Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Busy Busy - A New Start

Life. It tends to get in the way of everything else. I have almost abandoned this blog in the last few months as I let life get in the way. However in its absence I discovered that writing in my BLOG provides me with a much needed outlet for expression, and a source for my immortality. Some men conquer nations and build empires to leave their mark for eternity; I will leave this BLOG. That is until something ill fated happens to the server and all that I have toiled over is lost forever.

As a reader this lull in new articles might come as a blessing in disguise. For what ever experiences I have been busying myself with, is for more fodder for this BLOG, and for you to read, enjoy, learn, and experience. Yes the BLOG is not dead, but I plan to make a grand reappearance. Come January 1st 2011 I will start this blog up again. And as part of the new and improved I will strive to have a new post at least once a week, maybe more. Topics I have been researching include: Hot tub permanent installation, dirt bike modifications and rides, backcountry ski tech, the 300zx SMOG saga, and of course the much anticipated BABY section.

So till we meet in the new year, do what you can to get by, for the legacy will continue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wrist Rocket Slingshot - My Childhood Companion

I spent much of my childhood roaming the backyard of my parents house with a pocket full of rocks and a slingshot in my hand. Not just any sling shot but a wrist rocket.

My dad first introduced me to sling shots one day as we were doing yard work and trimming trees. He came across a forked branch and said, "This would make a perfect sling shot." After we finished our work we went in the house and began hunting for supplies. A few rubber bands from the kitchen and then a scrap of denim from beneath my mothers sewing machine. Soon I was in the back yard knocking over soda cans like a pro.

A sling shot however should not be confused with a sling. The weapon David use to defeat Goliath. A sling does not use an elastic band, and is also used to hurl a much larger stone. A sling uses two cords attached to a rock holding pouch. The rock is swung and one of the cords is release to send the rock flying.

Several years (?months) later, while shopping at Fedco (does anyone remember that store?) my father sees a commercially manufactured slingshot with a wrist support. He immediately placed the item in the shopping cart. I think the purchase was actually for himself. Having a wrist support and surgical tubing increased the efficiency of a sling shot incredibly. The one we purchased that day was a deluxe folding model. However the plastic grip eventually cracked and I replaced it with a wrist rocket original (the one picture above).

Last week, I was in the hardware store and above the drawers of nuts and bolts was a single replacement band for a wrist rocket type sling shot. I immediately placed it in my shopping cart. As soon as I got home, I found my wrist rocket (I knew exactly where it was) and replaced the broken sling, and went in my back yard to fire off a few shots.

I am very happy that I get to take this part of my fathers childhood and pass it to my child.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eurovan's Transmission Woes

It has been called the Achilles heel of the euro van; the 01p 4 speed automatic transmission. Our EuroVan Camper is on its second transmission. The first one failed at approximately 35,000 miles. It was replaced by VW under warranty with a remanufactured unit. So far the transmission is still chugging along, but care must be taken beyond what VW recommends, to insure that the transmission continues to do so.

The typical failure mode of the 01P transmission is due to overheating of the Automatic Transmission Fluid. The EVC comes equipped with a unique ATF cooler. Rather than being a fluid to air heat exchanger, it is a fluid to fluid unit. The cooler uses the engines cooling fluid and primary radiator to provide cooling to the ATF. Though a fluid to fluid cooler is typically more efficient, this particular unit does not provide enough of a temperature drop to prevent the ATF from over heating. The engine's coolant runs at a consistent 190 degree Ferlinghetti, and the small cooler certainly does not remove enough heat. As the AFT is over heated, it breaks down and oxidizes and loses its properties. An article from Go Westy suggest that transmission failures are hit or miss, based on build quality. This might be a contributing factor, but overheating, in my opinion, is still the primary reason. VW recommends the ATF be changed every 40,000 miles, however Go Westy suggest it to be changed every 15,000.

The first time tranny failed it would show signs of it by getting stuck in a low gear, and fail to upshift until the AFT had a chance to cool down. The situation would go like so: Drive the van for a few hours towards the mountains. Begin to climb a long steep grade and the transmission would downshift into 3rd or 2nd gear. At the top of the grade when one would expect the transmission to upshift, it does not, and it stays in whatever gear you climbed the hill in. Pull the van over and attempt to start off from 1st gear. The EV then does not upshift out of 1st gear. Pull over again, and kill the engine. Wait 5 minutes, start the van and drive off like nothing happened. This scenario would happen more and more often, until one day the transmission makes a loud clunk upshifting and EV comes to a lurching halt. Oil pouring out the bottom of the van and smoke bellowing out from underneath. The Death of a Transmission.

This most recent time I took possession of the EVC, I had a similar experience. After 5 hours of driving I make my way up the hill from Bishop to Mammoth. From 4th gear to 3rd gear. Climb the hill, and at the top it would not shift back to 4th. Ohh Shit, this is the start of a 3000 mile trip I have planned with my family, I do not want to worry about an exploding transmission.

I did not have the time or supplies to change out the ATF at the time, but I did start to look into the problem. Based on two separate write ups, Garreett and Baldy's , I knew that I needed some tranny specific parts to do the ATF change, and that I would not be able to get them before I departed for the long leg of my trip. However in my reading, it mentioned that the fluid level of the transmission was very important. I decided that I had to at least check this.

