush with each other by attaching some aluminum bar stock at either end:

I aligned this with the frame:

Then I used a threaded rod and nuts that Will Cannings loaned me for a skewer and made sure the chain stays and dropouts were equidistance apart:

I measured the distance from the threaded rod to the bottom bracket on both sides to ensure that the chain stays would be the same length and alignment would be parallel. After all this, I fluxed everything up reeel guuud and tack brazed it:

After I tack brazed it, I took the jig off and put the wheel in and it looked like it all lined up just fine. So I removed the wheel and set to work brazing. Once I had finished, with everything cooled and the flux cleaned off, I put the wheel back in.

And it was cattywampus again.

Nevertheless, I am nothing if not resourceful, and I applied a little "cold setting" (the metal worker's term for what I would call "carpenterial persuasion") and got the wheel into what appears to be reasonable alignment:

It was late by this time, so I didn't put any measurements to it. If I'm not too knackered after work tonight, I'll do it then and make my report, in part two.

As an important aside, this process took me most of the day on Sunday, and involved a fair amount of head scratching, calculating, and minor frustrations. Even so, never once did a cuss word leave my lips. I hadn't realized that--nor its significance--until this morning as I was writing up this report. Normally during a project that involves lots of frustration, I curse like a sailor. However, I think that on this project, I am so engaged by it and having so much fun, that even the challenging parts give birth to joy rather than stress. Given this, I feel fairly certain I'll be building another frame in the future.

I'm going to build a better jig before I start next time, though.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Frame build update

I've got a few photos to show the progress on the frame. My brazing skills are improving, but largely because I kept finding gaps in the lug shorelines and having to re-braze them, affording me lots of practice. At this point, every lug has been re-brazed at least once, and one has been re-brazed three times. It now looks as if they all are completely sealed, and that there is plenty of filler in each of the joints. Because I was so intent on the latter need, some of my joints required a lot of cleaning up to get a smooth transition between lug and tube. I used a Dremel, small files, and sandpaper to try to achieve this.

This is a rough cleaning. I'll probably do more before sending it off to be painted.

Here I've brazed the articulated drop out of one of the seat stays. I'm really pleased with this brazing job since it was done in one pass, with a goodly amount of filler going in the joint, and minimum globbiness to clean up.

Next up, braze the drop out on the chain stays, measure and cut the chain stays and braze them to the bottom bracket.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Let the brazing begin

In the end, it was the old-fashioned kind of social networking that found me someone who could teach me to braze. A fellow Xtracycle owner, who "knew" me from seeing me ride around town, happened to be working in Velocity Cycles the day I dropped in for a tweak on the Ruby. His name was Jake, and he remarked that he'd seen me on the Xtracycle, riding around, and didn't I also own a Salsa Casseroll? One bike led to another, and I mentioned that I was in the process of making my own frame, but would like to find someone to show me how to braze. And thus it was that he mentioned Will, from whom he'd bought a house. Will, he told me, was a metal sculptor, a colleague from school in the Department of Art, and a fellow cyclist. Jake was sure he'd be interested in my project.

It happens that I've met Will before at a neighborhood party, but we didn't really converse then (because I am fundamentally shy, and would rather stuff a rabbit up my nose than to make small talk with someone I don't know; yes, I realize that this is a problem). He stuck in my head, though, because he was wearing a kilt, an attire he comes by honestly, since he hails from the British Isles.

