Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Long, Strange Trip For an Alloy Frame (And A Long, Wordy Post to Go With It)

This bike has led a pretty varied life. It began as a mislabeled Bikes Direct "Motobecane" frame. It had the model name of their single-speed model laser-etched into the frame, but it was a multi-speed bike. They dumped a container-load of these frames on eBay for, as I recall, $89.00, shipped. Built by Kinesis, in Taiwan, the frame is actually a very nice alloy 29er frame, equal to (and made by the same people as) many big-brand frames.

I covered over the "Motobecane" lettering on the downtube, just on principle, and built it into my first-ever 29er mountain bike, with a rigid fork and 3x8-speed drivetrain. It was my first disc-brake bike, as well. Once I got the FUNK, which took over as my main mtb, the Fauxbecane did duty as a commuter, for a while. Then, I built it up and took it to my nephew.

A couple of years later, I decided I needed a 29er with a suspension fork, for some reason, so I bought another Bikes Direct frame (with RockShox fork), and built it up. After riding it a few times, I realized that it was just slightly too big for me. So, I had my sister sent the Fauxbecane back, and I swapped parts. My nephew ended up with the new frame, and I had this one back. Unfortunately, I didn't really like going back to a suspension fork, so the bike hung in the rafters, as I rode my 1991 TREK off-road.

Recently, with the advent of the "Plus" size tires (sized between a regular mtb tire and a Fat Bike tire), I decided to experiment with tire sizes on the Fauxbecane. First, I shoehorned some 26x3" tires into it. They would roll, but the tire/frame clearance was close to nil. So, I got ahold of some WTB Trailblazer 2.8 tires (a 650b, or 27.5" tire, depending on whose marketing department you ask), and installed them on some standard 650b disc wheels I had left over from a previous project. They fit fine, but the skinny rims (24mm) rounded out the tire and narrowed the footprint.

Alas, 35mm-rimmed wheels were out of my price range, so I figured that I would just plug along with the narrow rims until I chanced upon some wide wheels I could afford. The suspension fork came off, and the VooDoo fork I had originally built the bike with went back on.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I chanced upon some WTB i35 rims for a decent price on eBay, so I ordered them up. I already had a set of Deore disc hubs in the shop, and the spokes came from Colorado Cyclist. Once they were built (yesterday), I had a complete set of wheels for less than the cost of a prebuilt rear wheel, alone.

The rims built up easily, with no real issue getting them round and true. Plus, with the black spokes, I thought they came out pretty good-looking.

Today, I decided to transfer over the tires, cogs and brake rotors and get the new wheels on the bike. What a freaking chore that was! The tires and rims are tubeless-ready (although I wasn't planning on running them tubeless), which means that they should have a fairly snug fit at the bead, to aid in sealing. Snug, however doesn't begin to describe it.

Back in the 90s, there was run of TREK Matrix rims which were, apparently, at the large end of the manufacturing tolerance of bike rims. Coupled with Continental Tires' normally snug fit on any rim, the combination of those rims and Conti tires produced a phenomenally difficult task in mounting the tires. Tailside flat repair was a nightmare, and resulted in many a walk back to the trailhead, after all available tire irons had been snapped in two.

The Trailblazer/i35 combo makes the old Matrix/Conti fit look absolutely sloppy. I may end up having to run tubeless, on this bike, just to avoid the nightmare of pinched tubes and broken tire irons which I went through, this afternoon. I ended up having to use the handles of Park Tool cone wrenches as tire irons, in order to get the darn things mounted. I inflated them to 60 psi (well above the mazimum recommended pressure) to see if the beads will stretch a bit. I can only hope so. I also plan to carry motorcycle tire irons, when I go off-road. Otherwise, a flat will strand me.

Once mounted, though, the tires were considerably wider on the new rims, as compared to the old.

New rim on left, old rim on right

The measurements show a 20mm increase in carcass width, and nearly as much in footprint.

The difference is visible, looking at the bike, as well.

So, once I am confident I can get back, if I have a flat, I plan on going over to Mt.Falcon and checking out the new shoes. Twenty to 25 psi seems to be the pressure of choice among people who are running these tires, so I will start at 25 and see how it goes.

Once I have the tire intricacies worked out, I plan to outfit this bike for bikepacking, as well as normal trail riding. A frame bag, handlebar roll and large, expedition-style seat bag should do the trick.

I hope that the b+ tires will give me enough float to ride through the sandy stretches in Moab and Fruita. I loved the fact that my fat bike allowed me to ride, where I normally had to walk with standard mountain bikes. But, the extra wheel weight was a bit of a drag on the climbs.

