Monday, April 13, 2009

Axlus Interruptus

I felt something funny as I rode my bike to work on Friday morning, but I couldn't quite figure it out. On the way home that afternoon, the symptoms steadily got worse and became more identifiable. I heard a loud clunking sound now and then, which was very similar to the sound made by my industrial padlock banging on the frame. I removed the padlock from its hanger, but the banging continued. As I pedaled, I also felt a very fast buffetting sensation, as if the wind was blowing me forward and backwards, reversing direction about eight times per second. It was very windy on Friday afternoon, but I didn't think wind could change direction so fast.

About the third time I stopped to check things out, I realized that my rear wheel was free to wobble side-to-side about an inch at the rim, even though the axle nuts were tight to the frame. Uh oh, not good. When I got home and took it apart, I discovered that the axle was broken in two pieces.

I expect the clunking sound was from the wheel flopping from one side to the other. And the buffeting feeling was probably related to the ball bearings being forced around unnaturally, several times per second.

A little bit of internet research at the Parke Tool and Sheldon Brown websites confirmed this old bike has what is called a 'freewheel' hub. And some general googling found opinions on their shortcomings:

Broken axles used to be fairly common with freewheel hubs since the drive side bearings were well inboard and the unsupported axle under the freewheel was quite long.

Yep, my drive side bearings are about 1.5 inch inbound, and my axle was broken right at the inboard bearings. I guess my break is due to old age, excessive pothole shocks, carrying too much weight, letting the bearing cones get loose, letting the grease dry out, or all of the above.

A quick visit to a local shop provided a replacement axle, cones, and bearings. Everything was replaced except the bearing cups in the wheel. Everything reassembled quickly. Adjustment was a little tricky with only two hands, until I figured out some secrets. We'll see how well I adjusted it after riding a few miles, and whether the bearing cups were damaged or not...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tar Heel 200

We bicycled the RUSA Tar Heel 200 today, from Benson, NC to Tar Heel, NC and back, 200 km (124 miles) round-trip. We enjoyed perfect springtime weather. Temperatures stayed in a nice range, from crisply cool in the morning to mildly warm in the afternoon, so we didn't have much hassle with layers of clothing. We had no flats, no mechanical issues, we ate and drank well, and our bodies survived. We had great directions on the cue sheet, few dogs, few hills, gorgeous scenery, charming villages, immaculate homes, and flowers in bloom everywhere. We finished in just under 12 hours.

The route is a brand new RUSA permanent. It is the first permanent designed by the owner, and if our documentation is accepted, this will be the first official ride on the permanent. It will also be my cycling companion's first RUSA ride, my first RUSA ride, and my first Lanterne Rouge. Lots of 'firsts'.

Trip report: Here is my trip report. A link to all photos is at the very bottom...

We arrived in Benson early enough to lounge in McDonald's for a little while. As the starting time approached, I suggested to my Pedal Pal that we do a few miles to warm up, but she wisely would have none of that. We headed over and parked on Church St, bought some drinks at the Exxon for the receipts, got our cards signed, and we were off. One might have thought I was shivering with excitement on our first official ride, but it was just the crisp cool air.

But I wasn't cold for long. My adrenaline started flowing just minutes after starting, when a big SUV pulled up alongside me and lowered its passenger window. Uh oh, bottle alert! But no, the young driver hollered out some nice words, wished us good luck on the trip, and said he wished he was riding with us. What a nice surprise.

Between Dunn and Erwin, three big military cargo planes caught our attention as they quietly dropped out of the sky directly overhead. We also encountered a little commotion as a mobile home came down the road with escort vehicles chasing everyone to the sides of the road.

We hit the first controle in Erwin in plenty of time. I began getting the hang of the paperwork routine, perfecting my 'shtick' with cashiers.

Once we got out into the country, there were horses everywhere. One saw us from a long distance, came galloping to greet us, and then ran alongside us for the length of its corral. And my Pedal Pal noticed big birds soaring on the wind currents throughout the ride. Very cool.

We were impressed with how every village along the way was so nicely kept. Most all the homes, whether big or small, were immaculate. Front yard gardens were lush, with azaleas, dogwoods, red buds in bright bloom. Ah, springtime.

We had only a few dog encounters throughout the ride. Most were cheerful dogs running alongside with tails wagging. The funniest encounter was with a dog lying in his yard, barking ferociously at us, but too lazy to get up. He did the same on our return trip. I suspect he moves under a shade tree and sips a mint julep during the hot summer months.

We met another cyclist at the controle in Stedman. He lives in Fayetteville and was doing a loop of about 50 miles. We pulled out at the same time and rode south together. A few miles later, he announced he would change his route plans and continue all the way to Tar Heel with us. He must have been enjoying our stimulating conversation, since it was certainly not our pace. While chatting, we learned he was a seasoned racer and tourist, and had ridden from Fayetteville to the Florida Keys last summer.

Overall, the Tar Heel 200 route is incredibly flat. The biggest climb is an overpass over I-95, just east of Wade. Other than that, there are a dozen 'dips' where flat farmground drops down to a creek bottom and then back up the other side. Nothing else is worth mentioning.

Most of the roads were smooth, clean, and had no debris on the sides. Two exceptions were a short section of bumpy joints on NC 82 near the Averasboro Battlefield Museum, and then the ten miles or so of rough pavememt in Bladen County as you approach Tar Heel (well described in the cue sheet). Otherwise, we rarely thought about the pavement.

We did miss one turn at the very end, between Dunn and Benson, just as we were feeling pretty smug about not once looking at a map or powering on the GPS. We missed the right turn from Fairground Road onto Tilghman Rd. There are two sets of road signs on diagonally opposite corners of the intersection. The signs on the far left have road names. The signs on the right just have state road numbers and distances. We didn't notice the signs on the left. As we approached the intersection, a big dog came racing to greet us, and I'd like to claim this as an excuse for missing the turn, but I'm sure we would have missed it even without the dog. Lucky for us, the next half-mile contained the most significant hills of the entire day, and we quickly realized we had not been there before. Alas, we turned back and earned 0.6 bonus miles.

As we continued on to Benson, we spotted a partial 'sun dog' in the sky, which looked like a rainbow around the sun ( And right alongside the sun dog, there was a hot air balloon in the sky. Too bad I couldn't get a good photo.

Acknowledgements: Kudos and many thanks to the route owner for designing the route and getting it approved, and for preparing an excellent cue sheet. The directions were perfect and had exactly the 'right' amount of detail for us. It is a perfect ride for newbie Randonneurs doing their first RUSA events, and I am sure it will become a favorite sprint for experienced Randonneurs.

Thanks also to the route owner for being so accommodating to us. We have only recently taken up this hobby, did our first two centuries in the last few weeks, and have just joined RUSA. He was very welcoming, gracious, and encouraging, and will be a good representative for RUSA.

Cellphone photos with more stories and clever witty captions:

Interactive route map (my unofficial transcription):

Humor: And finally, since this ride was just a few days past 'April Fool's Day', I modified the sign in this photo as a spoof. Click on the photo and read the fine print. Enjoy.

Cross-Post: from the Research Trailer Park, NC Randonneurs website.