In order to check the fluid level one must first drop the belly pan. Though having a belly pan makes working on the van harder, it is a great item to protect vital engine parts from road debris and damage. The belly pan however is made of light gauge steel and should not be expected to act as a skid plate. Anyways the oil pan itself is not protected by the belly pan. The pan itself is well designed for serviceability. After removing the four 13mm hex head bolts, and the 10mm safety nut, the pan is still held in place by a release clip and and the pivoting hangers. This makes unassisted one man removal and installation easy. Once the pan is off you can see the engine and the transmission. The transmission fluid pan does not have a drain plug. The 5mm allen wrench bolt you see is actually a fluid overflow drain. The allen bolt is attached to a tube inside the oil pan that drains fluid which is excessive to the proper level. (drain picture not mine) The proper level is also dependant on three key points. One-the vehicle should be parked on a level surface. Two- the engine needs to be running, and Three-the AFT should be at the proper temperature.

Leveling the van is a bit tricky. Since the van sits with the nose lower than the tail, even if the van is parked on a level surface the floor is not level. Is this considered level? I used a four foot level that I set on the floor o the van, and based the level on that. However I do not think that it is super critical to get the the van perfectly level; close enough is good enough.

It doesn't seems logical that the ATF level requires the engine to be running when checking the fluid level. After all any other fluid: engine oil, coolant, manual transmission fluid, is all checked with the engine stopped. However checking the ATF when the engine is running is standard operating procedure. The torque converter and pumps needs the engine to be spinning in order to be filled and thus yeilding the proper fill amount.

The proper fluid temperature is the third key point when checking the fluid level. According to Baldy's write up, the AFT should be 130 degrees F. This is not the steady state operating temperature of the ATF. Per the factory service manual, the vehicle should be attached to a VW computer scan tool to read the temperature. However most shop mechanics just wait till the transmission pan is warm to the the touch.

Paying attention to these three key points I check the level of the ATF, and guess what: the fluid level is almost a pint overfilled. Draining this extra fluid seemed to make the transmission run smoother, however over heating symptoms would still persist on our long journey. When I returned home, I purchased the supplies required for the ATF change: fluid, filter, gasket, locking cap. I decided to go with VW approved Pentosin however I think any synthetic Dex II III, ATF would have been fine. The filter is a must, the gasket I am not sure. I think one can reuse the old gasket. And my filler was missing the red locking cap.

I will not go into detail of the actual fluid change since it is covered in great detail by the two previously linked write ups. I will, just touch up on a few finer points. The first is a series of pictures of the ATF. From top to bottom, this first picture is old AFT with 25,000 miles on it. The second brand new fluid. And the third overflow fluid, which is new fluid that has been mixed with old. You can barely tell that it is "cleaner".

The filler lock cap is released by pushing a pin into the release hole. The filler cap is simply pressed into place, with resistance provided by two o-rings. There is not mechanism to release in order to remove the cap. Just use force, however do not tweak the filler tube.

An finally how to fill the transmission with fresh fluid. The write ups will have you either buying a long tube so that you can fill from the engine bay, or buy the special filler neck with the spout. If you have beeb up to speed on your "Bill in Tahoe" readings you will know that there is a much better gear oil pump .

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Labor Day in Yosemite - Commissioner's Buttress

For those that have not known me since my college days, the screen name "MrPulldown" might be a bit of a enigma. Since it has to do with the web many think that it is associated with a pull down menu. However the term pulldown, has its origins back from the last year of College. At the last house I lived at during my senior year, I lived with a bunch of rock climbing friends. A slang term for climbing was to pulldown. One day needing a screen name, I used Mr Pulldown to describe myself; I have been using that screen name ever since.

So this picture is not one I took from this trip. However I did take it one winter day many years ago. What whould a post about Yosemite be without a picture of the Valley.

Through the following years, climbing was a sport I followed with varying degrees of passion. In the most recent years, I would describe myself as a retired rock climber, though I will still climb a few times each year. This last labor day weekend was one such time.

Through one of the original climbing roommates a large block of campgrounds were reserved, the notice to congregate was sent out, and the jingle of climbing gear once again rang in my ears. This year not only did three of the four original roommates show, along with several of our friends from the same time period, but my wife, brother, father, and son was also part of the adventure. In fact this was the first time my infant son visited the Valley.

So how was Yosemite Valley Labor Day weekend 2010? HOT. When we rolled in Friday the high temp was reported to be 97 degree, with the following three days predicted to be in the mid 90's. The crowds were not much of an issue. Once our vehicles were parked in the campsite, the shuttle fulfilled all of our transportation needs. However I did find a traffic backup traveling East into the Valley right before the 41 split. Though the popular trails were at maximum capacity, the climbing spots were only moderated busy. Our crag day at the Church Bowl did not involve any waiting. I guess climbers tend to stay away from the Valley on such popular weekends.

