2007 Tour de Cure

Sunday, May 6 2007 was the setting for Wheely Cool Velo Club to participate in our annual charity event: the Napa Tour de Cure, benefiting the American Diabetes Association. We had over 20 riders on our team, and raised over $15,000 in pledges. What a great team!
Our team was split among riders doing different routes from 25, 50, and 100 miles. The weather was fantastic, and everyone finished successfully and without incident, despite the windy conditions, and many riders pushing the limits of their abilities. As team captain, I couldn’t be happier with the results. Out of the five consecutive years I have participated in this event, this team was one of the most dynamic, enthusiastic, and energetic teams I have had the pleasure of captaining. We had the benefit of an entire family (more like a clan!) participating together, brothers, sisters, children, in-laws. We had a young couple riding with us who first met at the Tour de Cure two years ago. And even a good friend who flew all the way out from Chicago to join us. We had a guy riding the 50 miles on a fixed gear bicycle this year again. And yes, we even had a newlywed couple riding a unique tandem bicycle. If you ever wanted to make a bike ride a memorable one, all these aspects are a good start.

This was by far one of the bigger projects I have tackled in awhile, bringing together a fundraising team, doing my own fundraising, and rebuilding a bicycle built for two. But there’s something about the Tour de Cure that brings it out in me. Knowing that it is all for the well-being and health of so many people affected by Diabetes. over 21 million people in American alone, it is easy to make the time for that. Plus, as my wife has come to learn, there’s always going to be something on my plate. She understands and respects that so much , in fact, that she agreed to ride the 50 miles with me on the back of a tandem. A tandem, which as far as she knew at the time, could not even roll out of the garage.

By deciding to bring the tandem back to life after 15 years of being dormant and neglected, I took on a huge undertaking. Putting a bike together properly is a task unto itself, but the fact that it was a tandem, and custom, made it exponentially harder. It really seemed like a battle at times, trying to locate obsolete parts in bins at a recycling center, or dealing with grouchy bike shop clerks who could care less about my special needs, or wiping chain grease off my hands for the tenth time in 5 days, it really took some drive. I am eternally thankful to my wife, Alicia, for encouraging me through this project and supporting my efforts, even though it meant many late nights in a garage.

All the while, there had to be some bike riding and fundraising going on, for both of us.

With the support of my friends and family, I raised over $2800 in donations towards fighting Diabetes. It is their generosity, kindness, and encouragement which pushes me to channel my energy into all of this, and I thank them all for making it happen. Once again earning the distinction of “Champion for Diabetes”, I was told this entitled me the opportunity to hang out with cycling legend Greg LeMond after the ride. I was very excited about this, because it was many years ago as a teen that I saw Greg on TV racing in the Tour de France, which gave me a deeper inspiration for cycling. He was the first American to win the Tour de France, and he did it with panache. Now years later, he’s the honorary chairperson for the Tour de Cure. In anticipation of meeting him, I had brought a copy of his book and some snapshots I had taken of him racing in San Francisco to sign.

The day before – We stayed at the Gaia Hotel in Napa – California’s first eco-friendly hotel. The high-pressure toilets were highly water-saving, but very loud and scary. Every flush uses about half the water as a normal toilet, but the whoosh is so explosive and startling, you might need to go again.

The logic of staying the night before made sense, because we’d get to sleep in a little longer as opposed to driving all he way up from home. However, the sense slowly melted away as we realized we got to the starting point about 30 minutes later than we had hoped. I blame the crazy flush toilets, and the fact that the tandem takes awhile to take down from the rack.

Here we are, the morning of the ride, on the Double-Take. A one-of-a kind, back-to-back tandem.

Unfortunately, our late timing would have a cascading effect on other events of the day. Several other Wheely Coolers had arrived much earlier than us, some starting earlier for the 100 mile route, and some just normal, punctual people. So we missed the opportunity to ride with much of the club. We also missed the opportunity to ride along with greg LeMond, who did ride the 50 mile route, but started about 30 minutes before us. Doh! We found out later that Stephanie actually was on time, and got to start the ride with him.

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We did get to ride with Don, Elaine, Rajsh, and Jeff. So it was a good sized group for the long haul.

