Sunday, April 11, 2021

Lunchlady Doris, du y'have any grease?

So I've often struggled with hoses, cables and cords where the outer jacket is made of a soft plastic or synthetic rubber. This is great for flexibility, but terrible for tangles: the soft surface ends up kind of grippy and so it refuses to slide against itself and instead just binds up and knots.

But when I was installing my new air hose reel I noticed something curious: they included in the package a sealed wipe that was moistened with silicone lube. Checking the manual, it noted "if the hose is too grippy and tends to tangle, lubricate it using a cloth soaked with silicone lubricant".

Huh, yeah. That does make a lot of sense, doesn't it?

I tried it on my old air hose that was incredibly, frustratingly tangle-prone, and what do you know: it works.

A Reely Good Improvement

So I've had a compressor for a while, and it's been serving me well.

But unfortunately it hasn't been serving me much. You see, it's tucked away against the wall there, and so to actually use it I need to:

  1. Wheel it out in range of an outlet.
  2. Unwind the annoying air hose that spends more of its time tangled than straight.
  3. Plug it in and wait for the tank to fill.
  4. Realize that the air hose is too short to reach where I need it, so unplug the compressor and wheel it over to where I'm actually doing stuff.
  5. Wheel the compressor back over to the wall when I run out of air.
So more often than not, I just avoid using it.

But that all changes today. Today I upgrade.

First step is to install a 90 degree adapter on the air outlet, pointing towards the rear of the tank. The reason for this will become apparent later.

Next up was installing the new 50 foot retractable hose reel, which involved adding a little 10 foot whip to actually reach from the reel to where the compressor would be. It is a little silly that they only include a 3 foot whip on the hose when it's intended to be mounted 5-8 feet above the ground.

I did have to make a run to the hardware store for some lag screws, but other than that the installation went smoothly.

Finally, the compressor is slid into its home.

And here we see why I needed the right-angle adapter, because otherwise the whip would poke straight into the side of my tool chest.

Bringing it all together, I also installed a hook (left over from the previous owner) to hang up the old air hose, just in case I end up 15 feet too short of where the 50 foot hose reel can reach.

I expect the old hose to collect a bit of dust.

Why does it smell like a dead rat in here?

Today on "questions whose answers are really obvious in hindsight"...

Ah, yes. That would be why.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

It Spins!

The ceiling fan in my bedroom had a problem. Or two problems, really.

The first problem was the LED module that provided the primary illumination for the room. I mean, there's also the four pot lights, but those don't have a remote control that I can easily turn on and off from my bed. I could fix that, and may yet, but that's a project for another day.

Anyway, the issue is that the LED module was flickering and spazzing out, jumping between bright and dark randomly and annoyingly. It was basically an automatic lightswitch rave. Not ideal.

I pulled the module off and tried to find a replacement, but the manufacturer eventually informed me that it was sold out and I'd have to wait some unknown number of months to even find out how much a replacement would cost. Also not ideal.

These pictures will have to do as the "before" picture of the replacement, as I forgot to take a better picture before disassembling the old fan.

Anyway, the second problem is that the fan motor was rattling intermittently. Considering I like to have the fan running when I'm sleeping, rattling is really not ideal.

These two problems combined convinced me that it was time to give up on those home center special left over from the previous owners and just start over fresh and new. So off to Amazon I went and, a few days waiting and about a half hour installing later, I now have this.

It's quiet, the light doesn't flicker, and it has three blades instead of six. That latter change is somewhat inconsequential but I thought it worth mentioning.

Anyway, it's a nice upgrade, and it will hopefully last longer than the last one. Maybe.

A Tale of Two Rides

Starting things off, two weeks ago I saddled up on The Crimson Ghost and took a spin around Demo to try out a few more of the trails there. In particular I wanted to get a lap in on Sawpit, which is down at the bottom of the park and, as such, doesn't get as much traffic as Flow and Braille do. It's also a newer trail, so I think fewer people have it on their radar.

The climb up to the top went about the same as always. It's about an hour of grinding away through some reasonably scenic but mostly unchallenging terrain. Riding down Ridge to the top of Braille/Flow went pretty nicely, I managed to clear everything except the one really chunky part just before Braille (I think it's just before braille, I have a terrible memory for these things). Although I didn't ride it, I did manage to scout a reasonable path through the chunder, so I think on my next ride through I should be able to breeze through it. Maybe.