The real climbing was done on Sunday, when my brother and I roped up to climb Commissioner's Buttress. It is a lesser known 5.9 on Manure Pile Buttress. The climb was recently featured in January 2010's issue of Rock and Ice Magazine, as one of the best unknown climbs of Yosemite. Though the name does not spark instant conversation and the one star rating doesn't get tons of press, the climb is a true Valley classic. First ascent by Galen Rowell and Joe Faint 1969, the route has often been described as "old school". What seems like an awkward fashion term, old school in this case harks to the Golden age of climbing where routes were hard and the men who put them up where even harder. CB is truly a vertical rock adventure. If you have got to the point of pumping out 5.9's in the gym, you are in no shape to lead this climb. From finger locks to off widths this climb takes you through cracks, lie backs, stems, and roofs.

The above picture is not my own. I must give credit to "Trad" from the the SuperTopo Forum .

CB starts to the right of the famous Nut Cracker route on the Manuer Pile Buttress. Stay low on the approach till you pass the large buttress, then head towards the rock. The climb starts at an odd long rock that has partially broken off the main buttress, a pine tree is located right in front of the rock. 100 feet up the main crack is a large pine tree. The first two pitches of the climb are the most notable. The rest of the climb is just to top out and is dirty and lose. The climb tops out above the nutcracker platform. Down climb 3rd/4th class to the main gully trail used for decent. The option of bailing to the right after the first two pitches is possible.

A topo of the route can be found the Reid Falcon Valley Free Climb Guide. Unfortunatly i could not find the topo in the Supertopo's Valley Guide.

So the next time you get a chance head out to the Valley and enjoy the good tidings the mountains bring, and don't forget to pulldown!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Foot pegs for sure footing - passenger and driver alike

When riding a motorcycle, at any one time it is possible that your entire body weight rest on one foot peg. Thus it is important that your foot pegs make a solid connection with your foot. Traditionally the foot rest of a motorcycle was a simple metal rod covered with rubber. However these days the peg of a dirt oriented motorcycle more resembles a pedal of a bicycle or a small platform with protruding teethes. The foot pegs that came on my DR 350 were in bad shape. Not only where they small, and the teeth worn smooth, but they were bent as well. Foot pegs of dirt bikes are usually spring loaded and designed to fold up when the bike is dropped. This prevent the peg from taking too much damage. However, even with this design feature, over time the foot rest get pretty beat up.

The stock foot pegs on the DR are pretty small and I wanted an up grade. There are some really fancy foot rest out there with a very fancy price tag. The Fastways pegs for example are $130. The IMS super stock pegs are more reasonable at $75. But that was until I found the Ebay special foot pegs for $20 "buy now". Cheap bastards can bid and possible get them for $15. The ebay pegs are basically a IMS knockoff. I have seen them in other catalogs labeled as Volar Motor sports pegs.

Installation took approximately 30 seconds per side. Remove cotter pin, slide out pivot, remove old peg, insert new peg making sure the spring is properly positioned, replace pivot, replace cotter pin. Ok most people should budget 5 minutes per side for installation.

These foot pegs gave an instant boast to my riding ability. The foot contact is improved dramatically. It seems that my foot no longer needs to hunt for the peg, but is there when ever I apply downward force. The sharp biting teeth allow me to hang off the back or the side without fear of slipping off. A good rider might be able to ride fine on a greased up wooden dowel for a foot peg. But for those that lack the technical skill, any amount of mechanical help is appreciated.

The rear passenger foot pegs of the DR are in fact just rubber coated pegs. Upon one of my first rides I heard a loud clunk coming from the rear of the bike, as I landed a small jump. Upon closer inspection I discovered that the rear passenger foot peg was making contact with the swing arm, under suspension compression. The rear pegs are not spring loaded and do not fold up when pressure is applied. Instead they can be flipped down when in use or stored in the up position when not in use. The previous owner of the bike must have dropped the bike with a passenger on board, or simple left the peg down when the incident happened. The result was a bent right side passenger foot peg bracket and mounting tab. The bracket and tab were bent in such a way that it would contact the swing arm. I could have removed the bracket and peg completely, but I wanted to retain the ability to comfortably carry a passenger.

I removed the bracket in attempt to bend it back with a hammer and a vice. This did not work as the bracket and mounting tabs were very stout. I guess that is expected since it needed to support the weight of a person. So I mounted the bracket back on the bike and decided to give it a pull. I anchored the frame of the motorcycle to a large tree in my large. I then hooked up a "come-along" to the receiver hitch of my truck and to the bent foot peg bracket. Tensioning up they system took the most effort. Once everyhting was tight, it only took a few clicks of the hand winch to pull the bracket and tab straight. I was concerned that I might bend the frame of the bike in my attempts to bend the bracket back into shape. However the bracket and tab moved easily back into place with little force and no displacement of the frame itself.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pesto, Pasta and Squash

One of the fun things about getting a CSA is that you never know what you might get. Rather than eating the same ol same olds, you get to be creative and explore. One item that has been showing up in our CSA often is basil. Basil is such a wonderful plant. It is considered a spice, but can also be eaten as a vegetable.

Though there is always a use for basil. We decided to take this weeks share and make fresh pesto out of it. Ever since moving out of my folks house at the age of 18, spaghetti is a staple diet for 90% of everyone I know. In our house, we still have it at least once a week. To give the noodles a flare, we occasionally mix in pesto instead of red sauce. What is even more exciting is when you make pesto out of fresh basil.

