Saturday, September 16, 2023

A Little Off The Top

The sheer curtains I installed earlier this week were doing their job quite well, but when I was installing them I did notice that the curtain rod pocket was a bit tight on the oversized 1-inch curtain rods I had bought. I wanted the extra chunky rods to avoid the possibility of them sagging in the middle of my somewhat comically large windows, and I hadn't considered beforehand whether that would cause a compatibility issue with the curtains themselves.

That said, the curtains did fit, though they were quite snug; snug enough that I couldn't really slide the curtains on the rod without getting up on a ladder and shoving them back and forth,

Luckily this is a problem with a solution, particularly since the curtain rod pocket was sewn with a bit of a fringe of extra material along the top.

All I had to do was line up the top of the curtain with the edge of the presser foot, since I didn't have any particular other measurement in mind, and put the pedal to the metal.

After removing the original seam, the result is quite an improvement.

Less pointless frilliness up top, more space for the curtain rod down below. I also took the opportunity to remove the textile information tags, which were inconveniently sewn into one of the seams along the top.

It is interesting, though, how much of a story that a seam can tell, even long after it's sewn. Like this one, for example.

The story this seam tells is "I was sewn on a Friday afternoon."

Friday, September 15, 2023

Electric Boogaloo

For a few years now I've had a thought in mind to dip my toes into the world of e-bikes. I had considered two avenues I could take on this.

On one side, I could get an eGravel bike. Gravel bikes really excel at all-day, long-mileage, lots-of-climbing adventures, and having electric assist can really help stretch those miles out. Plus, they're very well suited to daily office commuting duties, which also benefits greatly from electric assistance.

On the other side, I could get an eMTB, specifically a big burly long-travel suspension one. Mountain bikes, despite their nomenclature, are a bit of a slog to pedal up hills on, especially when you get into the ones built beefy enough to survive big hits on rough terrain. One of the things that's slowed down my progression with mountain bike skills is the fact that after doing 2k to 4k feet of climbing, I'm kind of toast and done for the day, which translates into 1 or 2 runs on a trail like Flow in Demo. Being able to do more full runs, or even having the extra energy (in battery form) to climb back up and session sections would give me a lot more practice.

But then the apocalypse came. That put an end to me commuting to work, taking one point away from the eGravel option. Then last year I dropped the cash to buy myself a regular analog gravel bike (which I enjoy greatly), and that put the eGravel option solidly into the "mostly redundant" category.

So an eMTB is a done deal, right? Well, not so fast. eMTBs (and quality e-bikes in general) cost a pretty penny, and the technology was, and is, still moving pretty fast. That provided ample amounts of excuse for just sitting back and waiting things out.

For context, a nicely specced eMTB will generally cost in the neighbourhood of $8-$10k, whereas a comparable analog MTB might be around $5500-$6000.

But then this happened.

And shortly afterwards, this happened.

Wait, hang on, something's missing. Let me try that again.

There we go, that's much better. But, the sacrifices I made...

That's a lot of dust.

Anyway, what we see here is the Specialized Kenevo Expert, a top spec eMTB being sold for the price of a plain old analog MTB. it's about as big and burly as you can get without going all the way to a dedicated downhill bike. In fact, in this build it's basically considered a "Mini DH" since it has a dual-crown fork out front (which is designed to be extra rigid and durable for taking hard hits), but still has a full range drivetrain (DH bikes usually only have the fast gears, since they're only ever pointed downhill).

This is pretty much an ideal addition to my stable of bikes, since it sits as far away as possible from my other bikes in terms of spec. It has 180/180mm of travel (front/rear) compared to 140/130mm of Crimson Ghost, and is a long, stretched out medium-sized frame vs the compact, nimble small-sized frame of Crimon Ghost. These two aspects, the long cushy suspension and its long, stable wheelbase let it glide smoothly through the dirt like a canoe.

Thus I named it "Dirt Canoe".

So as should be obvious from the photos above, I have of course taken this bike out on is maiden voyage. For this, I chose to ride one of my usual morning routes, where I ride up Kennedy until the 45 minute mark, then turn around and ride home for a roughly 60-70 minute ride. On Blackbirb, my XC MTB, it looks roughly like this. On Dirt Canoe (in Eco mode, mind you) it looks like this.

The reason I chose this route is that it's essentially a fixed-time ride rather than fixed-distance. Obviously riding the same distance/elevation on an e-bike will take less effort and energy and go faster than riding that route on an analog bike. What I wanted to know was whether spending the same amount of time in the saddle would result in the same workout.