Things started to get a bit more spicy past Flow. Since that section of trail doesn't get nearly as much traffic, there was a lot of forest debris on the path: lots of twigs and branches and leaves and redwood frond thingies. Tons of stuff to get kicked up and pulled into your spokes. At one point I thought a branch might have gotten pulled into my derailleur and messed it up, but I think it just knocked the chain down a few cogs, as it cleared up and behaved itself after giving the pedals a few spins.

The debris wasn't the only problem though: there were also a few huge, steep, eroded sections to deal with. Despite being fairly low traffic (there's really nowhere other than Sawpit to go on this section of trail) these steep sections were incredibly chewed up, and I ended up having to walk them. I really think these bits of trail should be worked on at some point, as I would shortly discover that they're by far much more difficult to navigate than Sawpit.

Sawpit itself was quite nice. Decent mix of features and nothing too wild or too mild for its blue rating. That said, I'm not sure it's worth the struggle of getting through the last section of Ridge trail, so I'll probably skip it in future.

Next up was Flow, but to get down Flow you must first get to the top of Flow, and I decided that I'd try climbing Tractor since that climb trail is much closer to Flow than Hihn's, the usual climb trail. I'd heard that Tractor was unpleasant to climb, but for most of its length it was somewhat unremarkable. A bit steep perhaps, but nothing I couldn't just gear down and grind out.

That is, up until the last section, where it kicked up rather severely and forced me to get off the bike and push through some sections. Oof. There was also some difficulty in backtracking through a short section of Ridge; the two of which combined giving me a pretty good idea as to why most folk skip this option.

I still got to the top in one piece though, and did a solid lap of Flow. I'm gaining confidence on this trail and pushing myself to actually ride the berms properly, but there's still room for improvement. Lots of excuses left to go out and ride it again I guess.

I also have some work to do on my endurance, as I have yet to make it down the trail without my legs cramping up a bit and having to take a rest break between section 3 and 4 (of 6 total).

Speaking of endurance, the only thing left to do was climb back out to the parking lot, and I managed to claw my way back up the hill in a pretty decent 40 minutes.

So with that done and dusted, things looked good for an XC ride the following week. I'd had a loop in mind that went through the Santa Cruz mountains to the south-west of me, and so that's just what I rode.

I saddled up on Blackbirb and rode out first thing in the morning. I was expecting the ride to take in the ballpark of 6 hours but I packed enough supplies to be able to safely stretch it out to 8 if things went a bit slow.

Things started out well enough with a few miles of pavement riding before hitting the dirt near Santa Teresa and following some familiar trails through San Vicente and Calero.

Next up was a long slog of pavement down McKean and Uvas, and by the time I hung a left to go around Chesboro things were starting to get a little bit meh. I wasn't really able to keep putting out the power I wanted to, and as such the ride was starting to go a bit slower than I'd been hoping for when I set out.

But I wasn't in the mood for a failed ride, especially when bailing out would mean having ridden my XC bike primarily on pavement, so I pressed on to see how things would evolve as the ride went on.

Near the top of the paved section of Mt Madonna I met another group of cyclists and stopped for a chat at the beginning of the gravel. They were turning around there but I planned to press onwards and upwards. The short conversational break gave my legs a little bit of a rest, but apparently not enough of one to really make a difference, but at the very least I felt a bit more comfortable riding my XC bike on gravel/dirt again.

When I got up to the top of Mt Mads I still wasn't feeling like I was doing too well, but I told myself (knowing full well it was a lie) that I might as well just continue the ride as planned since I was already at the farthest point. So I pressed on, just kept the pedals turning, and slowly made my way up Mt Mads/Summit road.

I passed the somewhat famous neighbourly gates and was again glad to be off the pavement (from the top of Mt Mads to the gates is paved). It's hard to say much about this part of the ride other than it was very slow and very remote. I was expecting the remote part, but maybe not expecting the slow part.

I rode past the abandoned car, came across a motorcyclist looking for directions, took a little snack break at the intersection of Loma Prieta, and was very, very happy when the road started pointing down again.

For the most part I really didn't see any other cyclists once I was past Mt Mads, but down around Lexington as I was climbing up the schoolhouse hill I did come up on another cyclist and, even as cooked as I was at that point, managed to climb past him.

From there it was just a matter of dropping down the Los Gatos Creek Trail, popping out at Main St, and cruising home. It was, in one way, tempting to take this section really slowly as it was mostly flat or downhill, but I hadn't stopped for a bio break since half way up the gravel on Mt Mads so I had ample motivation to not dilly-dally the last few miles.