I sold the fat bike (the fellow is coming down from Minnesota to pick it up), so I won't have that option, in the future. Unless, of course, I run the WalMart Mongoose offroad, which is a possibility, I suppose ... I ran the red one off-road with no problem. I would want to swap the hi-ten fork for a CroMo unit, though.

More later (as if that wasn't enough).


Friday, October 02, 2015

An Addition To The Outdoor Living Room

My next-door neighbor moved out, last week, and left me her patio table. I set it under the tree, temporarily and decided that I liked it there. So, today, Carol and I moved some of the concrete pavers from my derelict backyard patio and made a new patio space for the table. 

The chairs are old Murray Industries pressed steel units that another neighbor left me, last year. I plan to have them powder coated, eventually. 

I need to move the pile of leftover pavers, and put my tools up, but I am otherwise done for the day. 

I also hung up this wooden wind chime that, I think, came home from the Phillipines with my parents, 25 years
 ago, more or less. 

Time for a beer. 


Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bigsby Billy

I call my red Gibson BFG "Billy", due to both the "ZZ Top" sound of the guitar and the rumor that Billy F. Gibbons designed its circuitry. When I bought Billy, I thought (and said, aloud) that it was the last guitar I would ever need to buy. And, it remained my favorite, until my 2005 Flying V came along. The addition of the P-94 at the neck, and the Bigsby tailpiece that I added moved the V into Favorite territory. 

Awhile back, I bought a vintage Bigsby B-3 to add to my Japanese hollow-body, in an effort to make a Rockabilly guitar. It didn't work out, because the B-3 didn't produce enough string tension over the bridge. So, I found an equally vintage B-7 frame, on eBay, for cheap, and bought it. I thought I would use the parts from the B-3 to complete the B-7. The tension bar would then make the strings sit tightly over the bridge.

In the meantime, I was playing Cooper (my LP Special, with a B-5) rather than Billy. So, I started thinking about adding a Bigsby to Billy. But, I don't have the cash to buy the adapter, plus another Bigsby. So...

Today, I gathered up the B-3 and the B-7 frame and started to work. 

Disassembly went smoothly, and more easily than I anticipated. 

Driving the needle bearings out was the biggest challenge, but even that only took a couple of minutes per bearing. 

Before long, I had all of the parts swapped, and the B-7 was ready to install. I still didn't have the adapter, so I opted  to do the old-school install. Nothing makes me feel more manly than drilling holes into the face of a Gibson Guitar!

I was careful to get the alignment correct, and I went with slotted screws to stay with the vintage vibe. 

The finished product was just what I wanted! I strung it up and played it for an hour. It holds tune really well, even with the stock bridge. But, I have a roller bridge to put on it, if string breakage becomes a problem. 

I'll be playing Billy for the first set, at The Phoenix, this Saturday, if you want to hear how he sounds.

We start at 9:00. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

New Tires On The Funk!

I have had a problem, lately, with flats on the Funk. The old Ritchey SpeedMax 35s were wearing thin, and the sidewall was beginning to fail on the rear. So, I decided to finally install the Bruce Gordon Rock and Roads that I got on a trade with Brad. 

The R&R's are considerably beefier, but don't seem that much heavier. Tomorrow's commute will tell the tale on that. That is, if I do commute by bike tomorrow. I'm pretty worn out from cutting down a dead tree, in my front yard!

Anyway, whenever I commute next, I'll know if the extra girth of the tire has any effect. I suspect that it won't. 

I certainly like the looks of the new tires on the bike. 


Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Month Later ... Some Musings and Some Bike News

As you probably know, the word "blog" is shorthand for web-log. A log, according to Webster's, in addition to being a bulky part of a fallen tree, is defined as "a record of performance, events, or day-to-day activities". In other words, a more mature-sounding diary. It is as such that I even continue to post on Two Wheels/Six Strings. I get the feeling that, if I were trying to reach an audience, I would just be shouting into the wind. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., have stolen most of my audience away. The lack of inquiry as to where I have been, for the past month, certainly illustrates that. In the old days, readers would come knocking if I passed a week without a post.

But, I find it is nice to be able to look back at certain times and events, and see some day-to-day detail that might otherwise be lost to my memory. So, I continue to blog, even though it is certainly no longer cool, or stylish, to do so.

It's been a hectic month at work, and in my personal life. I have built and/or modified a few bikes for people. Steve and Adam and I have played 3 or 4 shows. I've broken and fixed two of my Gibson guitars (Cooper's neck and one of the volume pots on the Bigsby-equipped Flying V). So, I have let the blog languish.

Last week, though, I modified one of my own bikes, and I now think it is 98% perfect.  What's not perfect? I'll get to that...

