COVID-19, Personal

Freshly tuned bicycles

Picking up our bikes from the bike shop

I picked our bikes up from the shop on Monday after having them tuned up. The shop was inundated with repairs. The owner told me that she had 450 bikes for repair hanging in the back, plus a hundred or so in the front of the store. There was a single path from the door to the counter, there were so many bikes in there. She said it has just been crazy this season with people wanting their bikes made ready for the warm months.

I like my Schwinn but it is 35 years old and has old-bike issues. I hoped the shop could resolve, or at least improve, some of them.

I had to air up my tires every few days last season. The tires and tubes dated to my last tuneup in 2011, so I asked for replacements. I was thrilled when they said they had gumwall tires in stock for it, since that’s what my Schwinn had on it originally. But then they called to say my tires were in fine shape and didn’t need to be replaced, unless I was dying to have gumwalls. I decided to save a little money and just had new tubes fitted.

My brakes were very weak, so much so that I wouldn’t ride this bike in city traffic as there is no way to stop fast. The bike has a front hand brake and a rear coaster brake. The coaster brake is part of the three-speed hub, which is sealed. The remedy is replacement, and I wasn’t prepared to make that kind of investment in the Schwinn. So I asked them to either tighten or replace the front brakes, whichever it took to make them stop surely.

I also mentioned that the gears came out of true a lot last season and I was constantly adjusting them. They noticed that the cable was very loose and they said they’d tighten it, which should do the trick.

They clearly tightened the shift cable, which I hope lets the bike’s gears stay true this season. They improved the front hand brake slightly, but not nearly enough. Stops are still far too long. I’m disappointed in that. But they didn’t write my instructions for the brakes onto the work order. I feel sure that by the time they put my bike on the bench, they’d forgotten all about what I’d asked. I don’t want to schlep the bike all the way back there, so I’ll see if I can tighten the brakes up a little more myself. There’s plenty of pad left, I think I just need to bring the calipers a little closer to the rim. I used to do that to the 3 speed I had as a teenager.

It’s likely I’ll continue working from home most or all of this summer, which will let me ride a lot again this year. Before the pandemic, I worked in the office every day, and seldom found time to ride. I used to manage a half dozen rides every season. Last season I made that many every week, because I could go out on my lunch hour. It was glorious!

I’d love to buy a new 3 speed, to escape the old-bike blues. I’m fixated on 3-speed bicycles because not only do I love their upright riding position, but I value the simplicity of the sealed gear hub over a derailleur. I’ve owned two bikes with derailleurs and both of them dropped their chain from time to time. What a pain in the rear. Also, I hardly need more than 3, maybe 5, speeds here in flat Indiana. I once had an 18-speed bike and it was just too many speeds. I keep drooling over this Bianchi 3 speed. It looks just right!

I’ve been given the option of working from home full time when the pandemic is over, but I’ve decided not to take it. Instead, I’ll work in the office about four days a week and at home about one day. I can ride on my lunch hour on work-from-home days when the weather supports it, but I’m not sure how I’ll ride as often as I’m getting to now thanks to the pandemic. I’m not sure it makes sense to invest in a new bike unless I’m going to ride it frequently.

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31 thoughts on “Freshly tuned bicycles

  1. I had forgotten about coaster brakes. Growing up, my pals and loved few things more about our bikes than the ability to leave fabulous skid marks on our parents’ driveways by getting to speed then standing on one pedal to lock the back wheel.

  2. I’m not sure Bianchi is selling bikes in the USA. I’ve checked around Ohio, the NE, and several major cities across the country (using their dealer finder) and haven’t found a dealer, and places around here that used to carry Bianchi don’t anymore. But I agree, for a long time among the “big names,” Bianchi was the only one selling nicely equipped ‘traditional’ bikes for enjoyable upright riding. Second, don’t be afraid of an internally geared hub. Not only would it be a shame to ditch an otherwise perfectly good Schwinn, those hubs aren’t that complicated inside – any bike shop with a good mechanic should be able to disassemble it and find the problem. The internal brake – which is like an old fashioned drum brake on a car – may just need a good cleaning. Hard to imagine the friction surfaces actually wearing out. And, the other option would be to have the shop re-build the wheel with a new internally geared hub – 3, 7, 8 or 14 speeds depending on what you want – although you might end up with a handbrake for the rear also!

    • I poked around online and found a few dealers, but none local to me. So it might be hard to test-ride a Bianchi. But I’m sure I could order one and have it shipped, if I only knew which frame size to buy. A buddy of mine who lives near me bought a Bianchi bike last year — his last name is also Bianchi — I ought to ask him where he got it.

      I wasn’t aware hubs could be disassembled. I’m going on 30 year old knowledge – I had to have a hub replaced in a bike I owned, as the bike shop said they weren’t repairable. Maybe the dude didn’t want to repair it.

      • Theoretically three speed hubs can be overhauled/rebuilt, but a lot of it depends on which one it is.

