Bike Repair, 2-4-17

Fourth  Class, 2-4-17

Patti Smith and Annie Dillard.  Wait just a minute, isn’t this a blog on bicycle maintenance?  So what do these two artists have to do with bikes?  As one ages, you become more aware and certain of the things in life that you can do without, and things you cannot  do without.  A year ago, would have I have considered a bicycle maintenance class to be a priority in my life?  Likely not.  Sometimes chaotic thoughts cohere without any expenditure of energy –  at night, the subconscious weaves ideas together — and when you wake up, the sky is clear and the hills to the east and south are stunning, even in February.

Here’s the bike part, then I shall answer the question posed above.

Laurence began with a summary of what we would do:  review vocabulary – good because Missy and Finley were not at the last class —and then disassemble a hub.  Are you kidding me?  How many people these days take apart hub, and why?  I found this on Park Tool:

If your wheels feel rough when you spin them, it’s time to service your hubs. Usually the problem will be caused by wear in your bearings or by the ingress of water and grime. Wheel bearings also wear out over time which will introduce play to the hub, allowing the wheel to rock side to side on its axle.

If the wheel is out-of-true (moves side-to-side), or has a loose feeling, or  feels “crunchy” when you spin it, it may be that the ball bearings have been comprised.  If they break or are rusted, then your bike will lose its smooth ride, and other parts of the bike will fail until your beloved bike becomes unsuitable for riding.

First, we took off the axle using an adjustable wrench and a cone wrench (17 mm, blue one).  I had never done this before, and it was quite exciting to a woman of my age to be taking apart a bike hub.  It’s like falling in love in your 50s.

Tools we used.

We removed the cone, cups and axles.  Look at this great photo I found.

We made sure to collect all ball bearings – for instance, I had 18 (9 on each side), Missy and Finley had 20 – I had fewer, but mine were larger.  We used a solvent – alcohol is fine—bikers, according to Laurence, prefer the citrus variety. Solvent and rag we cleaned everything: cones, cups, ball bearings.  We left the axle alone.


Then we greased everything up and installed the ball bearings being careful to space them in the cups. Using the wrench, we tightened up one side, spun the wheel, tightened the other, spun the wheel again, did some more fiddling to determine if the wheel was listing to one side or another.  This is a wrench feel thing.

Laurence pointed out a slotted washer – there’s a groove into which the washer sits so it doesn’t move facilitating easier attachment of other components.


We also cleaned and greased a dismantled headtube, part of the headset.  Vocab, anyone?  See below.  The ball bearings here are in a ring.


Then Laurence gave us our homework.  “Take something apart. Use your wrench feel.  Think about how the parts go back together and what they do.”  Hmmm…Like life, I suppose: at times, you take it apart, see what it does, then put it back together so it works.  So you get a smooth ride, yes?  I knew there was a reason why I came out tonight: dark and windy, 20 degrees, no car.

To answer the question posed above: Patti Smith (goddess of punk rock) in “M Train” comments on buying a lottery ticket from a “rumpled straggler” at a bar in Madrid, and it occurs to her that the ticket  is “suspiciously limp” and may be worthless.  Later her friends tell her she paid too much for it.  To herself, she says, “I went along with the part I was targeted to play… He (the straggler) is happy, and I feel at one with the world –a good trade.”  To her friends, she says, “You can never pay too much for peace of mind.”

Annie Dillard, in her collection of essays, “The Abundance” writes that after watching a somewhat militaristic movie, “American The Beautiful” at Disneyland with a group of Chinese writers and the poet Allen Gingsberg (can you imagine!), a Chinese writer says, “The film we just saw was a Mickey Mouse film?”  Ginsberg shakes his head, says, “Hallucinatory.  Delusional.”  It’s a subtle essay and so unusual, that  I can never view Disney or Chinese people again in quite the same way.

For me,  I now think of my bike in a different way: I know it a little better, I know I need to take care of it, and listen to it.  Feel the way it rides.  I  want that smooth ride on my bike, because when I have it, I “feel at one with the world.”

Bike Repair, 1-29-17

Bicycle Maintenance with Laurence, Third Class, 1-28-17

January 28, 2017  —  the agenda consisted of vocab review, new vocab – The Wheel – and the four steps of a bike tuneup.  Again, I left at 6:30 because of a dinner commitment so if anyone else present (Laurence, Annie S or Annie A) has material to add or wants to modify this, please chime in!


