Sunday, January 31, 2016

Who needs a ute?

Specially when you have the Kmart Bike - which I've taken to calling the Huffymobile, because "Huffymobile" rolls off the tongue easier than "KMart Bike" or "Tourexmobile".

Helping a friend with a guttering job. Picked up a ladder, guttering and other bits from the hardware. Wasn't the fastest trip, but easier than carrying it by hand. 

I raised the seat, so the load is flat. Tied it down firmly onto the seat, and closer handlebar. The far side was looped around the grip, but not tied.  I could pull on the rope across the load to hold the load on, and to turn the bars to steer around corners.  If it had been tied down firmly, no turning would be possible. 

We spent two days to complete the guttering job. Mainly because the afternoon thunder and lightning storm interrupted us just after lunch on day one. By the second afternoon storms it was all done, and we could sit back and admire our effort and bask in the feeling of a job well done. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sydney: New Bike!!!

Didn't last long without wheels, so gave in to the urge and went shopping.  I had a criteria list and after careful consideration, I settled on this potentially high performance touring machine. 

Assembled enough to wheel it back to the lair for further work.
66cm (26 inch) Tourex Mens Bike

With 18 speeds to choose from, this bicycle is fantastic for you or your teenager. Great for simply getting from A to B or incorporating into your fitness regimen for cardiovascular exercise. Featuring a sturdy steel frame, Shimano derailleur, front and rear V brakes and a quick release seat position.

Suitable for ages 14+ years

Features: 18 speeds, Shimano derailleur, steel frame, front and rear V brakes, quick release seat position
Minimum height: 157cm
Wheel size: 66cm (26 inch)

I liked the colour - blue. It edged out the ladies bike that was cream coloured. Also, I thought the top tube might be marginally stronger than the lower height step through frame on the ladies bike. For my intended use, any advantage on the strength is needed.

The basket was an $12 impulse buy. Handy to put stuff in. I think that along with mudguards, front baskets are an underrated and overlooked accessory. 

The bike was bought sealed in its box. I assembled it enough in the shopping centre to wheel it back here to finish assembly. This gave me the chance to check that nothing was damaged or missing while I was still close to K-Mart.

By this time, some people will be screaming - buy a real bike! Its junk, a clunker!  Certainly the online forums are full of such advice, or suggesting getting a second hand bike. But there are some voices of reason amongst them. A cheap bike has its place, if you know what you're getting involved with and can work on it yourself.  

For the new rider, there are a lot of advantages to dealing with your local bike shop:
- you get expert advice to find a bike that fits you and suits what you want to use if for.  K-Mart bike there is no advice from anyone in the store. What is written on the box is all there is. 
- fitting options.  K-Mart bike is one size only. Unless you can find an assembled bike on display, you have no information about if this bike is a good fit for you.
- fully assembled and correctly adjusted bike. K-Mart bike is in a box and you do it yourself. For a novice, this can cause problems with incorrect adjustments and fitting, leading to unhappy cycling or injury or death.
- the bike will be suitable for its use. K-Mart bike can't be taken off road even though it looks like a MTB.
- swapping out of parts is possible. K-Mart bikes you get what is in the box no options.
- usually a free first service. K-Mart has no bicycle service offers at all.
- a knowledgeable professional will always be there to offer help, advice, complete servicing and repairs. K-Mart bike - your on your own, and given the low price of the bike, bicycle shops will be reluctant to help as the low quality components have limited adjustment ability and the cost of any work and parts will quickly exceed the cost of the bike.  It may not seem like it, but they are doing you a favour by not working on your cheap low quality bicycle. 
- you get a longer period before gear wears out. K-Mart bike has very low quality components.  Cheap low quality metal, plastic and poor quality seals and bearings, mean a short lifespan before requiring attention.  

But still, a cheap bike has its place.

My criteria had: MTB like, new, cheap.  The K-Mart bike met all those and it edged out its nearest competitor the Target bike, by being $50 cheaper.  There could be good deals to be had on the second hand market. I had a quick browse of the offerings, but wondered about proof of ownership.  Are you really going to check who owns a sub $100 bike? Is that sub $100 good deal, really owned by the seller, or are you just aiding the bike theft market?  And then thinking about the need to factor in travel to inspect, passing it up as too damaged,  repairs needed on an acceptable bike, I decided it was going to be hard to beat $99 new for ease of owning, and certainty with what you get. 