        The venerable Sturmey-Archer AW hub has been in production since 1938 (!) though the newer versions are a bit different than ones from the 20th century. These hubs are plentiful and can usually be repaired, and if worse comes to worse (which has happened with me), the internals of a functioning AW hub can be plopped into the shell of an old one, which means you can completely replace the workings without having to rebuild a wheel.

        The Shimano hubs are a different story. The newer ones are pretty solid, but the eariler ones not so. The “333” hub common on bikes from the 70s and 80s is hard to repair, that is if you can find the spare parts and more importantly someone who is willing to repair it, as most mechanics I know don’t want anything to do with it. I believe the Shimano 333 is what’s spec’d on your Collegiate, or at least its coaster-braked variant.

        The biggest deal is finding someone to fix an internal hub if you don’t want to try it yourself. This wasn’t a big deal 40 years ago when they were more common, but many modern mechanics lack the skillset to work on one. The best bet is to find a shop that’s been around awhile and/or a mechanic that’s been in the game for a long time.

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Had all kinds of bikes as an adult, but did so much “quality riding” on my three speed as a kid, that I’ve been nosing around for a 5 to 7 speed internal hub bike for my future. I’m with you on the “upright” seating as well. That type of frame is almost harder to find these days with a multi-speed hub, that it might be worth my while finding an old three speed for nothing and retro fitting a new multi-speed hub built wheel. (Wisconsin was always a big bike state, and with Trek being built here, it’s never been unusual to find quality bike in yard sales for ‘nothing’. Just before I moved to Indy, I bought a Trek 720 at a yard sale for 25 bucks in great shape, just needing new tubes).

    I used to work on bikes a lot back in the 70’s and had some pretty wild bikes, but have to say, as precise as I could make the shifting, nothing beat the simplicity and ease of riding of the internal hub shifting; and I sure don’t need 21 speeds!

    My dream bike would be upright seating, internal 5 speed hub, and front disc brake. I’ve seen a few close, for a lot of money, but none so perfect that I would want to spend that much over finding a cheap three speed and “modding” it myself. I always “modded” my bikes back in the day to make them fit right for myself.

    Adjusting caliper brakes? Nothing better than a cheap “third hand” tool! Usually under ten bucks. Back the ferrule out of the brake handle a ways, clamp the “third hand” tool over the binders to set them against the wheel, pull the cable as tight as you can, and lock in place, then take off the tool, and turn the ferrule back in until the pads separate from the wheel wall enough to clear! Done!

    https://www.amazon.com/Third-Hand-Brake-Adjuster-Yellow/dp/B0787T5KWD

    • I had no idea third-hand tools were a thing! Back in the day when I adjusted my own brakes I did it all without tools like that. What a pain in the ass. But I made it work!

      My Schwinn is pretty battered. If I were going to invest in making a frankenbike to my specs, I’d want a frame in much better condition than the one I have. But I’m not closed to the idea of it. I wouldn’t mind a 5 speed hub. Every once in a while, 3 isn’t quite enough.

  4. DougD says:

    As much as I prefer the engineering superiority of the internally geared hub, I enjoy my 15 speed upright bike. We live half way up a valley so any ride involves going up and down hills. I do wish the whole thing was geared lower, I never use the biggest forward ring and my bike would probably do 60mph in top gear, quite ridiculous.

    My braking problem is the shoes squeal alarmingly. On my old 1970’s 10 speed I recall being able to adjust the angle of the shoe, but not on my new bike.

    • If I lived in a valley, I’d have to go with more gears too. Out here, the hills aren’t that challenging.

      Why would anyone make a bike where you can’t adjust the angle of the brake shoes?

  5. Jim, regarding a new bike: Due to COVID and increased demand, the global supply chain of bikes and parts is pretty stretched right now. I’ve heard there’s delays up to a couple years on some things, so finding a new bike soon could be hard. It’s probably a good idea to keep the Collegiate running for a bit.

    That Bianchi looks cool, but yeah, I can’t seem to find a dealer in the US.

    There are some other alternatives:
    -The Public V7I looks a bit like the Bianchi and has a seven speed internal hub. They ship direct to your home for free:
    https://publicbikes.com/collections/multi-speed/products/public-v7i
    -State Bicycle has the Elliston Deluxe three speed, and they also ship:
    https://www.statebicycle.com/collections/city-bikes-1/products/the-elliston-deluxe-3-speed
    -Brooklyn Bike Driggs 3 Speed
    https://www.brooklynbicycleco.com/collections/commuter-bikes/products/driggs-3

    There’s a few other ones that were released a few years ago but I can’t seem to find current stock, like Raleigh’s modern three speed options and Simcoe Bikes. Since everyone’s been buying bikes left-and-right this last year, I don’t if you can find them.

      • You are welcome!

        Sturmey-Archer makes five speed hubs, but it’s rare to see it spec’d in a bike. Most modern hub gear bikes are either sold with a three speed or seven/eight speed hub. I guess there’s not enough demand in a five-speed hub bike in the already niche market of hub geared bikes.