It always impresses me when my wife cooks. Though we cook nearly every night, last nights spaghetti dinner inspired me to post about it. Even a plain pasta dinner can be fixed so that it is not only exotic but delicious. The following is my wife's age old family recipe (ok just off the Internet but I am sure it is an age old family receipt) for pesto:

4c basil, 1/2 c olive oil, 1/3 c pine nuts, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 c Parmesan cheese, 1t salt.

As with me and recipe sthis is just a guideline for approximate ratios of ingredients. This night we ran out of pine nuts so substituted with walnuts. We also deleted the salt cause there is way too much salt in everything we eat already. And just for poops and giggles, some sun dried tomatoes were thrown into the mix. The entire concoction was whipped up in a food processor.

I have been learning to like whole wheat pastas. Failing, but trying. Recently we found a whole wheat pasta that I think is decent. Garofalo by La Pasta Di Grangnano. Their 100% whole wheat organic spaghetti, has excellent texture and a complex flavor. One forgets that it is simply spaghetti that is melting in you mouth.

One final touch that can give your dull pasta a kick is to add some squash to it. I am not talking about some grilled squash to the sauce, but to add it right to the noodles themselves. This was a tip gained from some reality TV show. With a grater shred some squash up into long shreds. Dump this into boiling water the same time as you throw in the raw spaghetti. From then on out simply forget the you have squash in with your noddles and cook accordingly.

Bon appetit

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Coffee Maker Care - a half cocked pot

Does this look familiar. The bottom of your new coffee makers gets corroded and rusty after a short period of time. I had always thought this is the way things were; coffee maker's heating bases live a hard life. However there is a way to prolong that heating surface.

I had some guest stay the night at my house once. In the morning they had made breakfast including coffee. Before they left they washed out my coffee pot. However instead of replacing the coffee pot all the way onto the seat they left it half cocked on the rim. I didn't think much of it, till I thought about it later. This was done so that the base would have a chance to air dry. Placing a wet coffee pot on a wet base never allows the surface to dry. The wet acidic environment causes the surface to prematurely eroded. I thought this was quite clever.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

VW Eurovan Camper- The drive

Several months ago you might have remembered a post about me trying to sell the families 2002 VW Eurovan Camper. We got as far as finding a buyer, and was about to make the deal. However my entire family fell into a depression when the idea of not having the mini camper was soon to become a reality. So the day before the deal was to happen, I pulled it from the table. Sucks, but my fathers happiness was more important. My dad did take the potential buyer out to lunch to apologize, and they are current still in contact with each other and friends. The potential buyer soon became an owner of a VW Eurovan Camper as well.

I would have titled this post "first drive impressions" but that would not have been accurate since I have driven the camper many many miles already. In fact I lived in it for three months once. Regardless, how a vehicle drives is one of the most important attributes of a review.

Stepping into the Eurovan one immediately gets the feeling they are entering a work van. The built in step, "A" pillar grab bar, upright captain's chair. The swinging motion into the drivers seat is a very big rig like, quite different than the typical ingress to a passenger car. The location of the driver relative to the vehicle is also unique. Though the driver is not perched directly above the front left tire, one is placed just behind. In fact the hump of the wheel well acts as a dead pedal of sorts. This however follows the VW bus lineage, where due to the rear engine configuration placed the driver right in the very front of the van. In fact drivers of older VW buses found them selves seated in front of the front wheels.

The controls are laid out in a very simple utilitarian fashion. The dash board follows the contours of the windshield without extra protrusions for ergo, or that fighter jet cockpit feel. Many of the knobs, buttons, and instrumentation are standard VW parts shared with Jettas and Passats of the same era. There is nothing wrong with this at all. Why make different defrost buttons for each car when one will do. Though basic, if seen from a old school VW buser's eye, the dashboard and instrumentation has a very modern feel. One of the first things to catch my attention is the aftermarket Sony Explode CD stereo, and the blank button pop outs. I hate blank pop outs. It makes you feel like you are missing out on some great factory gizmo. The stereo is basic with no aux in, ipod connection, or MP3 format disk capability, after all this is 2002. The stereo does have good sound, and higher than average output (52 watts x4). The flip down face of the Explode unit however is less than desirable.

Adjusting the mirrors, you might or might not notice that the two rear view mirrors are different sizes and shapes. The driver side is rectangular and wide, the passenger's is taller. It took me a little bit to realize they were different and even longer to understand why. My guess for the asymmetric mirrors are because the blind spot on the driver side is larger. This is due to the fact that sitting on the left side of the vehicle allows for a greater field of view to the right. This blind spot is made worse when the EV is a camper. When the basic EV is configured to be a camper, the rear driver side window is not cutout and thus lacking windows to look through. Once properly situated the three rear views mirrors provide a great rear field of view, giving the driver the feeling that they are commanding a much smaller vehicle than the EV actually is. With the headrest of the rear bench seat removed there are no blind spots even with the entire rear passenger side of the van paneled out.