The wheel and other parts are below:


Other useful sites:


What parts of the bike have ball bearings?  Pedals, hubs (front and rear), headset (fork tube), bottom bracket and free wheel.

You can help to true the wheel by adjusting the spoke nipples  which will move the wheel one way or another.

Tune ups

There are four basic steps, and Laurence likes to do a bump test where you pick up the bike up a few inches and allow it to bounce down and see what rattles, moves and what doesn’t feel tight.  It may be that your bike tuneup requires more than the basic four steps.  For instance, during my bounce test Laurence looked askance at the fork tube (the bike is old, 15 or maybe 20 years?) and it maybe that the ball bearings in the fork tubes are bad.  Consider that if water got down into the fork tube (looking at my bike, this looked very possible) then the bearing may have started to rust.  In any case, a perusal of the fork tube indicated evidence of stress and likely failure in the near future.


The Four Steps:

  1. Pump tires
  2. Oil the chain
  3. Adjust shifting
  4. Adjust brakes


1  . If you’re going to bike a lot, invest some money in a good pump with a gauge ; if the tire is new, go ahead, pump up to the recommend PSI, if it’s old, a bit below the recommended PSI

2  Oil the chain

  • Winter, use a winter lube made for bikes with a nozzle that allows you to put one drip on every link – hold a cloth beneath to catch oil that falls, move the chain along until you have lubed every link
  • Summer – use a summer type lube
  • Be careful not to get oil on the bike rims (Pat!!) that can impact on the brake’s effectiveness
  • Wipe the chain with a cloth to remove excess oil– chain should be glistening, no more
  • Frequency – about every 4-6 weeks (Laurence bikes 200-300 miles/month)


  1. Adjust the shifting/gear adjustment
  • Use a Phillips head screwdriver, find the High and Low limit screws

  • Turn clockwise to tighten


Background explanation from

  1. Gears: Most bikes have two or threechainringsin the front and anywhere from 7 to 11 gears, or cogs, in the back. Moving the chain from the smallest rear cog to the largest eases your pedaling effort incrementally. Moving it between the chainrings in the front results in a more noticeable change—pedaling feels easier in a smaller chainring and harder in a bigger one.
  2. Shifter Savvy The left-hand shifter changes the front gears; the one on the right controls gears in back. If you get flustered on the fly, remember: RIGHT = REAR
  3. Avoid Cross-Chaining That means thechain is at an extreme slant, either in the big ring up front and the biggest cog in back, or the small ring up front and the small cog in back. This not only stresses the hardware, but it also limits your options if you need to shift again. (related to this is :  the chain is on biggest chainring in front and the biggest cog in back – this is a gear that bikes were not meant to shift into – so don’t put your chain in this position )
  4. Cheat Sheet: For: Uphills and headwinds
    Use: Small or middle front chainring + bigger rear cogs (uphill, low gear, less force on the pedal but you must peal faster)

For: Downhills
Use: Large front chainring + a range of rear cogs

For: Flat terrain
Use: Small or middle front chainring + ­smaller rear cogs


So when your chain is on the smallest cog in back, you are in high gear, and your bike is hard to pedal; this is the gear to be in on flat land; low gear are for the hills here in Ithaca.

You want to stand behind the bike and make sure the derailleur and cogs are s lined up , adjust  the High limit screw, if you tighten the screw too much, the chain wont be able to slide down to the smallest cog and that’s when you’ll need to loosen the High limit screw (counter-clockwise with the Phillips head.)

If you tighten the cable by loosening the screw, you go up to the next gear .  You want to make sure the chain does not hit any part of the derailleur.

Releasing the tension makes the cable housing longer and loosens the ????

Point: if you have just gotten a new cable, it will stretch in the first month, and you will need to adjust it.

Something about spoke protectors?

4  .Brakes    We did a front adjustment during the first class using a lock nut, but we did not adjust the tension of the back wire.  We did talk about the proper alignment of brake pads and if the pads indendations are worn off, the pad needs replacment.  Same with old  hard-rubber or cracked pads:  replace them.

Bike Repair, 1-22-17


January 22, 2017  —  a  day to go down in history!  There were marches all over the country and all over the world, and here in  Ithaca, 10,000 people marched.  As Laurence and I waited for those who did not go to DC, we talked about the march and The Music Man.  “The barbershop quartet was spectacular,” I said.  “Well worth the price of a ticket.”

Two more attendees arrived, and we got down to business.  Laurence said we’d fix a flat – who hasn’t had a flat in their life? And  Laurence reminded us, as we worked on our bikes, to be aware of

  • Mechanical perception
  • Wrench feel
  • Failure awareness

Then he pointed out the fork, and the steerer tube, see below.



