Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Derailleur Adjustment: an Illustrated Guide

Thank you once again everybody for the advice on how to adjust a derailleur. I am pleased to announce, that with your help, it is done.

To recap the problem I was having: When downshifting to the lowest gear, there was nothing stopping the chain from going past it and slipping off the cog. Here is how we corrected this:


Assistant Mechanic

The all-important tool

The derailleur. This is a rear SunTour Vx derailleur from the late 1970s. Note the two screws on the left.

A side view of the screws.

And here they are close up. Notice the letters "L" and "H" next to the screws. The "L" indicates low gear (the largest cog). The "H" indicates high gear (smallest cog). To stop the chain from going past the largest cog when downshifting into the lowest gear, tighten the "L" screw.

Here is the screw, being tightened. Conversely, if you find that the chain does not travel sufficiently to reach the largest cog when shifting to your lowest gear, you need to loosen this screw a bit. And if you are having this problem when upshifting to the highest gear, simply do the same thing to the "H" screw.

A close-up of the procedure. This takes very little time.

After the adjustment, test the derailleur: first by manually spinning the pedals as you shift, then by test-riding the bike.

Here I am, having happily shifted into the lowest gear without the chain coming off.

All done, and ready for the steepest hills. A big Thank You again to dukiebiddle, cyclemaniac, somervillain, and all the others who kindly offered advice and posted links. Your support is very much appreciated.

Some classic derailleur adjustment instructions, using more conventional tools:
. Sheldon Brown's thorough article on "derailler" adjustment
. The Bicycle Tutor's instructions and video

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Provincetown Cycle Yum

I have received a couple of messages asking to recommend "cyclist-friendly" places to eat in Provincetown. This is a tricky one - First, because everyone's taste in this sort of thing is different. And second, because there is really no divide in Provincetown between regular places and "cyclist-friendly": Most restaurants and cafes have racks either right out front, or else the nearest one is half a block down the street. Having said this, here are some of our favourite places:

Spiritus: This magnificent establishment serves pizza, coffee and ice-cream, offers free wireless internet, has cozy indoor seating and an outside garden, and is open until 2:00am year round. Their pizza is some of the best I have ever had, especially the Greek (spinach, olives and fetta on an ultra-thin wheat crust). Heavenly and a great all-around hangout.

The Squealing Pig: Best raw oysters we have had on the Cape so far, and in a non-touristy atmosphere at that. In addition: a fine selection of unusual beers and local wines on tap, and very fresh, delicious food including fishburgers, and french fries that are "hand cut daily". There are always lots of locals eating at this place, and we like the atmosphere better than the seafood places that cater to tourists, such as The Lobster Pot or Betsey's. If you are looking for a higher-end dining experience though, try the delicate and creative menu at The Mews.

The Purple Feather: Very yummy gelato and the best hot chocolate ever, made to order to your specifications. You will recognise this place by the stuffed bear standing at the door, wearing a blond wig and purple lingerie. This is the best place if you want to get an ice cream or hot chocolate to walk around the streets with. For the best indoor atmosphere though, I prefer the dim coziness of the Art House Cafe.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Provincetown is the most bicycle-friendly town I have experienced in the U.S. The infrastructure accommodates cyclists and plenty of bicycle parking is available if you want to stop and eat in town.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Of Hills and Vintage Gear Shifters

Though I knew that the "outer Cape" (from Eastham to Provincetown) is hilly, I did not realise just how hilly until we began to explore it on bicycles. Those rolling hills with regular 100ft elevation changes really begin to take a toll - especially if you are riding the bicycle as a single speed as I have been doing with Marianne.

Marianne looks wearily at the road ahead: "Please learn to use the shifters!"

I have mentioned before that I find the vintage shifters troublesome and never use them, riding this bike instead in one very versatile gear that gets me comfortably through the Boston area terrain. Well, after one evening on the coastal road on the outer Cape, it became clear that this "versatile gear" was definitely not sufficient for these parts.