Starting the EV with the silly key fob is more difficult than it should be. The body of the fob does not provide a good grip to deliver the twisting motion needed. When you finally get the key turned, the engine winds to life with a very "German" wirl. The gear selector and the e-brake are located on the floor to the right. The gear selector requires the driver to hold the brake pedal down and the depress a release button to shift out of drive; this is pretty normal. What is not normal is the need to push the release button to go from R to N and from N to drive. What is even worse is shifting from D to 3. The fact that you must push the button is not bad, it is that you DO NOT need to push the button to go from 3 to 2. Downshifting from D to 3 should be done carefully. It is very easy to overshoot 3 and go to 2, while downshifting. This could cause to engine and transmission to rev at extremely unsafe RPMs.

Starting in 2001 VW EV's were equipped with a 2.8 liter, 201 horse power, 24 valve V6- the VR6. The VR6 is interseting in the fact that the two rows of cylinders are offset by only 15 degrees instead of the typical 45 degree offset. This gives this particular V6 engine a very narrow block like an in-line type motor, easily suited for many front wheel drive applications. The 24 valve VR6 is the most powerful engine every installed in a VW van from the factory, and you can tell. Stomping on the gas from a stop the EV accelerates at a rate one would not expect from a VW van. Even though the van weighs approximately 5000lbs, the low gearing optimizes the 201 hp. The low gearing is noticed as the 4 speed automatic transmission allows the van to humm along at 65mph while spinning the engine at 3000 RPM's.

The car feel of the EV is apparent even when you drive. It maneuvers easily and is narrow enough that you feel comfortable with it's dimensions. The power steering is heavy for a passenger car, but not so much that it a hindrance. The front suspension has plenty of caster built in that you never get the wandering feeling many large vans have. The major complaint of the drive is that the ride is woefully soft. Not only is the suspension soft, but the chassis lacks rigidity. A soft ride is expected since this is a camper van and not a sports car, but the EVC drives like a cooked noodle. Soft shocks and small sway bar gives the van a very sailboat like roll in corners. The large hole cut in the roof for the pop top does not help the overall rigidity, as the van groans and creeks over driveway cutouts. The car like feel of the van is lost when subjected to winding roads or off pavement conditions.

VW did the the EV van right by matching the powerful motor with equally powerful brakes. The 12" disk brakes have never felt inadequate. Fuel efficiency is good for a vehicle of its size. 20mpg can easily be obtained when road tripping, and 16 mpg is returned if you do alot of hotrodding. Not going into camper features, two other functions are good and worth mentioning. The front windows have both one touch up and down features for both driver and passenger side windows. Most of today's cars still don't have the dual one touches on both windows. The rear defrost is also unique. At the base where the windshield wipers sit there are some extra passes of the defrost element. This is to prevent snow and ice build up below the wiper, and to help prevent it from freezing to the rear windshield.

The first time I had interest in VW campers was in the early 80's when my dad and I went to a VW showroom. Many years later my father bought one, and once I am taking possession of to use for a road trip. I have a few days between driving it to my house and departing for a trip. Those few days were busily spent prepping the camper for my adventure with it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reno Ride 200 Enduro

Every year the Reno Dust Devils Motorcycle club hosts the Reno Ride 200. A 200 mile dirt bike ride over the course of two days. I found out about the event last year, but was still to much of a rookie to participate. Both in my riding ability, and in the condition of my machine. I have spent the remainder of last years riding season and this to prepare.
Though I rarely participate in organized events, they are great to help you get into a new activity. I will be participating in this years Reno Ride 200, at least the first day. The first day is the big day; 130 miles.
If anyone is interested in doing this ride, let me know.
vroom vroom

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The power of the SUN

Solar energy. What is there not to like about it. It's free, clean, and renewable. Though most of the time we think about turning light into electricity or heat, we often forget about one of the oldest forms of solar power: clothes drying. When I was a youngster, almost all of our clothes were dried in the sun. We never thought of using a gas or electric dryer unless it was raining out.

Pluses to drying your clothes in the sun include: free, great smell, and disinfecting. Cons to sun drying of your clothes include: time consuming, sun bleaching, and stiffness.

I had some time this weekend to wash a load of baby clothes. Instead of using the dryer I opted to line dry the items. Though I could have used a foldable drying rack, the cable railing of the deck provided amble drying space.

The first step was to wipe down the line. Being outside, even lines which appear clean will cause a mark on white clothes. Next I hung and affixed a clothes pin to each article of clothing. After several hours, I took the clothes down and threw them into the dryer for a quick fluff. This softened the clothes and removed the unwanted starchiness of line dried clothes.

We often go to great length to save a buck. Coupon clipping, DIY project instead of hiring out. But line drying clothes is a easy way to save some money, and our earth, while have great smelling clothes.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My New Bike -Trek 360

For those who do not know: Steel is REAL. If you are a cyclist you must have heard that cliché a hundred times. But it is true. Especially when you are talking about True Temper Double butted 4130. Let's back up a bit and tell this story from the start.

Back when I was in high school I had my first bicycle stolen from me. A Motive mountain bike. Feeling my loose, my buddy from the Polo team gave me an old bike. A Trek road bike. That Trek, which I never knew the make (since it had already had a custom paint job), has been with me since that day. It was last configured as a flat bar road bike.