Next, the drive train, that part of the bike (chain rings, chain, gears and cogs) that transmit power to the rear wheel.  Just so were all on the same page, cogs are technically the teeth on a gear or sprocket.  Gears become sprockets when you add a chain. The cogs mesh together and fall  into the links of a chain, this so the chain does not slip


Then we have the front and rear derailleurs.  From Wikipedia, Derailleur Gears, 1-24-17: The front derailleur moves the chain side to side between the front chainrings, and it does this with the top, taut portion of the chain. It also needs to accommodate large differences in chainring size: from as many as 53 teeth to as few as 20 teeth.

The rear derailleur serves double duty and moves the chain between rear sprockets and taking up chain slack caused by moving to a smaller sprocket at the rear or a smaller chainring by the front derailleur.

Derailleurs require the chain to be in movement in order to shift from one ring or sprocket to another. This usually requires the rider to be pedaling.,

Chain-drive systems such as the derailleur systems work best if the chain is aligned with the sprocket plane, especially avoiding the biggest drive sprocket running with the biggest driven sprocket (or the smallest with the smallest). The diagonal chain run produced by these practices is less efficient and shortens the life of all components, with no advantage from the middle of the range ratio obtained.

Derailleur gears generally have an efficiency around 95%. (Wikipedia).


The last part of the class was spent on fixing a flat.  We use two tire levers (about $5 eachd and a patch kit called Tip Top Patch Kit ( $3-$6) . Note: Laurence declared that you are wasting your money with glueless patches.


First of all remove the tire by inserting the lever (spoon side – other side hooks onto the spoke) beneath the bead, which is the steel cable on the outside of the tire.  The valve should be at the bottom and you can hold the tire with your feet.  It’s very important to figure out what caused the flat so when we remove the tube, add air and put the tube to your ear, face, etc and identify the leak.  Spit is great—it’s accessible, free and it will bubble up in the leak’s vicinity.  Then using the chalk from your kit, or a marker, draw a circle around the leak.

Typical  Flats Types–

  1. Snakebite or pinch flat manifested as two small parallel lines—tires are underinflated (check pressure at least every 6 weeks, maybe more frequently) and the tubes sneaks over the rim and when you go over a bump, you produce these two tears
  2. Friction flat – the tire is old, the bead stretched, the tires move on the rim and this causes rubbing on the inner tube.
  3. Slow leak – running over glass, or a spike from a plant
  4. Blow out – beware, do not pressurize your tires about the recommended PSI, also be ware that on warm days, air molecules heat up, they move faster and therefore increase your tire pressure.


Snakebite flat,– from, What You Can Learn From Your Flat Tires.

Should you change your inner tubes now and then?  Probably not, said Laurence, the inner tube is not exposed to the elements and is in a fairly stable environment.  You should note that if you leave your bike in the garage where there are motors and production of ozone, the ozone will degrade the tire rubber.

Onto the patching that leak.  First roughen the rubber with your quarter-sized piece of sandpaper then add about one sneeze (snotty) of glue.  Let it sit for a minute or two until its finish goes from glazed to matt; put on the round patch and leave the back transparent plastic on.  Wait another minute or two then pressurize the tube, but not completely.  Some inflation is desirable so the tube doesn’t slip out while you are installing it.  Put the tube over the rim and in, inserting the nozzle first.  Make sure the nozzle is straight.  Then put the tube inside the tire – one side with the bead, then the other.  Use your palms to get the tire in.  Here, I should have taken a photo of Annie S.  Make sure that both sides of the tire beads are in.

Next, inflate your tire.  Done!

Bike Repair for Women, First Class

Bike Repair, First Class, 1-14-17

This past Saturday, January 14, I participated (not just attended) a bike repair class for girls and women offered for a small fee by Laurence of Boxy Bikes, Press Bay Alley, in downtown Ithaca.

I am ashamed to admit that I know almost nothing about my bike despite the fact that it is my main (not only) vehicle of transportation.  At one time I could fix a flat, but I have found with my last two bikes, a Fugi and a Diamond Back, that I can’t even get the tires off.   Maybe that will change!

There were six of us at the first class: Laurence, Judy, Josephine, Jessica, Annie and myself, and we introduced ourselves, and talked a bit about our biking experience and what we hoped to achieve.