Ready to roll. A quick photo, in case we come back in several pieces… You never know with custom prototypes.

Here we are on the road. Don almost got us all in the frame. This kind of picture takes a foolhardy swing out into the lane while riding one handed, and I give props to Don for the attempt.

One of the things the bike is great for is casual conversation. Usually, on-bike communications are difficult unless riding side-by-side. But with the Double-Take, you get 100% face time.

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Another benefit of the backwards-stoker is the ability to take photos of oncoming riders. Here’s Elaine, Don, and Jeff caught in a terrible paceline. Unfortunately, our camera is of poor quality and the picture suffers greatly.

Here’s the view most riders get after being passed by us. Comments abounded, from “That’s different” to “Sick!!”. Alicia had a lot of explaining to do back there.

Looks pretty normal from the front, eh? That’s why we call it the Double-Take!

The ride went very well, and the 50 miles ticked off before we knew it. The only mechanical issues were a chain derailment after going over a bump, and another one from shifting during frame flex. I have determined that the steel frame is too flexible for such a long frame, and combined with long shift cables, makes for sometimes unpredictable shifting performance. Once I was aware of this, I could actively compensate my shift patterns, along with a hint of voodoo, to keep the chain on. So my hands only got greasy a few times. So I’d say mechanically y work was a success. The drivetrain, gearing, braking, and seat modifcations were all just right to get us through the route and have an enjoyable ride.

The only thing out of our control was the strong gusty winds blasting through the valley all day. We’d feel a nice tailwind one minute, and then a strong headwind the next. Luckily, with the power of two, we prevailed the course without a hitch.

Afterwards, we met up with the rest of the Wheely Cool riders. I also found out that Greg LeMond had to leave the event early due to a family emergency. So I missed my chance to meet him.

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May and Bill Moy in front of the Double-Take. maybe next year we’ll let them ride it.

Ross and Jane – Her first 50 miler is now in the bag.
Elaine and Don first met at Tour de Cure two years ago.

Jumbo Jeff is the fixie rider from SF. Brakes are optional

Paul, Christal, Paul, Jill, Stephanie, and Willis, patiently waiting for the 100 milers to arrive.


And there they are! After 100 miles and finishing into a killer headwind, Peter, Michelle, Paige, Patricia (so fast she’s riding out of the frame) and Mike (already out of frame) finished in smiles and good cheer. I apologize for the poor quality photo, I blame the camera!


And here’s a bigger group shot:
Willis,, Alicia, Rajsh, Peter, Paige, Patricia, Paul, Mike, Jill, Paul, Stephanie, Christal, Catherine, Stephanie

The real advantage of the Double-Take is our SUV-like ability to carry items. You can bet your signed copy of An Inconvenient Truth that we’ll be doing runs to Traders Joe’s with this bike. Double Take does double duty in the fight against global warming.

So I’d call it a success. The ability for us to independently coast was the major improvement to this design, as were removing dependence on the slotted-fixed chain tensioners in favor of spring tensioners. These two design elements depend on each other to work, but greatly simplify the tandem cycling experience.

The only thing I could improve now is the frame itself. It could be about 50% stiffer and have all eccentric bottom bracket shells to adjust chain tension and allow the option for synchronized pedaling. But that’s another project, possibly for another person. As long as we can ride together, and turn some heads, that would be Wheely Cool.

Thanks David and Eva for their time and assistance. And Ming for miscellaneous parts and tools. Most importantly, I thank my sponsors for their support of this cause, and finally thanks to Alicia for trusting me to make it happen and joining me for the ride of my life.

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Wheely Cool Velo Club rides in the Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association. Click here to view our team page and sponsor us.

Final mods

 

Well the deadline has come, and I think the bike is done. I made a simple spring-loaded chain tensioner for the captain, which really helps keep the chain from popping off, vs. the fixed version. This also lined up the chain better, further increasing our chain reliability situation.