Anyway, I fired off an email to Will, outlining my project, and he said he'd not only be happy to help, he was interested in building a frame one day himself. So he came over the shop one night last week--wearing regular clothes instead of a kilt--and I had my first lesson in brazing. Here's Will, who, as it turns out, is easy and pleasant to talk to:

Brazing is like soldering, but brazing uses higher heat and a stronger filler for a stronger joint. In this case, I am using MAPP gas and a MAPP torch, both of which are available at any hardware store. MAPP gas, which comes in these yellow canisters, burns much hotter than propane. I borrowed this torch from my neighbor Tom, but it is causing me some wrist pain to hold the whole shebang, so I am currently looking to replace it with a torch that has a hose attached:

Will, who has been brazing since he was sixteen, brazed the first joint--the seat tube to the bottom bracket--to show me how it is done. We first cleaned all the surfaces to be joined with 400 grit sandpaper, and then wiped with mineral spirits to remove any oxides. Then the end of the seat tube and bottom bracket lug hole were painted with white flux and fitted together. Heat was applied and the filler, 56% silver (called Silver 56) was drawn into the joint through capillary action (or, as Will called it, ca-PILL-ary action):
The filler leaves a smooth meniscus around the edge of the junction between the tube and the lug. This is called the "shoreline." When properly applied, the filler goes all the way through the joint and comes out the other side. (That white coating is the left-over flux.) Here it is with the flux cleaned off:

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, it was not as easy as it looked. Here is my first effort at brazing:

The flux on the lug itself and the head tube (the vertical tube) have turned black, which means that I exhausted it before the filler could be drawn into the lug. When the flux was cleaned off, I could see gaps in the shoreline, as can be seen here, in the small gap at the top left of the junction between the lug and the down tube (click to zoom in, should you so desire to see the gap more easily):
So at Will's suggestion, I cleaned off as much of the oxidation as I could, and then over the weekend, I had another go at it, using a lot more flux, with better results:

It is a little hard to see in the photos, but there is a solid shoreline all the way around, and I'm confident that I got enough silver in there to fill up all the void space, making it a strong joint. The excess filler can easily be cleaned off with files and a Dremel tool.

Speaking of the Dremel tool, I've never really been a fan. In fact, it has seemed for the longest time to be a silly, superfluous tool. I never could figure out what it was good for that a hacksaw couldn't do just as well. But between using it to cut and fit the miters, and now to grind down the excess filler on my blotchy brazing efforts, I have to say that I have fallen in love with this tool.

In fact, I'm so taken with the amazing utility of the Dremel that I've gone ahead and had one of my hands replaced with it. See what you think:

It should be great for brushing my teeth. And as for using it in the kitchen to whip up mashed potatoes, well, I think I need hardly say more...

I still have the top tube to seat tube and seat tube to bottom bracket to braze to complete the main triangle, but here is what it looks like so far when the other tubes are dry-fitted to the brazed in order to check the angles:

By the way, in case you missed my post yesterday announcing the completion of the Bike Garden Challenge, here it is, with all the skinny you need for sending in your pledges. Thank you again, everyone, for all your support.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Done and Done

Yesterday I took advantage of some beautiful riding weather and pushed through to finish up the Bike Garden Challenge. It was a lovely day, in all respects--cloudy and cool, with a calm mist for most of the morning. The miles just melted away.

I remarked to Walu last night that at the beginning of the year, I'd thought that 50 miles a week on my bike was a lot, but that this weekend I rode 50 miles over two days without thinking much about it. At the end of the second day, I was tired, but not especially so. It was a satisfying end to a long tour for many reasons.

So now it is time to call in some pledges. I was buoyed by your support over the course of the year, and I know that the South Plains Food Bank will lifted by it as well. Some of you have already honored your pledges, and for that, I am truly, truly more grateful than you can ever imagine. For the rest of the Challenge supporters, I am grateful to you, too, but you must still please make out your check to the South Plains Food Bank and send it to:

4612 Locust Ave.
Lubbock, TX 79404

Also, do me a favor and write "Bike Garden Challenge" on the memo line on your check. That will ensure that it is earmarked for the food bank's farm. Hopefully, we can also use that to tally up what we've managed to do together with this campaign.

If you'd prefer to give online, there is a way to do that, too. Just go to the sidebar here on the blog, click on the Bike Garden cycling jersey and the link will take you straight to the donation page for the SPFB. Again, please leave a note in the comments section that indicates that you are giving in honor of the Bike Garden Challenge.