What you get is a very cheap, very low quality bike. It's not to be denied, it has some short comings.  Nothing on K-Mart says the bike is a MTB. It just looks like one.  You are warned not to take it off road, or try stunting.  

Not sure why not to ride at night. Maybe because it doesn't come with lights. I did read the owners manual and was surprised to learn that the frame has a 5 year warranty! How many high end frames have that sort of warranty?

The quality of components isn't great. The fork boots come with manufactured in sag. 

The rubber boot does not grip the fork slider at all.
Just to catch and add dirt and grit to wear these bushings out.

Nice soft plastic bushes. Reckon they'll last?
For the moment the forks kind of slide, and no slack is detectable there. I don't expect that to last long. To put that off a bit longer, I used cable ties around the rubber boots to keep them against the fork sliders. 

Wheels are fairly true. The rear could do with a bit of a touch up but will leave it till I've clocked some kilometres and do it then. Tires are nylon and rated for maximum of 90kg. I'm expecting this to be the first upgrade that will happen. No maximum bike load is listed in the owners manual, so these  will be the limiting factor. Being just nylon, they will suffer easy punctures compared to the Schwalbe Marathon Tour Plus tires I'm used to. Gear changing isn't lightning fast, nor slick. Slow and steady is the go here.  Brakes adjusted, do the job of stopping. Pedals turn, chain to rear cluster. All the normal bike stuff. I've still to check how much grease is on the bearings. I've seen multiple online reports of 'not much', so probably is worth looking into.

Bike weighs in (with basket) at about 16kg. Not too bad considering the lump of metal that is the front suspension forks, the side stand and the steel frame.

For all the low quality gear, the first ride brought out the cycling smile.

What next? I need to find some bits to build a rack.  The aim is to keep the bike low cost, so a Tubus rack is out. I want the rack to mount my backpack on - so it has to be a custom creation. I'll go scavenging for materials.

Bike lock. My last lock was Abus Granit 1000 Steel O Flex Cable Lock. A hefty 1.55kg. But at $100, its more than cost of the bike. I was going to get a $15 K-Mart combination lock. But quick research shows that is easy to break the combination. The K-Mart U-Locks have the barrel keys. They fail with a Bic pen attack. I remember when Kryptonite replaced all their locks when that attack came out.  So need to find something else. The trade off between lock cost and bicycle cost.

Mudguards. Will find some core-flute to make a set.

Pedals are plastic. I'll increase the platform size for foot comfort, since I'll not be wearing the Shimano sandals.

Mount mirror on handle bars. I found a small make-up mirror on the side of the road. Just need to make up a bracket to hold it in place.

Tires/Tubes. Undecided still on thornproof tubes or Tuffy liner or just wait and swap them for better tires.  Schwelbe tires front and back will be worth more than the bike but could be a useful upgrade. Who likes patching punctures?

Then,  load it up with my gear and head bush again.

So, why I'd get this bike?  A few reasons. 

I wanted a bike that I don't have to worry about. I want to do walking, but most of the places are not easy to get to. So will need to ride out to them and then leave the bike there while I'm off walking. It could be days before I return. I never got over leaving the Troll out of my sight. It always seemed "wrong" leaving several thousand dollars of bike locked to a bush or a street post, and then wander off and leaving it.  I couldn't do it and this affected my travels; by not going places where I had to leave the bike, or by being overly worried about it when it was out of sight. It should have been easier when I was off in places with hardly any people, but I never managed it.  The Troll was never a bike I could walk away from. I was too attached to the bike. 

This also affected catching the train or bus. Too many bits that I didn't want broken or bent on the Troll because of the cost, inconvenience of repairing them, so was super cautious to the point of not travelling on trains or buses to avoid the worry.  This year, heading north, I'll not cycle all the way up. So there will be some bus or train or plane travel. With the K-Mart bike, it's not a worry.  Depending what happens, it might be better to leave the K-Mart bike somewhere and collect it on the way back down.

Increasing the sense of worry for me has been the lowering cost, and increasing power of battery powered angle grinders. For less than $100 you can buy one at Bunnings now. No lock is safe from an angle grinder. And it is faster if the thief is after just the parts.  The frame isn't hardened steel like a lock.

So a lot of angst about the Troll because of its high quality and costly components. None of that with a $99 K-Mart bike.

Having a high end bike does buff the ego a bit, and it does feel nice to ride - no denying that.  But is it that much better to ride?  I spent a lot of time walking with the Troll. I'll do the same with the K-Mart bike. No difference doing that. 