In total the ride took over 8.5 hours. I feel like if I were as fit as I want to get then I'd be able to do it in under 6, or maybe even under 5, but despite the fitness gains I've made over the past few years that feels like it's a long way off.

So that leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand I did ride the ride from start to finish, but on the other hand I rode it so slowly that it barely feels like it counts as a success.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Leafy Non-greens

So along with the daikon (which continues to do well) the yard is also hosting the arrival of the usual spring blooms. The marguerite daisies are doing lovely despite almost dying a year or two back.

And the African daisies are also doing quite lovely.

Google identifies this as a blue potato bush. I identify it as a stringy, half-dead weed that occasionally produces some patches of pretty purple flowers.

I cut the periwinkle back to the ground each year, and each year it shoots up like crazy and produces a bunch of lovely purple flowers. It would probably consume my entire yard if I were less aggressive with it.

It was a bit dry this winter so the calla lillies haven't really produced much. But something is more than nothing.

The new lithodora plant hasn't died yet, so that's nice.

The spanish lavender is still doing quite well, and is sending out some new growth already.

And the milkwort is looking lovely and purple, as it wont do.

There's quite a lot of purple in the yard.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Whole Once More

 Valve stems came in for Blackbirb. Replaced the one in the front just to keep things fresh, then installed the rear tire to make things whole again.

I had thoughts about the tire possibly being a bit big for the bike around the rear triangle, as I moved up from a 2.1 to a 2.25, but there's still plenty of room.

Yup, fits fine. Should be plenty of room for mud and muck picked up by the tire to make it through the gap.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Black and Round

On Sunday I decided to take a little test ride on Blackbirb to break in the new aero bar, and ended up riding a little loop around Calero County Park and Rancho CaƱada del Oro OSP, for a bit over 40 miles. This is quite a decent distance to ride on a mountain bike, but it turned out quite well.

Other than, that is, the part where I got a pinch flat on the rear tire. I was coming down the steep part of Cottle trail quite quickly and hit some rocks that were apparently a bit more jagged than I had assumed, and one of them was pointy enough to bite through the rubber.

Unfortunately the sealant had dried out and was no use, and the gash was a bit on the big side so I'm not sure it would have sealed anyway. Either way, this tire was getting worn down well past its use-by date, so I picked up a fresh new pair and they just came in today.

Unfortunately while I was sitting on the side of the trail stuffing an inner tube in my rear wheel, a process that requires removing the tubeless valve, I somehow managed to misplace that rather important but luckily inexpensive component. I didn't notice until I got home, so there wasn't much point going back out to find it, and thus I just ordered a new pair.

That shipment hasn't arrived yet, so in the meantime I just swapped the tire on the front.

Looks all pretty and new!

In addition to being new, it's also a slightly updated version of the tire with a fancier rubber compound, better puncture protection, and better tubeless compatibility. It's also slightly larger because they no longer sell the size I had previously (thus I'm now running 2.25 instead of 2.1 inches, which isn't a dramatic difference but still slightly larger nonetheless).

I'm planning to keep the old front tire as a spare, though with any luck I'll never need to use it.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Leafy Greens

The daikon are finally putting out some adult leaves after milking their embryonic leaves for a surprisingly long time.

It's always encouraging to see things coming along nicely like this.

Depending on how things go with this vegetable experiment, I might put in some raised beds in the large mulch area in the back yard, since it gets a lot more sun than this patch of dirt and currently doesn't have much of anything in it. Either way growing vegetables in this patch won't be a long term thing, as I'm eventually planning to plant a tree in there to replace the plum (which is in an awkward spot) and the really ugly half-dead shrub that occasionally has leaves and purple flowers on it.

In other news, the Yarrow is doing well in its second season.

Mmm, green.

And I owe it all to this Inanimate Carbon Rod

When I originally got Blackbirb, my XC mountain bike, it came with an aluminum handlebar. This is the usual standard equipment for bikes at the price point that I paid for it, but they do leave a little to be desired compared to carbon fiber.

The biggest thing is they tend to carry a little extra weight, though certainly not as much as a steel bar might.

But there's also issues of vibration damping and compliance, and tradeoffs with overall stiffness. With a carbon bar these things can be engineered more precisely, but with aluminum it tends to be limited a bit by the material.

