Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

Writing on Two Wheels
Missouri Showme
And furthermore...
Reach out

Ride along for cranked posts on cycling and cycles
A from-the-wheels-up view of rides, builds and fixes.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Seized grub nut

Departure in 72 days.

Preparing for this trip – an adventure I’m uncertain I can pull off physically or fiscally – is now in full bloom. I have multiple fronts –files with hyperlinks, blog entries, lists; spreadsheets with mileage, links, mileposts, and intersections; images with Trace map sections, county highway maps, and adjacent bike paths – on parallel tracks with the tandem refurbishment detailed along one rail and the voyage planning along another shiny rail running off toward the infinite horizon.


At the same time, I’ve piled up the texts. The relevant Foote volume is pulled down, another Eudora Welty collection is requisitioned, Faulkner is staged, Trace histories are ordered. Returning to the Vicksburg campaign narrative has been a revelation even before my son and I roll through history on the Natchez Trace National Parkway.

Maps make the difference.


Maps bring a story alive, place a tale in context, allow it to occupy a space beyond imagination and project it onto a segment of the globe. Without one revolution of pedals or wheels, I gain a sense of the landscape. Cycling cue sheets are complemented by elevations along the Trace. At my online disposal are dynamic maps of the full length of the parkway, its exits and services within 2 miles of those access point. This is valuable information, all available at a touch on my phone. Even so, I’ll print out county highway maps and cue sheets and mark up Trail guides. Because that’s what I do.


The path we’ll follow is real. This is distinct from our first tandem trip, along U.S. 90 from Tallahassee to Pensacola, following what is called the Old Spanish Trail, a remnant of the subscription road associations created to encourage construction of auto-worthy paved highway systems. It was only called the Old Spanish Trail, without any connection to a historical version.


Contrarily, there has been real suffering and tragedy along the Natchez Trace’s route. For the United States alone, a short-term actor on the global scene, here is the nexus of the nation, its dark underside and unforgivable past, the truth and shame of our present so many of us cannot or do not or will not acknowledge. It is here where so much has been nurtured into being. More than the alluvial soil is rich. U.S. Grant, Lightning Hopkins, Andrew Jackson, Eudora Welty, Marcus Dupree.

It’s a remarkable place, fertile land with a unique ecosystem and a firm hold on the narrative of this country’s history.

All of this fascinates and motivates me. For now, though, one of the set screws securing the eccentric sleeve of the captain’s bottom bracket on the Santana is locked up in its corroded threads. The other, the left of the two, I successfully backed out. Further, with the right one being thus stuck, I’ve managed to round off its hex sides. I dropped the Santana’s frame off at a bike shop and asked them to have a go at extracting what I was told is called a grub nut.

I knew I’d been feeling out of sorts. Of course. My grub nut is seized up.

Sat, December 30, 2017 | link          Comments

Sunday, December 24, 2017

In store


Ahead is a full strip down.

Followed by powerful cleaning, degreasing and de-griming.

Next, the buff up.

Finally, wrenching it all back together finely tuned and fully lubed.

I must commit to it. No half measures allowed or shortcuts taken.


All the way. Don’t hesitate to unroll the tape from the handlebar because it will only have to be rewound. Replace all the housing along with the stretched and compromised cables. While the tape is off, the cables pulled, the levers removed I will not fail to replace the handlebars, misshapen in a 2014 collision.

This Santana, as compared to the Bianchi, is outfitted with exceptional componentry, specially chosen to withstand extreme tandem stresses, provide the keenest performance, and integrate with seamless precision the frame and drivetrain and wheels. The Nebraskan who owned it before me – we exchanged my check for his tandem in northwest Missouri in Rocheport or King City – loved it so. He made meticulous, reasoned choices to outfit the bike – switching out much if not all the original componentry and sending the frame in for a great-looking two-tone paint job while he was at it. He maintained it lovingly.


Since 1998, when I think I bought it, I’ve done nothing of consequence to the tandem. In part that’s a testament to the quality of its components, in part it’s luck, in part it’s pure bicycle maintenance malpractice on my part.

I’m about to remedy that.

