Sunday, December 16, 2007

Best Commuter Bike Ever Project, Part 3

With the paint is done, I turned to building the wheels. The front has a Shimano DH-3D71 generator hub with 32 holes. I laced it to a Velocity Aeroheat rim with black painted stainless steel spokes and red anodized aluminum nipples for a little bling. The tires are Ritchey Tom Slicks.

The rear hub is a Shimano Nexus 8 Premium. I laced it to another Velocity Aeroheat rim, but with 36 spokes.

The handlebars are Soma Sparrows. I really like these. Here is the bike with no fenders tires, or cables.

Here is the bike basically done except for cable routing. I have taped cables to the frame so that I can commute on it temporarily. It is a REALLY great ride. Whereas I have been able to sense mechanical loss in other internal hubs, I really don't feel any in this hub. It is great. And the generator hub is very low drag, too. I haven't weighed the bike, but even with both hubs it feels like it doesn't weigh much more than my Lemond Poprad road/cross bike. Here is a photo of the bike. Please excuse the massive stash of house paint, pesticides, and other junk. There's a foot of snow on the ground outside.

****NEWS FLASH****
I came across a titanium Merlin mountain bike frame and HAD to buy it. I am strongly considering transferring all of the components to the Merlin for no reason than I really like titanium. We'll see.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Best Commuter Bike Ever Project, Part 2

To get the bike ready for painting, I cleaned everything off with aerosol automotive brake cleaner. I figured this would be good for cleaning off grease and dirt. After it dried, I used a file to clean off the nicks that had been raised by chain suck by the previous owner. He had been a distributor of these frames, and this was his last frame, a demonstrator model. I then removed the derailleur hanger. I used blue painter's tape to mask the brake posts, bottom bracket threads, head tube openings, and seat tube opening.

I screwed in one of the bottle cage screws and balanced the bike on my bike stand with all of frame supported by this screw. Having painted my fixed gear commuter in the basement, I knew how to get the painting done without killing everyone in my house with the fumes. I open a window in the basement and aim a fan out the window and turn it on full blast. The bike stand is set up only a foot or two from the fan. All of the fumes are carried directly out the window. Two or three coats of primer, and it is good to go. So I painted it this way.

The resulting finish was a bit rough because the primer it came it was rough. I coated it with two coats of gloss clear, and this seems to have created a really nice finish. Kind of a hammered texture.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

New Orleans Cleanup -or- Our Basement Renovation Project

Our basement is our shame. When we moved in, it was pristine. But we have accumulated lots of stuff down there as time has passed. It is bad. Like really bad. To the point that we started to refer to it as the "9th Ward." I know it's insensitive, but it's pretty accurate.

Seeing the basement of our wonderful neighbors inspired us to clean the basement up and build a playroom for the kids in it. We didn't want to go whole hog because the ceilings are only 6'3" and we are worried that the basement might flood someday.

I won't document the whole thing here, but here are some highlights. We decided to wall in a playroom, creating three rooms in the basement--a playroom, an exercise room, and the storage/tool room. The boiler would be open to the storage room but have access through a door in the playroom.

The footers for the walls are extra tall. There are two pressure-treated 2x4s and one normal 2x4. That means three footers. Again, flood paranoia. I nailed the footers to the cement floor with a powder-actuated nail gun (the cheapest one from Home Depot, about $20). Then I framed it in with 2x4s. We know that with the ceilings being so low that this would never be "legal" square footage, but I tried to build it all to code anyway. Basically the process was to lay down footers, build walls where possible on the ground and then nail them to the footers. Framing in the stairwell walls was somewhat challenging because it required doing some modifications to the existing staircase. Then came drywall, mud and tape, sanding, and primer. We had some masonry work done to reseal the stucco on the lower part of the foundation wall so that cement wouldn't flake off when kids bump into it. We painted the floor with Rustoleum Basement Floor Epoxy paint. And the coup de grace, in my opinion, is the addition of foam tiles from These are really great. They insulate the floor and really transform it into a play space. You can fall on your elbows or knees with no ill effect.