  6. I guess I’m overly optimistic about the number of ‘old heads’ still working in bike shops…. I’ve never taken a 333 apart but the story about shattered pawls pretty much says it all, doesn’t it! The SRAM units are really easy to disassemble (to bits) and service. But, they’re not sold here anymore.

    • Granted, the shattered pawls story was in 1964, so by the mid-80s Shimano had refined their processes. Still, it sounds like the Shimano hubs were made to be less serviceable than Sturmey-Archer.

      As for SRAM, it’s not just that they aren’t sold here, they aren’t being made. SRAM discontinued internal gear production a few years back. It is a shame though, especially since they were the successor company to Sachs.

      • Didn’t know that. I’ve got a couple of DualDrive hubs the local bike store gave me probably 10-12 years ago. I built up a Long Haul Trucker around one of them and find the 3×7 rear transmission with a 42 ring in front to be an excellent commuter kit in my hilly environment. It’s a shame they didn’t catch on here.

        • A lot of it has to do with how we think about bikes in the US. Since at least the 60s (and especially when the Bike Boom came along in the 70s) we’ve been taught that “real, serious” bikes are road bikes, and road bikes have derailleurs. The concept of serious bike has changed a bit over the years, but the bias against internal gear hubs has not. Before then, a Raleigh Sports with a three speed hub was a perfectly fine adult bike, at least for the few adult cyclists you could find in America. Now a bike like that gets labeled as a “cruiser” and we all just know that cruisers ≠ serious bikes. I mean, the name alone should tell you that!

          Places like northern Europe and Japan have had a more robust “city bike” culture, and the bias against internally geared hubs is not as prevalent. A serious hub gear like the fourteen-speed Rohloff, over-engineered to be reliable for thousands and thousands of miles and promoted as being the ultimate for round-the-world touring?This kind of hub could only come out of a country like Germany. No one in the US would design such a thing!

          Almost a decade ago, when I was on a bike tour on the Washington coast, I came across a German woman who was touring on a city bike with an eight speed internally geared hub! I thought it was amazing, but she didn’t seem fazed. Being from a place where internal gear hubs were accepted, she probably didn’t even think about getting a derailleur’d bike for touring.
          https://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/pdx-oly-astoria-tour-day-6-willapa-hills-river-and-bay/

        • Andy Umbo says:

          APDX, you said it. When I was working in Chicago in the late 80’s there was a bike shop that carried a selection of international bikes. The had my dream bike from Japan, a Panasonic commuter, I believe. It was cream with chocolate accents, three speed internal hub, looked like a slightly stylized Raleigh 3 speed, but it was mostly all chrome-moly frame, and alloy wheels, it was about half the weight of a Raleigh! It also had an almost completely enclosed chain: no pinning your slacks back, a truly “commuter” feature! Alas, before I could save up, it was gone, and I moved out of Chicago before they could get another….

        • Andy and APDX- I commute by bicycle year round, starting doing it in Houston in 2004, and have done so since moving to CT in 2007. A good commuter bike is an instrument of joy. The Trucker frame with the DualDrive was a good start (and it’s become my Adventure Bike a.k.a. the Adventuere) but I’ve moved on to a custom CrMo frame equipped with touring gears (triple in front), disk brakes, hub dyno, etc.., (a.k.a. The Wanderer in my photographs).
          The choice betwteen a derailler system vs. Rohloff was strictly economic. The latter is hideously expensive in this country; I’ll have to go through 5 crank sets to pay for the difference and in 12 years of this bike (something like 24000 miles), I’m still just on my second crankset. Why a custom frame – exactly what you guys have noticed. My wife is Italian, I see what people ride there for transportation, and you just cannot buy those kind of bicycles in the good ole’…. What a shame.

  7. And Andy, I’m willing to bet that the shop may have ordered that Panasonic by accident, or it was pushed onto them by their rep or distributor. And when the bike sold, they went “Whew! We were worried that we’d NEVER sell it” and move on, without considering that there might actually be a market for well-equipped commuter bikes.

  8. In the suburbs west of Hartford, within easy access to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail and Farmington River Trail railtrails and within walking distance to the Metacomet Trail. A good location for human power exploration and film photography!

    • Ah, so basically Farmington! Nice area. Didn’t spend a lot of time around there, but the trails are indeed nice. I’m from south and west of there.

      • I’ll contact you via your website…. I lived most of my first 4 1/2 decades in a tiny rural Ohio farmtown and spent my free time in a lot of those years chasing down old road, railroad, and interurban alignments, and we both seem to prefer film to silicon. So Jim’s site really resonates with me.

  9. I have three bikes and I don’t go on any as much as I should or would like. Whenever I am free it seems to be raining or windy…I hate both.

  10. Slow Joe Crow says:

    The old REI Novara Gotham would be a good upgrade from your Schwinn since it had internal hub gears and fenders. The closest to a modern Schwinn might be a Linus, if you can find one https://linusbike.com/products/roadster-sport
    I do most of my utility cycling on a rigid mountain bike so I guess I’ve come to terms with derailleurs or the prevalence of steep hill sin my area.

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