Laurence told us: “I’ve actually never been to a bike store – if I had problems with my bike, I fixed it.  I learned by doing.”  Yeah, he was one of those kids who took things apart.  Bravo!  This is the kind of bike teacher we all want.

Laurence began with bike nomenclature, specifically mentioning that a bike frame is really made up of 9 tubes, and these include the seat tube, head tube, down tube, top tube, 2 seat stays and 2 chain stays.  You can see those in the diagram below.  Even if I did not learn another fact today, I would remember that a bike has these parts.  For me, this de-mystifies a bike, although, I will admit that while I am biking, I do feel as if I am in a mystical realm.


Bicycle parts identified


Next Laurence brought out a bike and showed us how to adjust the brake lines at the handlebars.  He mentioned that you could also adjust the brake line at the actual brakes.  He demonstrated how a bike stand works, showed us how to set a bike on the stand using the seat tube—the seat tube of course! — because this is the strongest tube.


We brought in our bikes, adjusted our brakes at the handlebars.  Why hadn’t I done this earlier?  Lots of reasons why a person puts things off, in fact, 5 months ago, Laurence had shown me this very same technique but being in a hurry (a mistake, I am learning to slow down), I filed away that small but valuable skill.  We talked about brake shoes – how to know when they need replacement: the grooves or teeth in the brake pads disappear, or you hear the sound of grating metal.  Then it was determined that either Josephine or Jessica needed a deeper slot for her brake shoe … . a round file was produced (we were at the Generator – tools available here) and the metal slot made a bit deeper so that the brake shoe fit, just a bit better.  At that moment it felt amazing for me to be in such a class.


Before class started, as I was helping Laurence prepare for the class, he said:  “Why do people always assume that biking out in the cold, you must be cold?  Why do they always ask if I am cold?  Why can’t people think past their assumptions?”  A good question to think about during the day when you’re waiting in line at the store, or waiting for a light to change.  Why don’t we examine our assumptions?

Next class I am taking notes – I don’t want to miss anything.




Rousing the Sleeping Biker


We have biking programs here in Ithaca that do a great job of promoting biking: AIDS Ride for Life, Streets Alive,  Bike to Work Day, Andrej’s Solstice Ride, the Ithaca Generator’s Bike Club, FingerLakes Cycling, various athletic and others.  In Minneapolis there are incentives such as dedicated biking lanes.  There are bike lanes where the cars stop, and there “rewards” for those who meet certain biking goals.  In other cities there are biking clinics (has ours closed?) and workshops for issues such as “How to Bike in Winter.“  These events are mostly targeted to the existing biker.

What about the biker lurking deep, deep inside that car driver who wants to do good for the environment but just can’t seem to get started? Continue reading “Rousing the Sleeping Biker”

Bicycle Friendly Community ??

This is a long post in three sections, and I’ll apologize upfront for the length.

  • The first part is the announcement the City of Ithaca sent to the various neighborhood listservs concerning the award Ithaca got for being a Bicycle Friendly Community.  I am usually a calm rational person but this article got under my skin.
  • The second part is my public response (private was a bit less rational) to the announcement.
  • The third is a summary of what the City has done — e.g., the city engineers  — to promote biking.

Continue reading “Bicycle Friendly Community ??”

Ithaca Festival June 3, 2016

Hello All,

Ebike Ithaca will be riding in the Ithaca Festival Parade on June 3rd, and we will be wearing capes because we are superheroes — at least for the night ! — trying to protect mother earth and our sanity.  If you are interested in biking with us — electric bikes are not required– all are welcome– then feel free to e-mail me at .  Thus far we will be meeting in downtown Ithaca (location not yet disclosed) before 5:30 on June 3rd.  I will post more information at as it becomes available.            Pat

The 200-300 Block of Tioga Street


Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak about vehicular usage of the 200-300 block of Tioga Street.

The road usage discussions have mostly been framed as the car drivers vs. the bike lobby – as if bikers are a more nefarious version of Mad Max and we want to rule the roads. What this does is it stops any real conversation, and problem delineation and problem-solving from happening … because we aren’t having an open and honest conversation.

Having accurate facts at hand is an essential  component of an honest and open conversation.  I understand and I get it that some people are scared about losing their parking spaces in front of the post office, at their lawyer’s offices, and in front of the Court House.  But bicycling is a legitimate form of transportation and bicyclers need to have safe routes through cities.  Just like cars – safe routes through cities.  When the weather is not dangerous, I bike – ebike — 100 miles a week, to and from work.  There are others who do the same.  Ebikes are coming to Ithaca because biking is the most efficient form –and did I hear the word sustainable?—and environmentally sensible form of transportation for a singular person.  Have you ever stood at the corner of State Street and Rt 13 and counted how many cars have a single occupant?  Probably 90 to 95%.  Thank you Judy S. for that fact.  And with an e-bike, the hills are conquerable. How prepared is the city going to be for e-bikers?