And the answer? Within the limits of measurement error, the average power and calories burned were basically identical. You can get the exact same workout on an e-bike, hour per hour, that you can on a regular bike.

And for the data-obsessed, that ride ate up about 25% of the battery; I started around 90% and got down to 65% when I rolled back home.

I'm planning to do another experiment like this with the bike in Trail mode, and in Turbo mode. I expect the results will be largely similar, though if anything unexpected comes up you can look forward to a blog post about it.

Anyway, the bike did a splendid job on the way up the hill, as well as on the way down.

Despite the fact that I forgot to drop the tire pressure back down to a sane level after setting them up tubeless. The gravel buzz I was feeling started to make a lot more sense when I realized I was running 40psi instead of 20psi.

And even with the electric assistance, it's a long slog to climb that high up into the hills, but once you're there the views make it all worthwhile.

I think it's safe to say that this bike will fill an important spot in my lineup. It's going to be great for doing laps to hone my MTB skills, it's going to be great for riding around doing street view collects with my 360 camera, and it's going to be great for just doing long adventure rides out in the sticks. Crimson Ghost will still have its use on trails where the limited steering angle and long wheelbase of Dirt Canoe would make things awkward, as well as any place where eMTBs are excluded from the trails, and of course Blackbirb, The Stig, Purple Haze and Dirty Dozen still have their usual roles.

I'm not gonna sugar coat it: $5800 is still a bit of a dent in my wallet, but I think it'll be worth it.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Blinded by the Light

So one of the things I really liked about this house when I was shopping was how private the back yard is. High fences combined with trees and hedges made it so that it was basically impossible to see in or out of the yard, and I could prance around naked if I so pleased, and none of my neighbours were any the wiser. This also paired well with the giant wall of windows in the addition room, which did not come equipped with any blinds or drapes; it allowed the inside and outside to blend with each other, without compromising the privacy of the indoor space.

Critical to this privacy was the hedge of mature bottle brush trees along the back fence, which had grown tall enough over the years to need to be trimmed back from the utility lines. It did get a bit of damage during a wind storm earlier this year, at which point it looked like this.

The first sign of trouble was how the neighbours decided to deal with the situation of the broken, leaning bottle brush tree.

They just sawed it off, let it fall into my back yard, and left it there without a single word. Kind of a dick move, if you ask me.

More recently, those same neighbours have been undergoing a back yard renovation, where they've levelled a significant portion of the yard to put in a patio of pavers. This has resulted in them building up the yard on their side of the fence fairly significantly, such that someone standing at the end of the patio closest to the fence now has their head pop up over the top of said fence.

Then just this weekend I hear a chainsaw revving up, and, uh...

Yeah, without a single word to me, they just decided that there's not going to be a hedge there anymore. So now the privacy of my back yard, never mind my living room, is ruined. I also lost a significant amount of shade in my back yard.

For reference, here's approximately what it looks like to peer into the window at the rear of my house, from roughly the top of the back fence.

Yeah, that black blob there is the couch that I used to enjoy laying on without the obligation to put on pants.

Not cool.

The long term plan is to plant a bamboo hedge along the back fence, on my side so that they can't just decide on their own that they want to cut it down. That hedge would be best planted in the spring time though, so for now I need to look at other options.

Thank goodness for Prime next-day delivery.

The new drapes went up without too much trouble, though it took a few hours of fussing around to get everything assembled and in place just right.

At night, things are improved though perhaps not perfect.

And in the daytime, my privacy has been mostly restored.

It's going to take a few years after planting for the bamboo to reach above the fence, never mind filling in enough to provide some privacy screening, so I'll be living with these sheer drapes for a while.

It is what it is, but I'd really prefer if my neighbours weren't complete assholes.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Grinding Gears

On a previous post, I noted that the rear hub on Crimson Ghost was making a bit of a grinding noise when pedalling in the smaller cogs, and I decided that it was about time for me to take care of that.

So if we want to disassemble the rear hub to service it, the first step is to remove the cassette. Now, the SRAM Eagle cassettes are quite expensive, and so SRAM was thoughtful enough to include an anti-theft security measure where if a criminal tries to remove the cassette from your bike, the splines will shear off and the cassette will remain safely in place.

Unfortunately, it is apparently quite easy to accidentally trigger this security feature as the rightful owner.

