Archive for October, 2009

Bicycle refurbishment Saturday

Saturday, October 10th, 2009
Not green overspray.

Not green overspray.

Today I rode my bicycle for the first time in perhaps 9 years.  Thinking on it, this is a long time.  The topology of my town discourages riding by those who are not particularly dedicated, it is true, but nine years is entirely too long a time to neglect my bicycle.  My old bike has been returning to the earth for quite a while, quietly chained to a rack outside my apartment.  “How long is ‘quite a while’?”, you may ask:


Lichen on the handgrips

Perhaps that doesn’t look too bad.

Tires rust?

Tires rust?

This is the first time I’ve ever dealt with rusty tires.

I have been reading the website of Coco’s Variety, which is much more genteel than the name might imply in the absence of context, and was inspired to fix up my old bike.  Therefore, I spent the afternoon working, stopping the aging process, replacing some parts, and carrying on the never-ending fight against entropy in the form of rust.  Most of the cables still work, but surface rust abounded, including inside the rims.  Once again, I am glad to have purchased some phosphoric acid spray:

An heroic pose

An heroic pose, looking steelily at the sun.

This stuff turns rust into iron phosphate, which is black, hard, and, importantly, inert.  It makes a good base for paint, though I haven’t gotten to the paint stage yet.  Between the conversion compound and a handy brass brush, my bike is now fractionally lighter.

Working on a bicycle was odd in comparison to working on the car; while rust is present in the usual places, the rubber parts were (excepting the tires) in very good shape, and there is very little plastic to worry about.  The heat of an engine degrades these parts much more quickly than a bicycle does.  Even rusty parts came, well, apart, with minimal effort, and bits and pieces are cheap for cheap bikes such as my own.  Between the sunlight, obvious minute-by-minute progress, and small mechanical operations, my afternoon passed quickly and pleasantly.

What with rust removal, cleaning gunk out of the sprockets, adjusting the derailleurs (had to look that one up), and replacing the tires and tubes, I reacquainted myself with the bike.  I’ve had it for a long time, and I found myself wondering how many miles that the old tires had borne my weight over.  I saw the side reflectors, the old registration sticker for campus use, the bracket for holding the lock (used ~ twice), the minor trim damage I caused just after getting the bike, and several denizens.  I’m not sure what this little guy even is:

Hello there!

Hello there!

Looks like a spiky caterpillar, but has 6 legs.  I deposited him in the nearby woods.


The bike is nowhere near pristine, and in fact currently owes much to the “rat rod” sense of aesthetics.  Fortunately, one of the nice things about black pieces of equipment is that a quick shot of rattlecan paint results in a nice, (relatively) matching finish.

I took it out for a ride after getting the new tires on, and found I had forgotten how easy it is to go fast on a bicycle; I read somewhere that it is the most mechanically efficient of human conveyances.  There are surely many many millions of people who depend on them.

My bike is heavy, and old enough to use nuts to hold on the wheels rather than cam locks.  It has plastic brake handles that flex alarmingly, and needs a new shifter cable.  But it is my old bike, and works again, and tracks true enough, and can bear my weight once more.

I made sure to ride through a puddle on my way back home.

We Were the Ramchargers

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Let’s have a book review.

I was recently given a copy of We Were the Ramchargers , a history of, well, the Ramchargers, the usually factory-backed Dodge drag racing team during perhaps the most exciting years (thus far) of the sport.  The book has recently come out, and garnered some attention; I’ve seen at least two articles in magazines giving an overview of the book.  We may take this as an indication of the influence of the team on the world of motorsports (he said, burnishing his ficticious pipe and adjusting his equally ficticious tweed cap).

Beginning in 1959, a group of young Chrysler employees pooled their money to build a drag car as the embodiment of their ideas on performance, and incidentally to beat up on the recently ascendant small-block Chevrolets that were ruling much of drag racing.  By 1969, they had won innumerable races, helped reestablish Chrysler performance as a very credible street threat, and worked on gas, nitro, hydrazine, alcohol, supercharging, fuel injection, suspension development, tuned ram and exhaust development, and raced super stock, dragsters, and funny cars.  Interestingly, most of these technologies were coming of age at the time, often pioneered by the Ramchargers and their competition.

The book is a broken up by year, with paragraphs of narration interspersed with frequent paragraphs of  explanation, anecdote, and reflection, taken from numerous interviews with the surviving group members.  This format keeps things moving along, and the author has happily chosen to allow the interview segments to cover a bit of the technical side of things.  Numerous pictures are provided.

Historically, Ramchargers is inspirational.  These fellows started a team with no factory backing, and won.  They got some factory backing, and won a lot more.  There is little personal conflict mentioned in the book, and one gets the sense that this is because there was little, rather than that the story has been airbrushed.  It is a testament to what skilled, organized individuals can do when they work together and decide to produce a whole lot of awesome.

The technical side of the book is interesting because much of the team’s success was due to engineering prowess in an era during which simulation was used much less than it is now, and the theoretical knowledge available was advancing rapidly.  Adjusting the engine in a particular way might have resulted in more speed, and it might have simply burnt a piston or tossed a rod.  More hydrazine might have helped smooth out power delivery, or it might have blown the engine.  In a field that is advancing rapidly, you need to field test new ideas commensurately rapidly.  More spark lead on the Hemi?  More dynamic weight transfer on the High and Mighty car?  Try it out.  While the Ramchargers were largely very skilled engineers and technicians, they were not at all recalcitrant about “going for it” with a new idea, putting it onto the track as soon as possible.  After all, the competition might have figured the same thing out yesterday.  Reading about the rapid evolution of the technology and its deployment in anger is the heart of the book, and it is fortunately presented in a way that allows the reader to understand (much) of what is being discussed.

I have a few quibbles with the book; it sort of tapers off as the group members went their different ways, which is understandable, but lacks punch.  There are also a few repeated spelling errors that grated – most notably, “bonsai” rather than “banzai”.  (You can see the problem with this one.)

When a book has a chapter entitled “dropping the atom bomb” about the arrival of the 426 Hemi, though, I’m willing to forgive the minor editorial quibbles in deference to the larger successful choices.