Here is the bike of which I speak, before I worked on it:

 It is, of course, my old "Motobecane" aluminum 29er frame, with the 650b (27.5") x 2.8 tires on it. I did not like the suspension fork, so I hemmed and hawed about taking it off. But, I was thinking I needed a "modern" mountain bike.

Then, I happened across this bike, on a website somewhere:

Photo from

This is the Marin Pine Mountain 1. It is basically a steel version of my bike, with a rigid fork, and a 1x11 drivetrain. It has "Plus-sized" 650b tires, and it is the first new mountain bike in years to make me sit up and take notice.

So, I pulled the Rockshox fork off of my bike, and replaced it with my old cro-mo VooDoo rigid fork.

It's as modern as the Pine Mountain 1, now, even with my preferred fork. (I know it's weird to worry about such designations, but that's just how my brain works.)

So, what's not perfect about it? For one thing, I think I want to put some more upright bars on it, just to differentiate it from my other bikes, a bit. Every bike I own has either mustache bars, or some kind of dirt-drop style bar on it.

For another, I would like to have some wider rims to make the big tires even fatter. I am currently running rims which measure 24mm, on the outside width. But, I will have to wait until I happen up on a bargain on wheels or rims. Right now, the wider versions are way outside of my budget.

The last, but not least, thing that's not perfect, however, I can't fix. I wish it was a steel frame, rather than aluminum. There is no real reason for that; the aluminum frame is fine. It has a nice ride feel, handles well, and looks fine. I just have a little thing for steel mountain bikes.

The easy fix would be to buy the Marin. But, that's a thousand dollars I don't have, right now. So, I'll ride the old faithful aluminium beast, for a while, and consider myself lucky that I have it!


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

About the Route

 Gas stop in Kentucky

There are three main routes across Kansas, by road. I have traveled both the central and southern routes, in the past.

I-70 goes right through the middle of the state, and I have ridden and driven that route a half dozen times, or so. It is the route which prompts people to say, "The longest week of my life was the day I drove across Kansas."

The southern route follows US-50 and US-54 through Garden City, Dodge City and Wichita, eventually going through the Ozarks, in Missouri. It is flat, windy and hot (in the summertime, anyway), until you get to Missouri. I took this route the first time I rode a motorbike back to Tennessee to visit my parents, back in 1999. I rode a 1993 Suzuki GSXR 1100 on that trip; another motorcycle people thought I was crazy to tour on. But, I found it to be quite capable, out on the road.

On this trip, I didn't want to repeat the I-70 slog I've done so many times, and the southern route would have just taken me way too far out of the way. So, I took the northern route.

US-36 takes you across Kansas, 10 or 20 miles from the Nebraska line, continues across Missouri to the Mississippi River, then turns into I-72. Along the way, you pass through a small town every 50 to 100 miles, which gives you a bit of feel for the local culture, and the terrain is a lot more entertaining that that along the other two routes. It is actually a lovely ride, light on traffic, with a 65 mph speed limit between the towns.

One of the towns you pass through, in Missouri, is Hannibal, the birthplace of mark Twain.

That is, of course, where you cross the Mississippi River. I always feel a little bit of nostalgia when I see the Mississippi, having grown up along the Tennessee River and then having lived in Memphis, back in the mid-80s. The "rivers" in Colorado still amuse me, even after 23 years here.

Once across the river, I made about an hour's ride on I-72, then turned south. I wanted to avoid the St. Louis/East St. Louis area on the way to US-50, in the southern part of Illinois. I zigzagged along on a series of state highways, mostly lost, but always heading in the right direction.

I was lost most of the day, Thursday, because I apparently left my brand new Rand/McNally road atlas in the motel I stayed in on Wednesday night. For some reason, there were no atlases to be had in Illinois. Every place I stopped for gas was either out of them, or had no idea what I was asking for.

(I later got another R/M atlas in Ohio, which fell out of my map pocket on the tank bag as I was riding, on the way home. I bought a third atlas, but made sure it was another brand, since the Rand/McNally atlas curse was getting expensive. I got home with my "American Highways" atlas, with no problems, thank goodness...)

 Along the way, some of the small-town streets in Illinois, were still paved with bricks.

I eventually made it to US-50, about an hour later than I had intended, and set out for Indiana. I took the southern turn and hit 50 so that I could go through Bloomington, home of Indiana University, where the movie "Breaking Away" was filmed, and where my friends Sarah and Michael live. Sarah was out of town, but Michael hosted me for the night.

From there, I took SH-37 to Indianapolis, then ramrodded down I-70 to Columbus. That was my short day (about 280 miles), and I wanted to get into town with enough time to get settled before the rehearsal dinner. So, the superslab was my best choice.