My problems with these shifters were multiple:

. The vintage shifter levers are very stiff and difficult for me to move. It takes a lot of physical effort to make them budge.

. The levers are located on the stem of the bicycle (see photo above), forcing me to take a hand off the handlebars and keep it off for the entire time I am fiddling with them - which is a long time, because of the previous issue.

. They are friction shifters, so it is not clear when one gear switches to another. I am not the best-coordinated person in the world, and frankly I find it difficult to pedal in a straight line, keep my sense of balance with only one hand on the handlebars, and play around with the levers at the same time - especially when going uphill, with cars speeding past me.

Perhaps you can understand why I have been using the bicycle as a singlespeed. Well, now that this was no longer an option, I had no choice but to learn to switch gears. I was finally able to do this by putting my left hand on the middle of the handlebars (right above the stem) for balance, and then reaching over with my thumb and forefinger to grab the right shifter, which controls the rear derailleur. I understand that it is generally bad practice to move the right shifter lever with the left hand, but trust me - there is no way I can take my right hand off the handlebars on this bicycle.

So - thanks to the hills, I have learned how to shift gears on Marianne. I still find friction shifting confusing, but my ability to "feel the gears" continues to improve with practice. One additional problem, is that there does not seem to be a mechanism in place to stop the chain from going past the lowest gear and slipping off the cog when downshifting. I will have to get this looked at when I return to Boston, since I do not know how to adjust a derailleur. For now, I just try to be careful and not downshift that far.

Honestly, I am finding it difficult to love derailleurs - so many problems compared to hubs. Still, having experienced these hills, I realise that they are a necessity. I have not yet decided whether my hypothetical future custom mixte will have indexed or friction shifters, but the shifters will definitely be placed in a way that does not require me to take my hands off the handlebars.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

To the Lighthouse

I have always been fascinated with lighthouses. Luckily, there are many in coastal New England. Even our wedding was next to a light house. Now for the first time, we have combined lighthouses and bicycles.

This is the red and white Nauset Light, operational since 1837. It is a short but very hilly coastal ride from where we are staying. From Nauset Light, a narrow bicycle trail through the woods leads to a truly unusual sight: the Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters stand in a semicircle in clearing in the woods: three small, pristine-white lighhouses. My camera is not wide angle enough to capture all three together - but here are two of them, with the Co-Habitant cycling in between.

The site is so quiet and unexpected; it has an almost mystical quality to it. Here I am next to the Middle Sister.

Miles and Marianne in front of the smallest sister. The Three Sisters are the only station in the U.S. designated by three lighthouse towers. Read more about their history here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Aquatic Bicycle

Co-Habitant's Motobecane meets Provincetown's boat launch

Aquatic bicycle?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

French Inspirations: Beautiful Oddities

As a change from the Cape Cod theme, I would like to share these photos of some early French bicycles from the collection of Nick March. These pre-war bicycles are not quite mixtes, but they are not classic step-throughs either. Whatever their construction, they have an overall grace and elegance that I find inspiring.

This beauty is a very rare bicycle by Caminade (see here for additional details).

What makes it truly exceptional, is that the frame is alloy, with hexagonal(!) tubing and elaborate lugs. I have never seen a bicycle with hexagonal tubes before, so these photos blew my mind. I wonder what it feels like to ride this creation.

In the close-up photos, it appears as if the lugs might be bolted to the tubing, but I am out of my depth here. Any further details regarding the construction of this bicycle are welcome. This is definitely one of the most exceptional ladies' bicycles out there, and the condition in which it has been preserved is amazing.

This sage green bicycle is an Alcyon from the late 1930s. The mixte-like construction has twin stays that curve sharply at the seat tube, then connect to the lower part of the rear stays. One of the elements of early French ladies and mixte bicycles that appeals to me, is the colour scheme: The combination of pastel blue-green paint and chrome accesories takes my breath away - even when the bicycle is old and rusty and the paint is faded.