Thankfully a mountain bike handlebar is a very simple form, usually just a slightly bent tube with a bit of a thicker section in the middle. This means that it's quite inexpensive to manufacture no matter what material you're making it from, so upgrading to carbon isn't a big hit to the wallet. But it is a big hit to the weight of the bike.

(The new bars have slightly more sweep angle to them, so I had to prop them up on a jar to keep the ends from resting on the counter while I weighed them. Yes I zeroed the scale for the weight of the jar.)

Lightness, compliance and rigidity was only one part of the equation for me, as I also wanted to be able to mount a mini aerobar to my bike, and it clamps to the bars on either side of the stem. On a lot of mountain bike bars, the taper starts very close to the stem clamp area and so the aero bars can end up trying to clamp onto that tapered area rather than a nice straight cylindrical section, leading to a sub-optimal mounting situation. These bars made by Salsa Cycles, on the other hand, are specifically designed with a wide center section for mounting accessories to, such as aerobars.

Speaking of which, I should put the aerobars on the scales too.

Oddly these aerobars are listed on the product page as being 276g, and given the difficulties I've had with the bolt heads pulling through the mounting holes it does make me wonder if it's missing a bit of carbon in the layup. Hmm. Hmmmmm.

I did manage to get this aerobar mounted successfully though, after two others failed during assembly, so here's hoping that what little carbon is actually in there is enough to keep them together.

So in the end the combined weight did go up by, like, 155g, but I think the improvement in functionality of having the second, more aerodynamic hand position for riding long flat sections will be worth the tradeoff. And it's certainly less weight than it would have been to just stick the aerobars onto my aluminum handlebars.

The Fan Club

It's safe to say that I've got some really big fans.

For the longest time I've been just using some household fans to keep me cool when I'm riding my bike on the trainer, but while they deliver a pleasant breeze in the context of just sitting around doing nothing, they really fall short when it comes to high intensity exercise.

So it was high time I upgraded, and I got this pair of industrial strength high velocity fans, and the difference is night and day. They move so much air that it's actually almost too cold when I start my workout, and where before I'd usually be dripping with sweat by the time I was 10 minutes in, I'm now staying almost dry for the full hour.

They're surprisingly quiet for what they are too; I'm finding that the noise from the fans themselves is about the same level as the wind noise of the air whipping past my ears. It's not like I'm trying to exercise next to a vacuum cleaner or something. So that's nice.

All in all, well worth the price to upgrade.

As for why my mountain bike is temporarily on the trainer, this will be covered in the next post.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Check Your Carbon

So I just picked up a ControlTech Impel Mini clip-on aerobar to put onto Blackbirb, my XC mountain bike, in order to make it a bit more amenable to doing longer gravel-style rides.

You see, mountain bikes tend to be a bit miserable when riding for long distances over relatively flat terrain since the wide flat bars only really give you a single hand position to work with, and that position tends to catch a whole lot of wind. Attaching a mini aerobar gives you a second hand position to alternate with, and one which makes you a lot less of a human parachute.

But the trouble I ran into had nothing to do with the riding positions, but rather with this particular aerobar instead.

I opted for a carbon one to save weight, as I didn't want to A: have to lug even more weight up the hills, and B: make the steering feel heavy and awkward. But carbon, while it is a familiar material at this point, apparently still isn't a completely solved science.

I discovered this as I was using my torque wrench to tighten the clamping bolts to the recommended 5nm. On one side this went great, but on the other side I noticed that as I was tightening one of the bolts, the head was sinking down to Davy Jones' Locker. That's not good.

I removed the bolts to examine the situation and found the culprit pretty easily.

The bottom of the counterbore for one of the bolt holes was defective. It was full of dry carbon weave; the resin didn't properly penetrate and left a bunch of voids.

Needless to say, this is not ideal. I don't think this would have caused a complete catastrophic failure if the bolt somehow managed to pull all the way through the bar, as the clamp on the other side was plenty sturdy, but it's not really an experiment I want to be a guinea pig for.

Thankfully I bought it off Amazon, so the return policy is super easy, and I expect I'll see the replacement show up on my doorstep in a day or two. I wasn't planning on doing any rides immediately, as I also ordered a new carbon handlebar to take even more weight off the front end, and that's not going to be in until later this month thanks to the perpetual bike parts back orders that are happening these days.


Received a second unit from Amazon and both of the forward counterbores had voids in them this time, and collapsed when assembling to 5nm. Not good.