One set screw on the eccentric bottom bracket shell – it’s an elliptical shape, not endearingly idiosyncratic (though, now I ponder, I believe it’s both) – is seized up. The actuating arm of the drum brake, or else the pads of the brake itself, is out of whack and causing considerable drag. The rim brake pads are hardened and useless against glazed rim walls. While the Phil Wood bottom brackets are notably resilient, and distinctly not grinding or binding, the pair are just as clearly performing below peak. Without an acceptable alternative solution, I’m not particularly pleased with the lever setup: the two rim-brake cables run to the same, right-hand, lever and the drum brake cable is assigned the left lever. As mentioned, the captain’s handlebars are stove in on the left drop.

All that and more is ahead.


I believe we’re fully outfitted, with an answer in place for all the above. Chances are, overwhelmingly, against this holding true.

We shall see. More on my mind is while it may be Christmas Eve, it is also 78 days until March 12, and that day is what should be the first day of the Natchez Trace ride. Several thousand things need to go the right way for this to come off as envisioned. 

Sun, December 24, 2017 | link          Comments

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tandemic times

The organizing idea around here is the wondrous perfection of the bicycle as machine, how its basic principles of geometry and mechanics and efficiency make it endlessly fascinating.

For immediate purposes, if you can stipulate the truth of this then the next bit must naturally follow: If a bicycle is X, a tandem is, by necessity, at least Xx2 or maybe it’s X2 or perhaps instead I mean X+1. Point being if bicycle is good, then tandem is good and then some.


I find in the meanwhile since the Hugo Black project, of lessons learned preparation and patience pay in virtues both expected and unforeseen – similar truths attain to the tandem with the tantalizing possibility of more. This something more is in the machine itself as well as the reach of the experience it offers, a patch of ineffable possibility transcending the already exceptional travel through time and space offered by bicycles featuring a single saddle.

In part, I project. The ride in June pedaling with my son was terrific and positive and inextricably linked to this Santana tandem.

In greater degree, I think, I now see the expanding possibility because of how little familiar I am with the Santana and how meaningful it may prove to Change that.

I have never once torn the Santana down, never replaced the cables, never repacked the grease in the hubs or the bottom brackets (all four of these had sealed bearings and were service-free in theory), never switched out the brake pads, and never put on a new chain.


I’ve owned this second-hand, meticulously maintained tandem for 20 years. It’s such a rock-solid reliable harmony of frame and components that I pedaled it over thousands of miles with four different stokers on the back saddle with nary a problem more serious than a flat tire. It’s a testament to Santana’s bulletproof design and component specs and the over-engineered substitute cranks and brakes and bottom brackets and expensive, handsome two-tone paint job the previous owner put on the rig. Phil Wood. Top-of-the-line power brakes, lighter *and* stronger chainrings and cranks. The wheels are laced up with four-cross 48s.


I kept the Santana running. Cleaned the chain and cassette, fine-tuned the derailleurs over the long pull of cable from the bar ends all the way back and looping around the rear dropout. I wrenched around on the caliper brakes as well as the drum brake.

I put new tape on the bars an added a bell.

It’s going to be something to strip this down to the bones and understand intimately its workings. I’ll get to know the Choctawhatchee Chariot in all its details. If I do it right, it’s going to ride so much better.

Tue, December 12, 2017 | link          Comments

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Restoration rarity

Has a 1993 Bianchi Nyala ever been restored? I think not. It’s nearly a quarter century old. When does an object become vintage? At what age an antique? Is affected insincerity required, because this project is irony-free. There is no statement, only utility. There is no cool factor, only the convenience of materials on hand.

It’s not a fixie. It’s not an artwork. It’s not precious. It is useful. It is bulletproof. It is comfortable.

There is nothing wrong with that.


All the stuff I bought was from Velo Orange. I think they’re selling value components, done right. I wonder, as I do about so many places, about the business model and how it works. I hope it’s making money for good people.

I got a new bottom bracket with sealed bearings for under $40. I estimate the spinning resistance of the axle is reduced by a third. It spins smoove indeed.


New canti brakes that, as you would expect, came with new unhardened brake pads. The components themselves featured fine adjustments to center and dial-in the posts precisely and, thus, improving performance markedly. These changes of course meant replacement of the OEM parts, a good thing in that the originals were plastic-clad crap.

I do not understand the bicycle business now or then. I suspect Bianchi merely assembled the Nyala after speccing out the parts not on the basis of how it worked, but rather how it fit into a budget to deliver margins and sales volume called for in a project prospectus. I was kind of doing the same thing, without having to worry about profit, only containing costs as effectively as possible and a theoretical minimum standard to meet.

I think I made the right decisions.