When I was employed as a bike mechanic, a customer brought in a Centurion bike as a parts donor. The bike was blue with chrome lugs. After I created a monstrosity of a bike for this customer, he gave the frame to me. A friend of mine had always liked those bikes. After a year went by and the bike never saw a complete build up, he propositioned me for a trade. The beautiful Centurion for a Yellow Trek 360. I accepted.

The 360 was almost identical to the Trek I was given in high school. Same size, and basic build, lugged steel. However there where three features that made this bike more appealing. 700c wheels, recessed brake bolts, and better frame material. My old bike had 27" wheels. This was the popular American "10 speed" size. Modern road bike typically run 700, millimeter diameter, "C" lincher wheel/tires. All modern road bike caliper brakes use a nut that fits into a frame recess. Modern dual pivot brakes are the equivalent to disk brakes vs drum brakes, when compared to old single pivot side pulls. Though I never knew exactly the frame material of my first Trek, due to the weight, I did not think that the steel was of the highest quality. Though the 360 is their lower line bike, the frame build up is still high quality. Often times the lower line is simply the same frame as the high end bike, with cheaper components.

So what makes a high quality steel frame? Cromoly Steel, double butted tubes, with investment cast lugs. Steel alloyed with Chromium, and Molybdenum, is often referred to as Cromoly, Cromo, aircraft tubing or aircraft grade steel. Any of the various Cromoly steels will have a numerical designation which starts with 41xx. 4130 is the most popular for bikes. Cromoly steel has great strength to weight ratio, stronger and harder than the average steel, and easy to weld. Used in bike frames to AK-47 receivers. Stronger also means lighter since less steel is required to make the frame. I once read that a lightweight steel frame, if melted down, would result in a brick the approximate size of a deck of cards.

Straight gauge, single butted, and double butted are the various forms a bikes frame tube comes in. The primary difference being the thickness of the tubes. The primary stresses of a section of tubing exist at the ends where it is connected to another piece of tubing, either by welds or by lugged fittings. The center portion sees less stresses and thus does not require the same thickness of tubing as the ends. Double butted tubes are the lightest and most refined of the three configurations.

The preferred method for joining steel tubes of a bike frame is with lugs , or specially designed fittings which the tubes slip into. The tubes are then brazed to the lugs. Lugs are made in two ways: cast and stamped. Due to the complex geometry of lugs, stamped lugs are made in halves then welded together. The rough stamped lugs are then filled down. This filing make for poor fitting tubes and slope in the design angles. Investment casting is just a fancy way of saying lost wax casting. A wax part is created. A clay mold is made of the wax. The wax is melted out and replaced with steel. I am sure there is a more efficient mass production method of this form of casting which is used. I was very impressed with the lugs on this bike. The top tube/ seat tub lug, as a built in seat post binder, and strengthening nubs on the seat stay attachment. The rear dropouts which technically is not considered a lug shows it attention to detail. The chain hook, and the "69" which I am sure is not a serial number.

The thing that throws most people off is that I use a flat bar instead of the standard road styled drop bars. I am foremost a mountain biker. When on a road bike I never use the drops, and am not completely comfortable in that position. Thus I use a mountain bike type flat bar. I fitted the bike with primarily Shimano Ultegra parts with a few Dura Ace goodies thrown in the mix. I used a XT long cage derailleur mated to an 12-34, 9 speed XT cassette. Rear shifting is achieved by a Shimano Rapid fire shifters. However the front shifting is accomplished by a grip shifter. Rapid fire front shifters only allows a single fix position for each chain ring. However the grip shift have several clicks per ring to allow for fine trimming. I used non "V" brake style brake levers, which pull the correct amount of cable to match my dual pivot brake calipers. Rear wheel is a beat to hell ex San Fransisco messenger wheel, Shimano Ulterga hub and Mavic Open Pro rims. Front wheel is some dumpster radial laced jobbie.

Overall this is a very fast old steel bike. The frame has considerably more pop to it then the old Trek. I still need to dial in some cable routing and finding a properly size stem. But I have been riding it. Next time you see me rolling through your neighborhood on my Trek 360, you'll know: I am keeping it REAL!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Monkey See Monkey Do - Peeling Bananas the Monkey Way

Most of us have grown up peeling bananas the human way; Stem side first. This is easy if the banana is ripe, you have nails, or a knife. However have you ever tried to peel a banana only to have the stem fold and not brake apart from the rest of the peel. This usually bruises the top portion of the banana.

If you have ever spent any time watching monkeys eat bananas, you know that they do the peeling quite differently. They peel it from the base side. Hey if the pros do it this way, why shouldn't we.
Since watching this video, my life has been forever changed. I now peel my bananas the monkey way, and am nery again frustrated with a banana that won't peel or becomes bruised by my effort.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

CSA - Produce Box

We received our first produce box of the season. Boy am I excited. Recently I have become more aware of where my food comes from. Aware of the bad farming practices, the dangers of pesticides and genetic alternation of our food. Aware of the negative effects food has on our health and environment. Our family made a decision to put forth an effort to "eat better". Eating better does not simply mean what types of food we eat but where we get our food, and how it is grown. Spending more money on quality food is worth it. I rather not have cable TV, or wear designer jeans, in exchange for local organic food.