Thanks to Fred, Cheryl, and Jill for keeping me company on the last miles of the challenge yesterday (Jill by texting and calling from Kansas as she rode). And as an extra special thank you bonus for all my supporters, a photo I have titled "Victory with Helmet Hair":

Feel free to print this and hang it on your wall. You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Finishing up

I have never once been alone on my bike this year. It may have looked that way to outsiders, on those days when I was spinning around solo, but the fact of the matter is that I always felt like I was riding with everyone who has pledged to support me on the Challenge. You may not have been present physically, but you were certainly there in spirit, every day, for every mile.

And now we've come to the finish. If all goes well and I don't catch any of the bazillion viruses that seem to be decimating classroom attendance, I should finish up easily on Sunday. Originally, I had planned a big party, but the problem was, I really had no idea when to expect the finish, and so organizing something big would have been difficult. As it turned out, I'm finishing nearly a month ahead of where I'd expected, so there you go.

So as the miles have been ticking down, I've been wrestling with how to end it. Should it be a big bang, with those of you who have been riding along riding those last few miles with me? Or should I finish quietly, as also seems appropriate, since so many of the miles this year have been quiet ones.

The trouble with finishing with a bang is that I'm not sure how many people would actually want to do that with me. Many of my supporters don't count themselves as hard-core cyclists, and so distances more than five or ten miles might seem too daunting to them, and I would want to leave out anyone who wanted to ride along. Also, I think it is A&M weekend or something, I'm not sure whether that might affect how many wanted to ride. I'll admit it, I have some anxiety about throwing a party and nobody showing up for it...

If a couple of people wanted to ride the end with me, though, I'd say let's make it a ride from my house to someplace for lunch and back. I'll make sure the route is as safe as turtles, and the whole thing is around five miles round trip. If I get any interest in doing this, I'll work out my mileage schedule to leave five miles on Sunday. Vegetarians, vegans, meat-eaters, people who won't eat anything purple--I'll pick a place that has something for all of us.

If no one is particularly jazzed about this, or if you already have plans (sorry about the late notice), then Plan B will be to ride with the cycling club on Sunday and let the marker pass without too much fanfare. I'm okay with this, too, but finishing with those of you who've been with me all year would be my first choice.

So let me know--either here on the blog, FB message or wall post, crib notes passed in class, or whatever--whether you're interested in throwing together a loose ride on Sunday. No balloons or bands, just some friends out for an easy ride on a pretty autumn day.

Either way, get ready to pay up. Blessings on all of you.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How I got here

I've been under the weather for most of the week with a strange malady in which the only symptom was exhaustion. No nasal stuff, no cough, no tummy woes--most days I simply felt as if someone had opened a vein and drained the life out of me every night as I slept.

Consequently, I did little riding...or at least, that was my perception. I keep track of my mileage on a training log called, and it does a great job of totaling up things for you. Among other gizmos that the log sports, there is a little calendar thingy off to one side that shows a bar graph of your weekly totals for the month, but you have to mouse over it to see an actual number. Imagine my surprise today when I checked it out after my ride and found that I had logged over 100 miles this week.

That I could log that much and not consider it to be an especially difficult week, mileage-wise (illness-wise is another matter) says volumes about where I am in my fitness near the end of the Bike Garden Challenge versus where I was when I began. When I started this thing back in January, I had serious doubts that I could ride 2000 miles in a year, having only ever ridden 1500 or so in my best previous years. And yet here I am, just starting October and looking at, perhaps, only another week or two of riding before reaching that goal.

It was easy...and it wasn't. The easy part was building the fitness. The not-so-easy part was all the normal slings and arrows of life that sometimes slowed me down.

I was telling a friend yesterday that while I am happy that I have been able to do something for the South Plains Food Bank as the result of this challenge, the fact of the matter is that it has been just as beneficial to me--perhaps even more so. Without people depending on me, I might not have re-started on the bike after being temporarily derailed by the bout of influenza in February, the debilitating stomach virus in May, the trip to Chicago, the week teaching at Mary Baldwin College in June, the trip to San Francisco, the two weeks of head cold this September, and this last, mystery fit of exhaustion. In the past any one of those would have been excuse enough to drift away from a fitness routine.