The headset – the shiny chrome buffed to a mirrored surface and etched with top-drawer graphics – is the essence of smooth. It looks good and does good. And all for $28. A bargain makes the high-performance action seem even more exceptional.


The shifter mounts – going for a cool $65 – are spendy relative to the other parts going on this bike. Compared to other options for shifting (apart from the no-cost alternative of keeping the untenably ugly, rusting, plastic-swaddled, stubby shifters tenured in the position). The mounts in combination with old Suntour shifters from the origin story of the Cloud Bike do have a certain cache of coolness, of street cred as both a hack as well as the standard vintage hipness.

Refurbished parts are now as clean as the day of manufacture. In addition, they are almost certainly more effectively lubricated. The chain and drivetrain are tuned to A#. Pitting on the cones and races of the hubs are less than ideal, but excessive grease and special combo tightening down to a just-wobbling looseness clamped down to true spinning with a tight quick-release squeeze.


As it came together, I was taken by how this bicycle, these components, this machine was achieving its highest possible function. It may be heavy, but the spinning resistance is as low as it goes at each point. It may feature discredited “advances,” but the elliptical chainrings certainly do no harm and are a great conversation starter. It may not hew to fashion, but it strikes its own distinctive profile and stakes a claim to bespoke virtue.

It’s a high bred hybrid.

Sun, October 29, 2017 | link          Comments

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Transforming from hybrid to high-bred

I was 29 years old when I bought this 1993 Bianchi Nyala in a Memphis bike shop off Germantown Road in unincorporated Shelby County. I thought this bicycle was remarkable with a gearing range beyond any I’d ever known and exotic with an elliptical chainring that orbited around the axle in an ovoid hitch-a-loop while rolling along on the none-more-grunge knobby tires. The tires were a skosh beyond 2 inches wide and encapsulated fat tubes holding air at 60 psi.


The machine seemed a wonder to me as I rode it around the west side of West Plains, circumnavigating the golf course and over to the Meek’s Lumber, across the truck route of the federal highway and up the hill on the other side past the old Brill place. Then perhaps back and across and out beyond to a paved county road lined by roadside mailboxes and circling back to the subdivision and the neighborhood and the house.


There were 21 gears. The mechanical advantage ranged from the comfortable gain offered by a modest 48-tooth chainring to an equally mild 13-tooth small-end sprocket. The granny gear and big sprocket offered a negative ratio to spin up steep grades.

Another day and my ride was more direct – out and back straight away on my street and unwaveringly proceeding westward, the concrete of the neighborhood giving way to chip seal beyond the city limits and graded dirt and gravel of the still-further reaches of the road until it gave out and curved into County CC.

First I cranked up, then I blasted down a snow-and-ice covered access road to Kyle’s Landing on the Buffalo National Scenic River in January on this Bianchi. This was the day after I was crowned Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. You could look it up.


I discovered two friends who asked me to join them on their early morning rides. I did, and couldn’t keep pace, even with the addition of higher-pressure slicks. (In response, I bought a used road bike. Suddenly, I was able to hold my friends’ wheels. This was destined to become the Cloud Bike.)

For the most part, I stopped riding the Bianchi then. Infrequently I would drag it out to a trail and give the off-road thing yet another try only to once again be by turns bored, overmatched, scared, and frustrated only to hang the bike for another long dormancy. Alternatively, and largely alternately, I’d make a concerted effort to city bike or even commute. Sweat and pants legs and rain showers and darkness and the special awfulness of carrying and using a U-lock would inevitably intervene to persuade me of my folly. I’d give it up.


Here is where we find each other in Ye Olde Bike Shoppe. Lyssa needed a bicycle. The Bianchi needed to gain performance and lose weight with a few required parts replacements. The headset races, for instance, were pitted and no amount of adjustment would make the turning of handlebars smooth. I believe my other choices, the discretionary decisions, realized the greatest cost-benefit ratio – a new bottom bracket with sealed bearings were a low-cost winner, to name one.

I spent just about the same dollars on replacements and upgrades as I did on the original bicycle. Other changes were small but delivered outsize aesthetic improvements. I think the brake cable yokes, for example, are big wins.

The color scheme and design continuity among components is poor. It weighs a wee bit.

It rides like a champ, spins like a mother, and is a looker as a novelty.

We’ll walk through the particulars next time.

Sat, October 21, 2017 | link          Comments

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