What if the city had a continuous bike lane through town?  From  Boynton Middle School to the Lehman Alternative School which connected other city schools?  What kind of message would that send the younger generation?  Because it’s the younger generation who will suffer or celebrate the consequences of our decisions. And what about the older generations – those in the fifties, sixties and so on? Those who may lose their convenient parking spaces?  To them, and I am part of that generation, I say, “The brain is a muscle.  The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.  If you don’t exercise it, it atrophies, you grow old under the weight of habit. How else can I get to that post office?  Problem-solving is a good way to exercise the brain. “

Finally, many people – of a certain age — when you mention the date, April 13, 1970 remember the plight of Apollo 13.  The whole world was watching this event.  Even, so it turns out, people in Iran.  Everyone wanted to see the astronauts come home safely.  When the explosion rocked the spaceship Odyssey, and an astronaut reported seeing the venting of a gas, oxygen, it turned out, the engineers and scientists at mission control started shouting “This can’t happen ….   it must be instrumentation.”  See no one knew what had happened, and no one would know until the LEM and Odyssey separated a few days later.  The director of Mission Control, Gene Krantz said to these engineers and scientists,  “Don’t give me your gessimtates.  Let’s work the problem, people.”

Can we work the problem?

Thank you.

Pat Dutt, Town of Ithaca


Habits of Mind

Habits of the Mind

In the winter of 1998, I was under a lot of stress and losing the hearing in my left ear.  When I decided my ear wasn’t going to get healthy on its own, I started seeing doctors – close to 10 – all had their own diagnosis but no real solution.  The last one was an Ear-Nose-Throat MD – Homeopath who thought I had a food allergy, but the only way to identify the culprit(s) was to put myself on a clean diet, e.g., eliminate processed foods,  sugar in any form, and rotate what other foods remained on a 4-day period.   I was warned that such a radical change of diet would make me feel as if I had the flu.  I was willing to try the diet because so much was at stake.   I did feel lousy for five days, but after nine days, the asthma I’d had since age 10 disappeared.  It took a while longer for my hearing to clear up, and it isn’t perfect, but it’s significantly better.

A diet is a huge habit to change, and most people who I’ve related my story to say look surprised (maybe they don’t believe me?) then say, more or less, It’s not for me.  That’s a little too radical.    I was motivated to change my eating habits because the reward – better hearing – was something I craved.

A couple of years ago I was listening to a radio broadcast about the book, The Power of Habit: Why we do What we do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.  Duhigg says that habits “emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.  Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost anything routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often… an efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors such as walking … so we can devote more mental energy “ to other things.

If you understand how habits work, then chances are better that you will have success in changing a  habit.  There are three parts to what is known as The Habit Loop:  – the cue  –a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode; the routine – which can be physical, mental or emotional; and  the reward, which helps your brain decide if the loop is worth remembering.  Over time the loop – cue, routine and reward — can become automatic. (One study indicated that 40 percent of what we do is habit, not based on active decision-making.) When a habit emerges the “brain stops fully participating in decision making . It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.”

As I’m writing this I am trying to understand how I developed this habit of biking into work because it is a long ride – ten-plus miles – and there are  long hills to climb. It’s true that I don’t want to unnecessarily combust gasoline—I do think about being a good steward of the earth — but there had to be something personally at stake.


The Biker Within 


When the idea first passed through my mind, I could bike to work, I dismissed it outright.  Two long demanding hills a day, Route 34, Triphammer, Elm St, Westhaven.   Ten miles in, 10 miles out.  Is this insane? People still give me that look.

I’d been a runner all my life—I’m in my 50s– and just recently cut back due to the need to preserve my knees.  I was not new to biking up hills: 10 years ago when I lost a job I loved (and hated too!) I bought a light-weight Fuji and after 6 weeks of working at it, I conquered the Elm St/ Westhaven hill without once dismounting.  And there was a time in my life when three of us were sharing a car, so I’d secure my Fuji in the back of the Honda and my boyfriend would drive me into work in the morning, and I’d bike home.  That was doable for me, yet I Continue reading “The Biker Within “