 

I also reconfigured the captain’s freewheel, to make it lighter and simpler. By cutting a piece of large PVC pipe and using as a spacer, I saved a lot of hassle with steel washers and cogs to get everything tightened down onto the freewheel body. Plus being PVC, it was easy to cut on a chop saw to the exact thickness needed. Being the type who saves scrap material, this PVC really came in handy, being the exact diameter needed to fit onto the freewheel body. Karma!

 

Here’s the second version of the replacement for the captain’s transfer gear. After working on it late last night with David and Ming, I’m afraid to say it’s not going to make it on for the Napa ride. In order to fit a freewheel body low on this thread, we had to shave down the removal threads from the square tapered crank. This makes it very difficult to remove the crank from the bottom bracket axle. I tried rapping on the axle from the top to get the axle out, and ended up loosening the chainrings from the crank body. This cheap Shimano stamped-steel crankset features pressed-in chainrings, which I guess are great for the company, but not so cool for a customizer. Dead part.

Thankfully, my contingency plan of not messing with the existing transfer gear will allow us to ride the bike still as-is. Although it is wobbly, I think the spring chain tensioner will address this issue and allow for the chain to go slack and tight as the freewheel is turned. This can be witnessed when I backpedal the captain’s crank: the chain tensioner moves up and down a bit. So I think I killed two birds with one stone by making this simple gizmo.

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A big improvement!

 

The new reverse-transfer gear as shown here has been installed, and we test rode it this evening around Fremont. it worked like a charm. Alicia and I were both able to start or stop pedaling independently, yet still contribute to driving the wheel. There were no chain derailments caused by any uneven tension between us. So the BMX freewheel was a great solution to the problem, and also helped straighten the chain line a bit, due to it’s smaller diameter.

 

This is the old part that it replaced. Just a crankset (or what’s left of it) chopped up from a triple. So long, sucka!

 

Here’s a complete view of the stoker drivetrain. You can see the crossed chain pulling on the bottom of the BMX freewheel (remember it is flipped around to drive in the proper direction through the bottom bracket axle. The two derailleur pulleys work together to manage the non-tensioned side of the chain and allow it to cross itself. The lower pulley is on a spring tensioner to take up slack in the chain. This previously was the cause of my problems, allowing uneven tension to pull the chain loose and flop off the wheels. A rigid pulley system would prevent this from happening…up to a point, then something in the system would eventually bend. So that’s why i had a spring tensioner. Both non-ideal for two novice tandem riders. So now that I have the freewheel solution, the spring tensioner is perfect for just keeping the chain taut.

 

Another view of the drivetrain. Here you can see both transfer gears. captain side and stoker side. If I have time I’d like to replace the captain’s transfer gear, with one of my alternate versions to save weight and also get an even better chain line. But we’ll see how the rest of the week unfolds. I may have run out of time for niceities, but for now, the Double Take is rideable, and I am so relieved.

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transmission woes

 

In my quest to make the bike more robust on the road, I have to address two issues: uneven tension in the chain between riders causing derailment, and also crooked chain lines. Because all chains are connected, if I change one component, there is a cascading effect through the entire system. The limiting factors of my modifications are that I am working with old components which are not easily found in today’s bike shops. I have traveled many miles searching various bike shops and thrift stores for these parts, and now am hacking them up. The crank at the top is the first version of the replacement “transfer gear” which is currently wobbly. The crank at the lower left is the second version of the replacement, which should require less work than the first version. Having backup parts is always wise, and if you can make one faster than the other, all the better. The two hubs which are cut in half are to be turned down for their “donor threads” which is the only part I need to accept a thread on freewheel.

 

Here’s a completed part. A new idea, which will hopefully solve the uneven chain tension problem. By placing a freewheel in between the stoker and final drive, this will allow both riders to coast freely and independently of each other, while disallowing any stopping or reverse forces to transfer back to our pedals. We already have the freewheel for the captain (the “transfer gear”) and now I’m trying to create another one for the stoker. The completed part is shown, which is the center section of a square tapered crank, turned down to a cylinder, (donating it’s square tapered hole) and we welded on a freewheel thread (donating it’s threads) to create a freewheeling, chain driven input at the bottom bracket. Insanity? perhaps.

 

Here’s Eva and David, who I thank for their cooperation and support in getting the Double Take on the road. Sponsorship can come in many forms, and their help is invaluable for our Diabetes ride! Thank you!