More importantly, though, is how the bike carried me through a difficult summer in which my mother's health declined and she passed away. It was not easy for me to sit with a dying person. Most days she was barely responsive, and when she was, I'm not sure she knew that I was there or who I was. And even when she was awake, I was at a loss for what to do. She seemed restless and uncomfortable, but whenever I spoke to her or touched her hand or face, it seemed not to matter at all. It fell to the professionals to turn her, feed her, and clean her. The best help I could offer was to be there to call someone whenever she did wake up and needed something. The rest of the time, I sat and read, or watched TV.

My sisters, I believe, were better at this than I was. I have never been much of a nurturer, and truthfully, I was at a loss as to how to step up my game when it was needed. I can't speak for them but I found so many days of feeling useless and inadequate to be indescribably draining. I'd taken my bike down to San Angelo, however, and in the mornings, before it got unbearably hot, I would go for a ride, telling myself that it was for the Bike Garden Challenge and the good people of the food bank. In truth, though, it was for me. I couldn't turn my mother or feed her, but I could ride. It was something I was not helpless to do. It put back in what sitting with the dying was taking out. I would like to believe that by helping me, it helped my mother. The hard-eyed realist in me doubts this. As with so many other things in life, I am agnostic about what was going on in my mother's life in her last days. She couldn't tell me; I couldn't devine it.

Rebecca Solnit, in one of her essays called "The Blue of Distance" (she has several with this same title, from the book A Field Guide to Getting Lost), says that we treat desire as a problem to be solved. That phrase has resonated with me ever since I read it shortly after my father died, a couple of years ago. The reason it has stuck with me is because I think it is true of other things that cause us discomfort as well. We treat helplessness as a problem to be solved. We treat death that way. We treat grief that way.

Solnit's thesis is that perhaps we should embrace the discomfort that unfulfilled desire causes us and accept it for its own place in our lives--that the discomfort itself creates an important form of beauty. Some things we have, she says, only so long as they remain lost to us. My head thinks that is probably true of those other "problems" as well. The trouble is that the head and the heart don't always speak the same language.

I dreamed about my mother last night. In this dream, doctors had discovered a pill that they could give her to restore her speech. Bulbar palsy had robbed her of it for most of her last two years, and here, in the dream, doctors had solved a problem they couldn't solve in waking life. The strange thing was that I felt so guilty that we had not been able to come up with a solution before this. Two years! Two years we had let her remain mute, when there was this little pill all along...I apologized to her, over and over in the dream.

But there wasn't a little pill in real life. In real life, all we could do was watch helplessly as she drifted away from us, unable to talk, to tell us how she felt about things, what made her happy, what made her sad. It was a problem that couldn't be solved, but the heart doesn't speak that language.

I don't know what the dream meant or why I had it. It was just my brain, working overtime to solve the larger problem of grief, I suppose. I awoke and wondered why I hadn't used the opportunity presented by the dream to have a conversation with her. There is so much about the last two or three years that I would have liked to talk to her about, to hear what she thought about things, to have her counsel. But I woke, and then it was too late. You can't go back to a dream.

On waking, the strange exhaustion was gone, so I got on my bike. Toward the end of my ride, as has sometimes happened over the past few months, I thought about my mother, and I cried as I rode. It is easier to manage than you might think. It is more healing than you can imagine. Somewhere in there, I rode past the point where I have fewer than 100 miles to go on the Challenge. And in this way, day in and day out, riding and letting the unsolvable problems ride along, I have arrived, finally, at this point.

Both my mother and father are gone now, and I am still uncertain what to make of this or how to proceed in a landscape in which they do not exist. For the moment, however, I am going to try not to treat grief as a problem to be solved. I am going to tell my brain to take a break and let the heart have its day. For the moment, I am going to let it ride.