Of course, later on once these cassettes became more common, SRAM removed that security feature and went back to a regular, insecure spline setup that doesn't shear off at the slightest provocation. For example, here's the one on The Stig, my gravel bike.

Unfortunately the one on The Stig is not the one I need to remove. Fortunately, I do still have ways to remove it.

The problem solver comes to the rescue once again.

Here we can see the breakaway mechanism up close. It's very secure. But, it is not without its weaknesses.

And yes, I turned the pipe wrench around the right way after taking this photo, and yes, it did most certainly work to get the remains of the cassette removed.

Though maybe I was being a bit too drastic, there's 4 whole teeth left in this spline. I'm sure I could have made it work, right?

Anyway, the important thing is that the cassette is removed, so we can proceed with the hub service.

The first thing that's going to need replacement is the 17x1mm o-ring that holds the end cap on, as it very cleanly sheared itself in two during the removal of the end cap.

And with the end cap off, we can slide the freehub body off and remove the two bearings and the spacer inside it.

These bearings did, in fact, turn out to be a little bit crunchy. Not alarmingly so, but enough to warrant their replacement. Generally if a ball bearing doesn't feel buttery smooth when you spin it, it's not long for this world and needs to be swapped out.

Unfortunately, swapping it out means waiting for new parts to arrive.

This isn't gonna go up hills very well like this, after all.

Anyway, first to arrive was the new cassette. Which did not have the anti-theft feature.

It did make a bit of a dent in my wallet, though.

The new bearings and o-ring were much cheaper, though. Thankfully.

They were very easy to seat back into the freehub body, using the appropriate bearing press tools.

And with that done, the hub could be reassembled once more.

Then the new cassette goes on.

And the brake rotor, of course.

These brakes do get a wee bit toasty on descents.

With that wrapped up, the bike is whole once more, and I can report that the operation was a success: there's no longer any creaking when pedalling in the smaller gears. Or, at least, there wasn't any I could notice on the shakedown ride. Let's hope it stays that way.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Changing of the Seasons

Apparently it's winter already.

I guess this is what a tropical storm looks like in the Bay Area.

What's also tropical is the number of bugs I've been running into this summer. There's been the occasional actual biting fly, like a horse fly or deer fly, which is annoying enough but not so common as to be troubling me. What has been troubling me is the hundreds and hundreds of smaller flies that swarm me every time I go cycling up in the hills.

They don't bite, which is nice (although confusing), but for whatever reason they insist on swarming directly in front of my face, occasionally bouncing off my eyeballs and getting sucked up my nose or down my mouth. No amount of swatting them away seems to drive them off, and the only way to escape them is to outrun them, which is not an easy task when climbing a 15% grade.

So desperate times call for desperate measures.

And it should perhaps come as no surprise that this bug net comes from a company in the mosquito capital of the world.

Curiously, I had always thought this company was named Colghan's. I also always thought that those bears were named Berenstein. I guess I really did cross over from the parallel universe, because this very clearly says Coghlan's.

Now I could just wear this bug net as is, which I have done for one ride, where I found it performed quite well. But, I figured it could use a little modification.

Specifically here, at the top, where there's a little circle(-ish) of nylon fabric.

The first step of the process is to inscribe a set of chalk runes.

After which we must cut a strip of sacrificial cloth, marking it as well.

Next we bind the sacrificial cloth by piercing it with a life-thread, to close it into a loop.

The sacrificial cloth is then cleaved in two, then made as one with the original garment, binding their fates with a shared life thread, while ensuring that the runes are aligned.

The garment is then vivisected, and the sacrificial cloth is inverted, following the ways of the ancient ones.

Finally the wound is encircled, so that it will not grow to consume the entire garment, and yet the scar will always remain.

And now I can stick my 360 camera through it.

Why would I do that? Well, you know, reasons.

This is known as a double-welt pocket, by the way, though I didn't actually put a pocket on the backside. I suppose you could consider the entire inside of the bug net to be a pocket, if you wanted to?

Meanwhile, since I had the sewing machine out, I decided it was about time to refresh the elastic strap on my heart rate dongle again.

I kept things simple by not bothering to do a double-fold here, and I used a lot less elastic than last time as that strap ended up almost completely doubled-up once I had adjusted it to fit. This length is a much more reasonable use of material.

Did I use my fancy new coverstitch machine to do this sewing? No, definitely not. This is all regular lockstitch sewing.