This ancient Helium is another example of the faded pastel green paint I love. Notice the curved stays again, which I have also documented on many bicycles in Vienna. The twin stays extend all the way to the rear drop-outs, but is the bicycle technically considered a mixte if the stays are curved in this manner? I assume the purpose of this design was to lower the step-over height, but what effect does it have on the bicycle's structural integrity?

Largely dilapidated, the Helium in the photo is in her owner's "destined for the trash" pile. I wish I could wisk it away to a bicycle history museum. My thanks again to Mr. March for permission to use these images; they are a treat to see.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Unexpected Sightings

Yesterday was one of the warmest days of September, and we decided to give swimming a try. I've mentioned that there have been shark sightings on the Cape over Labor Day Weekend. That was more than two weeks ago, but still we chose a beach that was not one of the beaches where the shark sightings were reported. We went to the large and popular Marconi Beach, a beautiful ride from the place we are staying. Well, it looks like we have sightings of our own to report.

Here is a lovely seal, whom we saw once again very close to the shore (different beach than last time). This time I captured him on camera. There were surfers and swimmers in the water very close to the seal, reaching out to him and cooing.

And shortly thereafter, we saw this:

Definitely not a seal.

Yes, it's what you think it is. I have many photos, albeit from a 30-ft distance. The beachgoers began shouting "Fin! It's a fin!" ...and hurrying to grab their cameras. It circled around for a while, while the local children continued to wade in the shallow water. We didn't much feel like swimming after that, but this is the first time I saw a shark this close, so it was a pretty exciting trip to the beach nonetheless.

So... If you are planning a late-season visit to Cape Cod this fall, it is probably not a good idea to swim at any of the beaches along the National Seashore. Just a heads up...

Monday, September 21, 2009


We have been staying on Cape Cod since Saturday and will be here till the end of the month. The water is freezing, but the scenery is gorgeous and the bicycle trails are nearby.

Marianne was happy to discover that her aquamarine outfit matched the colourscheme of the landscape.

Come to think of it, so did mine! Yesterday we spotted seals frolicking on this beach, though I failed to capture them on camera.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Heart of a Frame

They say that the bottom bracket is "the heart of a bicycle frame".

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fuji "Vent Léger": a Vintage Mystery

I spotted this unusual bicycle near Union Square in Somerville.

It is imprinted with the romantic name Vent Léger (which means "light wind" in French).

Every part of the bicycle is branded, even the handlebar basket.

Apparently, it was made by Fuji: There is a Fuji headbadge and headset, as well as a sprung Fuji saddle.

The interesting thing, is that I cannot find any information what so ever on this bicycle. It has what looks like a Japanese registration sticker on the downtube. It may have been made exclusively for the Far-Eastern market.

Underneath the dirt and rust, the lugged steel frame is a very nice shade of dark blue-gray.

There are two brake levers on the handlebars, but the lever for the rear brake is not connected to a cable. There could be an after-market coasterbrake hub on the rear wheel - Or could it be that the bike is a fixed gear conversion? It is a single speed, so technically that is possible - though I shudder to think of anyone climbing hills on a bike like this in fixed gear.

In any case, the enclosed chaincase protected Vent Léger's privacy, so I will never know what was up with the rear brake.

A close-up of the Sanden dynamo light.

And a close-up of the rear rack and wire dressguard.

I can see no dates on the bicycle, but by the degree of wear I would estimate 1970s. I know that not everyone will find this "mystery bike" fascinating, but I am intrigued by the complete lack of information about it and drawn to the very logistics of its presence here. I mean, someone must have actually flown this bicycle here from Japan. God knows how many years later, it now stands in the overgrow grass next to a chainlink fence in Somerville. But at some point, someone must have carried flowers in the basket and groceries on the rack. Someone must have loved it and cared enough to want it with them.