Our CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, comes from a small farm in New Castle California: The Natural Trading Company. Up here the growing season is too short and no farms exist. However just down the hill from us plants flourish. The farm is within 100 miles of us, and we get a box delivered once a week. Pick up locations are grouped. In today's box we received: arugula, squash, spring garlic, spring onions, Kale, sugar snap peas, lettuce, pea shoots, bok choy, kohlrabi, naval oranges, gala apples, and ruby grape fruit. Eating has become an adventure!

Find a local CSA in your area, and start reaping the benefits.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Save Your Sole!!

At some point in our lives we feel that hope might be lost forever. That the path we have chosen, might have left our sole in poor shape. Well not to worry, it can be repaired. No I am not a priest, nor will I direct you to your local place or worship. Instead, simply head out to the garage with your damaged sole and let's get to work.

The sole in question today is from a pair of The North Face approach/bowling/hipster shoes (not mine, I would never wear faux bowling hipster shoes). The heel area began to peel away from the foam shortly after they were new. Though not terminal, it was annoying for the owner.

The secret to shoe repair is choosing the correct type of adhesive. After all the only thing that is really keeping your sole in place is the glue! Ok, some boot soles are glued, stitched, and sewn in place. I have attempted to repair this sole one epoxy night, however epoxy is not the right type of glue. It is too stiff and does not flex with the rubber and foam. Without the ability to conform is breaks its bond between the two surfaces. Instead Barge Cement should be used when making sole repairs.

First thing to do is to remove as much of the old glue as possible. Next wash the two surfaces that you are planning to glue. Apply the glue to both sides, allow to dry and "tack" up, 10-15 minutes depending on air temperature. My garage was close to freezing and required about 25 minutes before the glue would tack up. Press the two surfaces firmly against each other, wiping off any excess glue which might ozzzes out.

Here is the trickiest part. Since the two halves do not want to stay together on their own, you need to apply pressure till the cement is fully cured. Holding the soles of these shoes together for 12 hours was not an options. With this type of thing, I usually use clamps or weights. However in this application neither of those options would have worked out. The curves surface needed varying degrees of force applied at different angles. The solution: TAPE. I used electrical tape and "tape the hell out of" the sole. Seemed to work out pretty good. I left the shoes in this state for two days before removing the tape and returning them to their owner. I do not think that this was nessary, just happened that way.

And there you have it, another sole saved!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

09-10 Ski Season BackCountry Set Up

Though the 2009-2010 ski season is almost over. The Back Country ski season is under full swing. This year, I changed my BC ski set up almost completely. With my annual spring overnight ski trip coming up, a bit of fine tuning of ski gear is happening. What better time to showcase my set up than now.
Skis-2005 Salomon 1080, 171 cm

Bindings-2010 G3 Onyx

Boots-First Gen Garmont Mega Ride
Skins-Black Diamond guild light 80mm with twin tip tails

Ski Crampons- B&D 80mm with F1 style post

Poles- Komperdell flick lock carbon 2 piece

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Moto Stand

There comes a time in every motorcycle riders life when you need to lift your bike off the ground. This can be accomplished in many different ways. Built in center stands, rear wheel lifts, motorcycle specific lifts, milk crates, paint buckets, lift slings, moto-jack stands

Tired of all the make shift methods, I finally got myself a real moto stand. It helped that I did not have to drop big dollars on one. $29.99

The lift mechanism requires me to stand on the lift pedal to lift my 300lb ish DR 350. The bike is still more or less balanced on the stand, so beware of the bike shifting and falling off it you remove a large amount of weight suddenly; like removing a wheel. Before buying check that the height of the stand will work for your bike. With mine, it was a little tall. I need to rock the bike slightly up on its kick stand in order to get the lift stand to slide under.

Another method that works well is a floor jack and a piece of 2x6".

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Cove - Not Knowing Is So Much Easier

So much media attention has been given towards the hunting to whales by the Japanese lately that it is common knowledge. However a news headline has so little information. Recently a documentary movie has been getting alot of media attention, yet it is still relatively unknown to the main stream public. Across the nation this film seem to snatching up awards at film festivals. I knew it was about some ill fated dolphins, but till last night I had no idea the depths of the subject.

Sometimes not knowing is easier than knowing. And now that I know I feel obligated to do something about it.

At the very least I will make a contribution

I under stand now Bob Barker!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Leaking Air Compressor - Check Valve Repair

This last summer I rebuilt my deck. A friend of mine came over to help install some seismic reinforcements. This included a bracket which tied the deck to the house. The bracket was held in place with many Simpson SDS screws. Since the bracket was located between a set of joists, space was limited when selecting which tool was to be used to drive the screws. Cranking each of the screws by hand with a ratchet was too labor intensive. The solution was a pneumatic ratchet. Pneumatic ratchets however use alot of air. While driving all the screws in, my air compressor must have continuously ran for 30-45 minutes. After this particular job my air compressor developed a slow air leak. Though not terminal, this leak was annoying. Not only was there a constant high pitched hiss, but the compressor would fire up often, even when not in constant use as it would keep the pressure in the holding tank to level.