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What is a Hackmo?

A “Hackmo” is a term I use among friends to describe someone who isn’t afraid to get their hands into a project, not fully knowing what the gory details are, but has enough common sense, knowledge of tools, patience and confidence to tackle what not everyone would. This philspohy allows the “Hackmo” to solve 99% of the problems out there, whether it is a race car, battlebot, kitchen sink, or maybe even a bike part. Some Hackmos are better than others, and most all of them own at least one flannel shirt. I would say my hackmo level is junior level, since I do not own a full array of tools and stick mostly with hand power tools. Plus, I prefer to spend more time on stupid details before cutting a thing, which is not worth a hackmo’s time.
For this bike project, I require the assistance of a more Senior Hackmo than myself. But to get myself warmed up, I did further blasphemy to a perfectly good bike part:

 

That’s going to leave a mark. all I want from this hub is the theaded section that the freewheel attaches to. This is a medium-hackmo thing to do.

 

here I have enlisted my friend David Wright to lathe down the cut part to something useable.

 

And that’s all i wanted. this will be welded to the crank to re-create the transfer gear.

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Testing testing testing

Our ride on Sunday went fairly well. We strapped the bike on the car and drove it out to Woodside, center of the cycling universe. I wanted to take it on a real road, but with as few traffic distractions as possible. So I chose Canada road on Sundays, which has a sectino closed off to cars between Filoli estate and hwy 92. It was a perfect place to get the bugs out, and that we did. The first mile got us a flat on the rear wheel. this is a test of a true cyclist, if they thought to bring enough tools to fix a flat. Luckily, I had everything I needed, and we got back on our way after a ten minute intermission. The drivetrain held up fairly well, with a few chain derailments due to uncoordinated pedaling. This is a design flaw of the bike that we have two synchronizing chains, and non-rigid tension adjusters in each one. So as a result, uneven pedaling between captain and stoker causes a chain derailment. A proper design would use eccentric bottom brackets to take up slack in a synchronizing chain, but we don’t have that. In theory, practice and ommunication can make up for this problem, so learning how to keep the chain on will be a worthy est of our communication and coordination skills!
The gearing choices I made seemed to be good enough for the hills up Canada Rd, which are a bit steeper than anything we’ll see in Napa, so i’m contet with the rings I have. But the rear shifting was not behaving well at all. My guess is because we use a long shift cable running the length of the bike. The bike is steel, but somewhat flexible in design (another flaw) so although the cables are firmly attached to the frame, the frame flex may be causing the shift cables to change position at will.
Another problem is this special part, I’ll call it the transfer gear. it was designed by the second team to work on this bike, and it’s purpose is to allow the captain to coast (freewheel) while the stoker pedals. This is a big departure from standard tandem drivetrains, where both riders are synched together. But the purpose is allow the novice tandem team to pedal with a bit less fuss and bother of learning how to properly coordinate tandem pedaling. a good idea in theory, but in practice, the part is poorly made. It is basically an aluminum base plaate with a bolt circle for a chainring, mounted to the bottom bracket axle, but with an added freewheel on top. The captain’s input comes at the freewheel, and the stoker’s input comes from the other side of the bottom bracket axle. The black chanring is the main drive ring going to the back wheel. So when the bike is moving, the captain can coast, while the stoker powers the rear wheels. This let’s the captain hold the bike with feet on the ground while the stoker begins pedaling, to get started, ,and then room to coast while clipping in to the pedals. Also, the captain can coast around sharp corners without forcing the stoker (who can’t see the turn) to stop pedaling.

 

The problem as you can see here, is that the square taper hole which holds the part to the bottom bracket was not straight on center, thus causing a slight tilt to the whole assembly. The gap between chains is different from right and left sides in this view. This causes the whole thing to wobble a bit. also, the threading for the freewheel was done at a slight angle, so there’s a double wobble.

 

My solution is to not try to make another square taper myself, but use an existing bike part which has a proper square tapered hole. this can be found in an old crankset.

 

OUCH, I know the purists are crying, but I had to do it for Diabetes.

 
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