The biggest disappointment is my experience with the three custom made Jeld-Wen doors from Home Depot. From start to finish, these doors have been a bad experience. Home Depot wasn't able to show me the doors I was ordering. Then when the doors arrived they looked nothing like what the salesperson had described to me. To top it off, the trim I paid for is missing. I can't get the "Millwork Expediter" (named Paul Nelson at the Watertown, Massachusetts Home Depot) to return a phone call or to track them down. Actually, to REALLY top it all off, the screws attaching the door hinges to the frames on two of the doors are stripped out. That is Jeld-Wen's fault. In my work I have occasion to look at operations in many companies. It is really difficult for companies to go this "last mile" in their operations, but this is where the real work is. It is one thing to strategize about this stuff, but the hard work is getting a little process like this one to work well repeatably. It is quite revealing to have an experience like this when I am dressed in my dirty jeans and am a normal customer. I spent about $500 on these doors, which is about 10% of what I have spent at Home Depot in the last five years. I may just start going to Lowe's, even though it is much farther away.

Anyway, we had a sleeping bag family slumber party the first night, and it was comfortable enough to sleep on. There is a bit more to do with baseboard and door trim. The photos below are from about the same vantage point, and show the process of construction.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Another Non-Trash Euro Rental

Just got back from a business tip to the UK. I was able to get a VW GTI from Hertz. It is an absolutely awesome car, apart from the fact that VW mistakenly placed the steering wheel on the right side of the car. A few quick notes:

1. The car is really competent at high speed. I went 125 mph with absolutely no drama. It was dead quiet, totally solid, and very confidence inspiring. It was accelerating pretty smartly at 125 in 6th gear when I ran out of cojones. I don't know what the top speed of this car is, but it sure felt like an honest-to-goodness 150-mph car.

2. Had the same experience with letting off the gas that I had in the diesel Ford in Germany. That is, after building lots of boost flooring the throttle for a while and then lifting off the gas, the car continues to accelerate. So is this a turbo thing, not just a turbo diesel thing? I have had a few turbo cars (Mazda 323GTX, Audi 5000S turbo), and I don't recall this behavior. But maybe I never noticed it. Another possibility is that the GTI's engine is a lot like a diesel engine in that is has no throttle butterflies (it is direct injection if I understand it correctly). Hmmm.

3. I used 3/4 tank of gas, and it cost me 40 pounds ($80 USD) to fill it up. Yikes!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Rollin' with the Homiez (and William Shatner)

There is a disturbing lack of respect in certain quarters for my taste in music. Actually, almost everyone in the world other than my wife thinks I have good taste in music. It is a source of some sadness for both of us. She has never gotten over the fact that I missed out on the superhip (in her mind, at least) "Grunge" years because I was in Italy when it was all going down. I won't even stoop to make fun of that genre because it is too easy. Seriously, making fun of the body odor, plaid shirts, and unintelligible lyrics is like shooting fish in a barrel. I am strong, so I will resist.

I think that the root of the problem (the problem being her disrespect, not my bad taste) is that it is quite difficult to make sense of my music. Walk by my office during the day and you may hear Handel, Christina Aguilera, the Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, CCR, Jose Carreras (but not that no-talent a** clown Pavarotti [may he rest in peace] and for that matter not Michael Bolton either]), the Chili Peppers, or William Shatner. I am an omnivore. So what radio station should I listen to when I am driving? They are all nice some of the time. But when you really get to jonesing for Boston or Erasure, how do you find them on the radio before the urge passes and you want to listen to Robert Earl Keen?

It turns out that this is what iPods were invented for. My car doesn't have a line-in jack on the dash for iPods, so I needed to do something clever. I found a solution on eBay in the form of a kit specifically made for my car. It is called the Dension Ice Link Plus. You have to pull off the dash around the radio (about a five minute job) and then plug it into the back of the radio. The kit tricks your radio into thinking your iPod is a cd changer. In fact, it translates commands from the radio buttons for your iPod, and these are passed along to the iPod so that it skips songs, etc. I mounted the iPod mount on the dash in a blank space. It looks pretty darned good if I do say so myself--a pretty sanitary installation. After a bit of difficulty with the initial setup, it works great. I couldn't be happier.