High Street, in Columbus

On Sunday, I also opted for Interstate Highway riding to get to Nashville ASAP. Once past Nashville, I was on roads familiar to me from childhood through my late 20s. I went south, out of town, on I-65, then turned off on the Saturn Parkway, which takes you past the Saturn car plant, to Columbia, Tennessee. Eventually, I hit the Natchez Trace Parkway, in order to go through Meriwether Lewis State park, and the site of the Grinder House, where Meriwether lewis died. 

 Local legend has it that my ancestor, Robert Grinder, murdered Lewis, under the mistaken impression that he was traveling with a large amount of gold. The official verdict, a few years ago, upon exhumation and examination of Lewis's remains, was that he took his own life. Either way, my family is forever entwined within the events which led to Lewis's passing.

I exited the parkway and took US-64 into Savannah (Tennessee, not Georgia, btw), and spent the next couple of days visiting with my mom and my sister.

The cabin where my sister and I stayed, near Pickwick lake.

From the cabin, I took US-45 through Jackson (home to Carl Perkins). Then 412 to Dyersburg, where I jumped on I-155 to cross the Mississippi, once again. I flew up I-55 to St. Louis, in order to get a fresh rear tire, then headed north toward Hannibal, once again. I had enjoyed US-36 so much, going east, that I wanted to take it west on the way home.
Along the way, I realized that I was on the fabled "Blues Highway", US-61.

Bluesmen met the devil at a crossroads in Mississippi, and traveled to Memphis on this road. And, Bob Dylan sang about it:

Oh, God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man you must be puttin' me on"
God says, "No", Abe say "What?"
God say "You can do what you want Abe but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe said, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God say, "Out on Highway 61"
After my stop in St. Louis, I ran out of daylight in Macon, Missouri, after 500 miles on the road.
I spent the night in Macon, then hit the road early the next morning. US-36 was just as pleasant going home as it was heading out. I crossed the Colorado state line at 4:20 pm, feeling a bit melancholic that the trip was coming to an end. At about 7:30, after 700.1 miles on the road, I pulled up to Fermaentra for a beer and a wood-fired pizza from the "Wheels On Fire" food truck.

Unfortunately, "Wheels On Fire" actually caught on fire, after I had eaten, and the fire department had to come out and chop and spray the truck to put it out. Quite an exciting welcome home.

Frome there, I made the ride home, and parked the bike inside for the first time in 9 nights.

Goodnight motorcycle. Goodnight, moon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Can You DO That?

"I'm going on a motorcycle trip, for a week and a half. I'll probably cover between 3,000 and 3,500 miles in about 6 days on the bike"

"Where are you going?"

"Columbus, Ohio (for a wedding), then down to Tennessee to see my mom."

"What bike are you going to ride?"

"The Scrambler."

"Can you DO that?!"

You certainly can, and I did, last month. I had that same conversation with a number of people, all of whom were pretty certain that you have to have a big touring bike to actually travel any serious mileage on a motorbike.

I was gone for nine days, six of which were riding days, during which I traveled just over 3240 miles. The shortest day was about 285 miles, and the longest was a bit over 700. The bike ran like a champ, with no mechanical issues at all, and delivered between 43 and 56 mpg.

The main focus of the trip was the wedding of Hadley and Jim. I babysat Hadley pretty regularly when she was an actual baby.Valerie and I moved away when Hadley was about 2-1/2 years old. In the meantime, she grew up to be a beautiful young woman...

...and I grew up to be Hellboy.

The day after the wedding, I headed 500 miles south to see my mom (and my sister, who came down from Pennsylvania). 

Joy and I stayed in a cabin at Pickwick State park. It was pretty huge for two people, and quite comfortable.

One morning, we had a guest for morning coffee time. The cicadas were singing, the whole time I was there, and this fellow decided to hang out on the porch with us, rather than join in with the chorus.

On the way home, I stopped at Donelson Cycles, in St. Louis, to get a new rear tire. I had figured that I would need to do that, when I left Denver. But, I really didn't mind.

Donelson Cycles has a motorcycle museum inside their shop. I'd been there twice, in the past 10 years, and this third trip was no disappointment. There is so much stuff in a small area that it is hard to see it all in one trip through.

My homemade rear rack, which plugs into the backrest mount of the Corbin seat, held up fine and allowed me to carry my big bag, with a suit rolled up and stowed in a plastic storage tub, plus a cigar box guitar. The saddlebag held my toolkit (used once, to adjust the chain tension) and my rain gear (unused, since I never saw a drop of rain on the entire trip).

It was a great trip, and I can't wait to get on the road again. 

So, that's the bare bones description of the overall trip. More details, later...