Assessing Wheels, Making Space, Building Skills

Why Wheels?

What once was a storage closet at Cherry Cycles filled with utility items such as floor paint, window washing supplies, mops, and miscellaneous fasteners and electrical chords today is filled with wheels to the point that one can hardly get through to other items. These are wheels that were donated or abandoned due to lack of functionality.  I can’t bear to throw things away that have two out of three facets still good! Some of those wheels just need new rims, some new spokes, some need new hub parts like cones, ball bearings, and axles. There are about 30 bikes that are ready to go and about 30 that need work. Ten frames sit without wheels at all. I quite often replace the wheels on used bikes with brand new ones as I haven’t had the time to get the wheels I have fixed up, but this hasn’t been profitable.  As a small business, I need to be as economical as possible to stay viable in order to continue being able to offer services to folks and supporting femme/trans/women, LGBTQIA, and people of color through bike teams, clubs, and events.

Specifics of Sorting, Saving, and Scrapping Wheels

When looking at a wheel with undiagnosed damage we want to assess the hubs, rim, and spokes.  First step is to assess the hubs to see if the wheel is worth rebuilding by doing a hub adjustment.  This can take a very vetted hand how to feel for small pitting can cause the wheel to come loose over the course of weeks or months and is not worth putting on a shop for sale bike. If necessary I take the hub apart and look for damage on the ball bearings, the hub shell (where the bearings roll), and on the cones (the adjustable threaded component that keeps the bearings in place).  Depending on damage we can tell if the hub needs to be thrown out; I call it “toast” and shop friend, Nate says “dusted.” If the cones are pitted (even the size of a pin prick) they need to be replaced. If there is irregular wear this suggests that the axle needs to be replaced. Once a hub is signed off on, we can look into rims. Since brake pads can wear rims down, we look for the thickness of the sidewall, any cracking near the spoke holes, and any part that might be flared out or ground down on the edge from being ridden on the road without air in the tire. Now we check the spokes for breaks, extreme bends, any shaving down of the metal from the chain getting stuck in the rear wheel, and any damage to the nipples (fittings that hold them to the rim). If everything looks serviceable, we can hop to and get the wheel trued up.  If not, depending on quality, the wheel gets broken down to save the hub or the rim. Re-using spokes is not recommended as there is directional stress from being laced into the wheel previously and the structural integrity is compromised.

How to Empty that Room!

First step to getting this going is making the goal.  I want to have this room cleared of wheels by the 3nd Tuesday in April (about a month) and all used wheels assessed, scrapped, sorted for parts, or rebuilt.  Next, I’m going to make myself accountable by telling whoever is reading this and other friends. Hopefully then folks with check in on my progress. Third is asking folks for help.  

Last fall a woman named Elly came to the shop who used to work at another bike shop and want to volunteer at Cherry stay up on her skills.  She is a part of a group called By Us, For Us which is an organization for femme/trans/women who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) and has been instrumental in organizing By Us, For Us repair nights which Cherry has been grateful to host. In the past I have taken on shop apprentices, and I have appreciated the community it has built at Cherry.  Unfortunately, it takes much more time to teach and get work done than it does to just do the work myself. Since Elly has a mechanical background and is interested in being mechanical support for other Femme/trans/women I agreed to do a skillshare with her. She is willing help me with the wheels in exchange for learning how to become efficient at truing. I’m happy to say that I had a suggestion for truing that made it much easier than the other times she’d attempted to true a wheel. Also, last month I offered a 16 hour private repair course to someone named Nate who wanted to know specifically how to prepare for long distance bikepacking.  He already seemed almost a pro, having biked from the headwaters of the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf. He wanted to learn how to safely pack a bike, how to service broken cables, how to replace a chain, and more. He’s agreed to help me get these wheels in order so that if he needs to replace any broken spokes on the road it will be quick and easy! Rebecca who is a facilitator for Queer Open Shop and Grease Rag Femme/Trans/Women open shop at Cherry has been interested in learning how to build wheels, but hers are still true. At the last Grease Rag she tried her hand at wheel truing and said that she found it relaxing!

Once the impromptu wheel repair team is educated, I will have some time to create infrastructure.  The shop basement has a tendency to flood and I don’t want these wheels sitting in water. I have about 15 hooks for hanging wheels and need to sort the pre-existing array of wheels that are hung up but not sorted.  I’ll create more storage with rubber coated hooks and 2x4s and get them all labeled by size. Once all the wheels are organized I’m going get them put into my new point of sales computer system; I’ve chosen a crowd favorite in the bike business as it integrates bike distributors. It is called Lightspeed though I doubt the process of incorporating all inventory will not happen at the pace of the namesake.