What I suspect had happened was the prolong running of the compressor overheated a component, most likely one of the valves. So I decided to investigate. At first pass it appears that the unloader valve was leaking. This is a mechanical valve located in the electrical switch area. The valve is a pneumatic/mechanical valve that triggers the electrical switch to turn on, when it senses low pressure. Though leaking, this valve what not the culprit.

Pressurized air is supply to the storage tank through a feed line. This feed line enters a check valve prior to the storage tank. Though it looks like air from the compressor enters the check valve, from the thick brass line, then goes out through the smaller line; the check valve is actually a three way valve with air entering the storage tank at the base of the valve. The thin brass line goes to the unloader valve mentioned earlier.

By removing the cap on the end of the check valve the inside working can be removed. Check valves are relatively simple; consisting of a spring and rubber cap, or seal. The picture of the check valve spring is not the same type as the one I took apart. It is simply there to show the basic make up of such a valve. The overheating of the check valve, over heated the spring. Like taking a torch to your cars suspension coil springs to lower your ride. The heating of the spring weakened it to the point that it no longer sealed the pressurized air from the tank. The air would leak back through the check valve and would enter both the compressor and the unloader valve. That is why at initial inspection it appeared that the unloader valve was leaking.

The proper repair for this job would have been to order a new spring and possible a new sealing cap. However I simply pulled the existing spring apart and stretched it out. This increase in spring tension was enough to return the check valve to full functionality. Though this type of cold working of the spring metal is not recommended, this is a low risk part. If it fails again, I might consider a new spring.

As my friend's grandpa once put it, "Good enough for the girls we go with!"

Monday, March 22, 2010

Silvretta Easy Go 500 - User Guide

After reading my last post about the Silvretta AT binding it, it occurred to me that I never discussed about the "how-to's" of the binding. If you recently acquired such a binding, how do you adjust it for your boot? How do you set the DINs? I borrowed some pictures from Lou Dawson at, and am off to share some info.

-Boot length. At the rear of the heel lever apparatus is a screw. Turning this screw translates the heel section along the rails. This adjusts the binding to fit various lengths of boots. From Wildsnow, it appears that newer models of the 500 come equipped with a lever, which when activated allows the heel portion to slide along the rails. Adequate forward boot pressure is indicated by the same adjustment screw, or from a small "button" at the end of release latch. With the boot snapped into the binding, the adjustment screw or indicator button, sits flush with the housing. Forward boot pressure is not a selectable setting. Do not adjust this setting for more or less forward boot pressure.

-Boot catch DIN.Though there is no toe release mechanism, the 500's comes equipped with two rear DIN settings. The first is the heel lever DIN. This setting controls the amount of force required to flip the heel lever onto your boot. It acts as release in the vertical direction. This DIN is adjusted by flipping open an access port and inserting a screwdriver as indicated by the red arrow. If you are using leather mountaineering boots, it is easy to adjust this setting to much so that the heel lever catch presses into the boot so hard that it deforms the heel cup.

-Lateral release DIN. This is the most obvious DIN setting with the adjustment screw in plan view. What is not obvious and most likely the most mysterious aspect of this binding, is how to reset the binding once you have tripped the lateral release. Notice the indicator arrow and the locator dot pictured in the red circle. When the lateral release has been trigger the dot and the indicator arrow will no longer be aligned, and the binding needs to be reset. To reset the lateral release, flip the heel lever forward and strike the heel lever in the forward direction with the palm of your hand. The internal mechanism will POP, and the indicators will once again line up. Without resetting your binding, there is no way for the boot to be reattached to the binding.

-Rear Heel Latch. The previously mentioned heel lever, attaches the boot to the binding. The rear heel latch, latches the front pivoting platform of the binding to the ski for downhill mode. It also incorporates various levels of heel lifters. The pictured latch is the original latch. As praised in my previous post, the old style heel latch is very well thought out and easy to use. All functions can be performed with a ski pole. On a bench top it is easy to flip the latch from one mode to another with your hand. In the field, doing so with a ski pole, can save alot of effort, however it does take some practice. From Ski mode, on can enter tour mode by depressing the blue button, indicated by the red arrow. Once out of ski mode, one can manipulate the lifters by either inserting the ski pole tip in the direction of the black arrow and torquing the lifter in the desired direction, or hooking the ski pole basket into the notch where the yellow arrow is, and pulling. You will need to lift the boot and binding in conjunction with lifter manipulation so as to either clear the lifter or to prevent from over positioning the lifter. The square patch indicated by the blue arrow is used to set and lock the binding back into ski mode. After a long tour session, the heel catch area might have ice accumulation on it and prevent the binding from sitting down all the way on its base. A quick jab with a pole tip is usually sufficient in releasing the ice build up. Running the binding in the first elevator also prevents the accumulating snow from compacting into ice, as well a preventing wear at the ski mode latch interface as mentioned in the previous post.
So now that you have figured out how to use this binding, go out and get some turns on the most versatile binding every made!!
UPDATE- If you are looking for a pair of these bindings here is a deal.