The very cheap bicycle isn't for everyone. You will certainly need some bike maintenance skills to keep the K-Mart bike on the road. It would not be cost effective to have your local bike shop build or repair this bike. But I think that within its limits it can be a great buy.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sydney: A milestone.

Today, for the first time in over 15 years, I don't own a bicycle. Not just one less, not a temporarily separation but getting back together later, but really none. My beloved Surly Troll, that has been with me on many adventures is gone. It has moved out to a good home. It's going to settling down with a partner of similar attributes. They'll have Sunday rides, raise some kids and go on family adventures.

Just a memory now.
Meanwhile, my paring back is continuing. The tent has been re-seam sealed and is ready to move on. Down sleeping bag went to Vinnies, as will some of my excess clothing. Personal Locator Beacon, deregistered and sold. The Whisperlite International stove and Ortlieb Panniers are off having new adventures. I dare say the stove is seeing a lot more daily use than I ever gave it. After maybe one meal a day, it's probably quite shocked to be doing breakfast, lunch and dinner, with morning and afternoon coffee. A solar panel, water filter, and bunch of other stuff, that a day later I couldn't remember exactly what, and so showed how important it was, is off to another friend. Some other things, worn, but not quite worn out yet, or oh so joyfully discovered in rubbish heaps, or on the side of the road; I've hardened my heart, and placed in the bin.

Yes, in between bouts of procrastination, progress is going really well. I can see the end in sight.

Then, a friend mentioned that I had a bunch of papers at her place.  Twas quite a surprise to me; I'd completely forgotten the old filing cabinet contents from years ago. Given into safe keeping, but perhaps it was more "I really want to get cycling now, and don't want to deal with this - can you hold it. I'll be back for it soon." Six and a half years later, I'm dealing with it. The folders where chockablock1. Thankfully with the passage of time, most of it can easily be binned; decade old receipts; from which I learn't that things cost a lot less than today, airline tickets and boarding passes, hotel brochures and old photos of parties, in which I was very happy and very cheerful with lots of people whom I haven't a clue who they are now. Stuff that seemed terribly important at the time and needed to be kept, now quickly moves to the trash.  Some papers are more troubling; the "official records". Some I bin. High school and university semester results, certificates of attainment and old tax and banking records. But others, while I wanted to bin them, confident that in this day and age, no one requires paper, the reality isn't so simple. True, some institutions have moved with the times, and will accept electronic copies. But perplexingly, others really do want that piece of paper that looks like it come out of an 80's dot matrix printer with a blurry and fading stamp on it. And if you don't have their piece of paper, you're in for a lot of time, hassle and expense to get a new one, or come up with an alternative. I wonder if a new one would still look the same? Still considering if this really needs to be kept. Or if, at this time of my life, that I'm not likely to need it any more.

Not to stop with just physical stuff downsizing, I'm also culling and organising my digital world. The free storage offers, have just encouraged keeping files, purely for the sake of keeping. Like the cupboards in the house, that you hide stuff away in to not think about, so it goes online. But I'm onto it.

Music files got deleted. The tracks that were so truly awful that you can't bear to even hear them; they went years ago, but others that aren't that bad, but by the same measure, aren't that good either. Been holding on to them as 'they might grow on you'. Deleted them. If they haven't grown on me by now, they're not going to in the future. Without them, I they will not have the chance to grow on me, so that solves that. Can't miss what you don't have.

The ebook collection lost hundreds of titles by the simple measure of 'might I read this?'. For a surprising amount of books - no. I've been guilty of hoarding free books, or falling for the "collection sale on now" tactics. You know, where you buy 10 books for less than the price of one, to get that one book you might, perhaps one day, if you've nothing else, maybe like to read, and nine others that are absolute rubbish, that no one wanted and they never sold. So bundling them in as a collection is the only way to move them.

Photos fortunately wasn't a much of a cull - I already have a small collection there. I still recognise all the people. Better keep them.

And so it continues. Still trawling through the records digitised when I started on the road. Like the filing cabinet folders, there is sure to be plenty in there to bin.

There's something satisfying about cleaning up, having less. A sense of achievement. Nothing lurking in the corners, or hidden way, forgotten or undealt with. Knowing exactly what you own.  A feeling of freedom.  Go on, give it a try.

Australian Slang
1. chockablock  - full, full up, can't get another thing in.