All in all, this process seems invigorating. To put things back to use with some awesome folks pitching in sounds like a great task and I’m looking forward to it.  Even already, this process has made me realize that pretty much all bike work is a meditation practice for me. Even challenges give me a chance to focus on the task at hand without projecting into the future or regretting the past.  Send a line to Cherry Cycles with your availability if you’re looking to help out the process or do some wheel meditation!

Keeping Your Wheels Turning

Why is wheel maintenance important?

Wheel maintenance helps you roll, steer, and stop efficiently.  A wheel out of alignment can cause damage to other components of the bicycle, for example the tire wear a hole in the paint of the frame or even in the frame itself sometimes rendering a bike unsafe to ride.  Brake pads can get worn down irregularly from repeated rim wear. Lack of spoke tension is more likely to snap spokes than too much which can result in the tire getting jammed up against the frame. I’ve seen many folks walking a bike to the shop, unable to get it onto a bus rack, holding the front or back end up off of the ground.  Wheels, especially new ones, need to be periodically re-tensioned. It takes a few months of routine riding, though this varies based on time in the saddle, rider weight, and terrain. Annual truing, routine assessment, and occasional replacement can be your wheel’s best friends. Some follow up services are included with the purchase of new bikes from a shop; this remains some of the undisclosed repairs that is necessary after buying online or through a department store.  In order to thoroughly assess the rim for wear, spokes for chain damage, and spoke nipples for corrosion bring a wheel to a shop where a technician will happily true it for you.

What is wheel truing?

To clarify, truing a wheel means adjusting it so it is as round as possible, doesn’t wobble side to side, and has proper tension on the spokes.  When I first started working on bikes over 15 years ago I didn’t realize that a wheel had two sets of spokes. I pictured them how a kid tends to draw a wheel, or a sun with the hub in the middle and all of the spokes radiating out to a meet the rim.  In actuality there are spokes connected to both sides of the hub. Those on the left pull the rim to the left side, those on the right to the right side; this is how we make the wheel straight. There is also a specific lacing pattern for the spokes, meaning that they don’t always go straight out from the hub.  Typically there is a cross pattern like a web that gives extra strength; radially laced wheels also exist and often have extra durable rims in compensation. Truing a wheel relies on the hub being adjusted properly. This means that the components that keep the bearings running smoothly can’t be too tight or too loose otherwise the rim will wobble all over the place.  You can true a wheel in a stand or even on the bicycle itself using a brake pad or a zip tie as your guide, or better yet bring it to a professional to assess the hub, all components, and make sure things are tightened to the right specification.

How to prevent damage?

The most important thing you can do is assure that air always stays in your tires.  Airing your tires once a week is a good guide though some folks do it before every ride even if that means daily.  Others may get away with only once a month. It really depends on how much air tends to leak from your tires. Keeping the tire inflation between the recommended PSI range listed on the side of the tire means that the rim won’t take the brunt of damage if you hit something or run over a pothole.  Riding on a wheel with a very flat tube can cause permanent damage to the rim, so its best to assess and replace worn tires or leaky tubes to prevent flats from occurring.

Before every ride, looking to see if your wheels are not rubbing on the brakes can help assure that they are still tensioned properly.  It is also good to be observant during the ride. If you’re ever pedaling, make a shift and hear rhythmic pinging, don’t pump the jams or start rapping! Shift back down into the harder gear so the chain doesn’t fall off the biggest ring and get caught in the spokes.  Get your bike into the shop as soon as you are able in order to get everything aligned properly.

Protect your wheels if possible, by being cautious of your rear derailleur (what shifts your chain to different gears on the back wheel).  This part sometimes gets bumped while parked, during a bike accidents, coming in and out of doorways, or in shipping or car transit. If the derailleur is out of alignment this can cause the chain to fall off of the big ring and into the spokes with a potential to get jammed into place sometimes too tight to remove by hand.  You may have heard the phrase “keep the rubber side down” (meaning don’t wipe out), but I say “keep the gear side up”...for car rides!

Magic Art of Tidying Up The Shop

There has been a lot of much deserved buzz about Marie Kondo and her book The Magic Art of Tidying up. After reading the book and watching the series I’ve decided to take what I’ve learned to the shop.  Though Cherry Cycles has only been in business for four years, I’ve been in the same location for eight. This has resulted in a lot of build up. While the upstairs of Cherry Cycles could be considered quaint, the basement in both its expanse and content is serious.  After becoming the solo owner I moved things around; I felt much like a hamster shuffling wood chips from one corner to the next until I settled on a layout that appealed. I touched every item, but I did not check to see if it “sparked joy” as Kondo suggests. She says that you should only keep things that make you feel “ching!” and I pictured the feeling of a kid booping a kitten’s nose. This kind of fun energy is exactly what I need to keep me motivated during this last stretch of winter and to keep customers enjoying their visits.