To their credit ControlTech offered to send a free replacement bar no-questions-asked when I emailed them, so hopefully they'll be able to cherry-pick a good unit to send out to me.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Generating a Shed, or Shedding a Generator

When I purchased my generator not too very long ago, I also purchased a generator cover for it. My thought was, at the time, that it would keep the rain off, but may well not keep the critters out.

As it would happen, it did indeed keep the rain off, and it did indeed not keep the critters out. Eventually I found a stash of seeds tucked away in the engine block, I'm pretty sure put there by the local scrub jays. It was at least better than having a bunch of squirrels chewing on the wires, but all the same it was not ideal.

It was clear that I needed a generator shed.

I did a bit of measuring and determined that a roughly 30 inch cube would be suitable for containing this particular generator with a bit of room to spare, so I gathered up some scraps of dimensional lumber (the material of choice for sheds the world over) and started building.

Now there's a difference between shitty 2x4 construction and nice 2x4 construction, and that difference is in joinery. A shitty 2x4 construction uses butt joints held together with nails and screws. This kind of joinery rarely stays square, rigid and tight under even a small amount of use and abuse. A nice 2x4 construction steps things up a little.

For this project I chose to use half-lap joinery. It's not especially fancy, but the difference it makes is really incredible. Where a regular 2x4 frame would flex without bracing, a half-lap buttered up in wood glue will hold strong until the end of time.

The best part is it doesn't even take all that much time. Just an extra few saw cuts on each corner in exchange for not having to figure out what angle to drive a screw or nail through at to secure an awkward butt joint, not having to figure out what offsets things will end up at when they overlap, not having to awkwardly hold things in place while trying to sink the fasteners home.

Just set the pieces in place, pop a few brads in to hold them there, and twiddle your thumbs until the glue dries.

But that's the frame, let's talk about the skin.

There's a whole world of woods out there to choose from, with varying prices, properties, and availability. Since this was going to be an outdoor project, something rot and insect resistant was priority number one. Since it wasn't really going to be a piece of fine furniture, a low cost wood was priority number two. Since I'm lazy, getting something pre-cut in regular sizes was going to be priority number three.

When it comes to cheap, pre-cut, outdoor-friendly woods, it's hard to go wrong with cedar fence boards. The saw-cut surface makes for a perfect match for a rustic aesthetic. The fact that they come soaking wet means you can assemble them tight and just wait for them to dry out to form expansion gaps. The fact that fence boards are cheap as chips meant I didn't end up spending more money on the shed than I did on the generator itself.

Of course all that expansion and contraction can make things a bit tricky when it comes to construction. Wood glue in this case is right out, and in its place comes a much more flexible material: construction adhesive.

The gummy, flexible nature of the bond means that the wood can flex and move without tearing itself apart, or tearing itself loose from the frame it's bonded to. And, given that this is solid wood exposed to the elements, it's going to be doing a lot of flexing and moving.

The brad nails are still the fastener of choice to hold the planks in place while the glue sets, though. They're thin enough that they'll bend harmlessly when the wood moves and not impede anything.

Now as much as cedar is rot resistant, it's important to give it a fighting chance. The first and perhaps most important step is to not let the wood sit against the ground where it will be wet for an extended period of time, and that goes double for the end grain. With that goal in mind, I installed a set of adjustable furniture feet, which will also help keep the shed from rocking when it's finally moved into place.

The second step is to give it a finish to try to keep at least some of the water out. In this case, I used a wiping varnish commonly sold as "teak oil", even though it contains no teak products and is not a drying oil like boiled linseed oil or 100% tung oil. It's basically just a thinned down varnish. I applied a single, heavy coat, and this picture of the underside shows a nice before and after contrast with the above.

And the rest of the shed, soaked down with wiping varnish. Also with a door installed, because I didn't stop to take a picture of the door before putting finish on.

We aren't done yet, of course. The shed still needs a handle for opening the door.

That one will do nicely, and some sort of catch to keep the door closed. I opted for a pair of heavy duty magnetic catches.

Now there's some things I planned for very carefully with this build, and some things where I just winged it. I knew there was something like three feet of space between the chimney and the fence, and as luck would have it that was just barely enough.

Of course, had it been too wide I could have just hoisted it up and carried it over my head, but that would have required a lot more effort to do. Speaking of fitting...

The generator does fit, with just enough room to spare on each side to make loading and unloading easy. I have to say the end result looks quite handsome in its place.

I think it's safe to say this project is a success.