At first in reading Marie Kondo’s book, a few years ago, I was skeptical. The idea of my personal objects needing to bring me joy seemed ludicrous at best and materialistic at worst. I’ve never had a disposable income and my scarcity mentality didn’t lend to getting rid of things just because I didn’t love them. It wasn’t until I completely finished reading the book that I started taking some things to heart.

I am a person with an aesthetic sense, but also a practical one. I’m a clothing on hangers and bins kind of person. The idea of folding every item felt unnecessary. I’ve found, though, that seeing things neatly folded gives me the sense that I have stability and control, if only in the realm of socks. Taking this approach to folding makes the process more intentional. It feels more like a calming practice. I’m less resentful of the time it takes me and I’d go so far as that it makes me happy.

I’ve always thought that objects should have a home. I want to know where to look for it next time! One of the things that I’m proud to have contributed to the non-profits that I’ve been involved in was better storage, but some how I was missing it in my personal life.  For years I only cleaned my bag before a trip to a bike conference, or when it got to the point that I couldn’t find anything anymore. I was always amazed by the amalgam of bike tools, bolts, spark plugs, valve caps, and make-up that lived in my personal vortex. Now I work to empty my bag every night and store it and its contents in appropriate places where I know I can find them the next morning or in a pinch.

While I don’t feel excessively sentimental, I found that my house stored many objects that were somewhat practical, but reminded me of people, situations, or memories didn’t bring me joy. The book talked about how the gift shouldn’t be a burden. Having removed these items I feel a greater sense of calm. By removing things I didn’t need, I was able to find things I was excited about and determine better locations for them. I’m looking forward to focusing my inventory on accessories and bikes that I think will really be awesome.

Despite my claim that it is only full of practical items, I think its time I took a look at the shop to see what will give me and my clients joy. Hopefully I end up with enough to have a big bike garage sale. Like the sound of a bike bell, “Briiiiing” it on!

Customizations for Comfort, Safety, Reliability and Style

Bike customization can seem like an extravagance but it actually can be quite significant. When you customize your bike it creates a chain reaction. You love your bike more, you ride more, you enjoy more, you’re healthier, you love more! Customizations increase safety, comfort, and reliability to make you and those around you happier.

A honed riding position position allow for relaxed elbows and reduces the likelihood of wrist, hand, or shoulder discomfort. This can be achieved by changing or moving brake levers, handlebars, and shifters to be more convenient. Saddles come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and densities to fit your body and your riding style. Proper crank arm and pedal set up reduce muscle fatigue allowing force to be expended as efficiently as possible. Having a bicycle that has components optimized to you assures more comfortable riding, longer rides, and better muscle recovery.

When a bike is set up for the style and location for your particular riding it results in increased safety. A drop handlebar position can only be advantageous if it's comfortable for you and can otherwise result in compromised handling. Similarly, riding with ultra wide bars in heavy traffic can be dangerous. Ideal tires can result in better safety.  Knobby tires are good in slippery conditions, but studded tires are worlds above when it comes to traction on ice. Less than ideal brake lever or shifting alignment can also come into play at unfortunate times. No matter what kind of riding you’re doing, customization can really make a difference.

Greater reliability can be achieved by swapping out old parts for new ones. A tune up is a good idea to dial in a bike and ab overhaul is great for removing parts, re-greasing them, and reinstalling them. Either of these services provide a great time to customize because much, if not all, of the labor costs are included. If you prefer to spot fix or do a lot of maintenance yourself, customizing can be a good opportunity to have trouble areas delved into. Dry handlebars clamp positions, for one, can be an elusive culprit of a mystery bike creak. Re-greasing or replacing your handlebars and other components can assure that they are tightened down to the proper torque specifications and will keep steady when you need them most.

If the perks of safety, comfort, and reliability don’t scream to your sensibilities, consider the style factor! Having an attractive bike is more than frivolity, it shows others that you are someone who cares about the small things. Whether you want a classic look, something monochrome, or colors to match your outfit having a customized bikes allows you to exude the confidence of someone whose bike has at least a half an iota of your personality.

When it comes to where to get your bike customized you can really go anywhere. Do them at home if you have the expertise! The benefits of coming to Cherry Cycles are that will have your bike worked on by a certified technician, you can get a professional opinion for parts compatibility, and you won’t be judged on your bike or your preferences. At Cherry you choose what’s important to you, your stylistic preferences, and your price range. MPR cited a study that customers, subconsciously vying for approval, are more likely to buy high end items when the staff are rude. I just can’t bear to be mean. It’s not nice and doesn’t seem very fun. So if you want an enjoyable time discussing your bike dreams and preferences, consider Cherry Cycles.