Mid September

A penny for your thoughts

Lincoln penny
Lincoln on the penny

I took this picture ages ago, but prior to that point, I had no idea that the simple and often overlooked penny had such detail to it. Very cool.


Late August

Bicycle antics

While I used to frequently ride to work at BumpTop in downtown Toronto, I found surprisingly little motivation to do so after initially moving to California (likely because you need to drive to get anywhere). But with the overwhelming guilt of driving the short six miles to work, and the increasing frustration of having to sit in traffic on Shoreline Ave. to cross the 101, I've begun riding again more and more these past few years.

My Norco Olympia 2006
My near decade-old bike, a Norco Olympia hybrid from a local bike shop down in Kensington Market back in 2006.

As a result, I've been spending more time thinking about my bike, and after I had to change my tires late last year, I've decided to see if I could improve my day-to-day ride by doing more of my own routine, and slightly not-so-routine, maintenance.

  • Handle bars One issue I had with my bike was that the original handle bars were extremely wide, which can be great if you mountain bike (since it allows for greater control), but is tiring for day-to-day riding. The weight of your upper body is spread laterally, which makes it tougher to keep in a forward position, not to mention that when biking around parked cars on a street, a wider handlebar can easily and unexpectedly catch a mirror or side. To remedy this, I used a pipe cutter tool to take 1¾ inches off each side of the bars, which resulted in a more compact bar width. It took a day or two to get used to the new bars, but they feel much more responsive, and my arms were considerably less tired after riding.

  • Handle bar grips As a part of trimming the handle bars, I had to move the old grips, but since grips are notoriously difficult to move and mine had accumulated nine years of dirt and grime, I instead opted to take them off using a simple exacto knife. Before putting on the new grips, I found that you can squirt a bit of rubbing alcohol in them so that they can be adjusted on the bars, after which the alcohol will simply evaporate fixing the grips into place. In terms of types of grips, I prefer the ergonomic ones over the plain cylindrical shape.

  • Chain Cleaning the chain was actually pretty easy, an old bottle and some orange degreaser did the trick. But the hard part, which I totally messed up at first, was removing the chain using a chain tool. A lesson I learned the hard way is that you should not push the pin all the way through because you will have a hell of a time trying to get that pin back in. I ended up devising a way to get the pin back in, namely, to put the outer plate on the ground (outside of the link facing the floor), using a hammer to nail the pin back in place, then using the chain tool to push it almost all the way through so that the pin is now on the outside of the outside of the link, and then reassembling the chain afterwards as you normally do. This was only after racking my brain for a few hours and almost giving in and buying a new chain.

  • Tires After getting a puncture in my old tires, I decided to try some smaller tires to see how they would affect my ride. My hybrid bike had a mountain bike-like configuration so they had put 700x35c tires (45psi), which were super wide and had lots of grip. Lots of grip also means lots of friction on the road. After putting on a set of 28c tires (95psi), the bike felt nimbler to ride. You do need to be more aware of what you are riding over with thinner tires, and the ride is not as soft, but overall I like the new tires.

  • Tubes To replace my old tube, I spent a bit of time watching YouTube videos and cursing at the difficulty of getting everything back onto the rims. Luckily, after a couple hours of practicing one way or another, I finally got the hang of it. A useful tip that I didn't see online, was that after getting the new inner tube in the tire, you can inflate it slightly to give it some definition to align it to the tire and rim, it makes it much easier and prevents the tube from bunching up on one side.

  • Brakes My brakes were not worn as much as I would have thought.. which means I should probably learn to use them more :) But I did have issues with squeaking and tension, so I pulled them completely off the bike, greased the springs (they are v-brakes) and adjusted the pads to ensure that they were toe in so that one part of the brake pad touched the wheel rim before the other.

  • Kickstand At one point last year, the telescoping housing on my factory kick stand broke (it's a plastic piece) and I ended up getting a new one. Little did I know, after a while, the stand had edged in and was briefly rubbing against the back tire (whoops!), and after fixing that, my ride was back to its smooth self.

  • Cassette My cassette still looks pretty good, and most of the teeth don't look worn, so a quick cleaning of all the grime (and there was a lot of it) was all that it needed.

  • Chain rings Same for the chain rings, just a quick cleaning and nothing more at this point.

  • Seat post Another "feature" of the hybrid was a suspension seat post that was just not very good at As a result, I clamped the suspension so that it's effectively a fixed seat post. Bonus is that there is no more creaking when going over a big bump!

  • Saddle I'm still tweaking the saddle position and seat height, but I followed most guides which say that from the seat to the heel on the pedal, your leg should be straight (so that it is bend when you use the balls of your feet), and the saddle should go as far back so that your knees are over the pedal when your thigh is parallel to the ground. Right now, it's about as far back as you can go (which is not a lot since I only have a 16 inch frame), but I do feel like I am unconsciously shifting forward, so I will likely move it forward again.

  • Axles and Bearings Last but not least, I recently took my front wheel off and tried turning the wheel axle by hand only to find it grind painfully like a mortar and pestle. As a result, I took off both wheels and re-greased all the ball bearings in the front and back wheel axles, and as a result the bike now glides like it was new! I had to get a cone and crescent wrench to get to the bearings, and a special Shimano adapter to take off the freewheel on the back wheel, but it was totally worth it.

  • Pedals After doing the wheel bearings, I got obsessed with all the things that turned and ended up re-greasing all the bearings in my pedals as well (there are many tiny ones in there), and now they actually spin instead of just flop :) I needed a pedal wrench to take off the pedals, so I ended up getting one off Amazon.

  • Miscellaneous Throughout the whole process, I had a heck of a time wrestling some of the components off, which can happen if the components are different metals from the frame or each other and have chemically bonded or rusted. If you run into the same issue, you should definitely consider greasing the threads before putting them back on to prevent seizing and just to make your future life easier.

Replacing the ball bearings in a wheel axle
Replacing the ball bearings in the front wheel (after re-greasing with some synthetic lubricant).

All this work got me thinking about how to tell whether my changes made any improvements at all, and luckily, I was introduced to the Strava app last year, which I had taken to using more rigorously this year. As a result, I was able to pull what data I had about my riding habits and make some quick charts to gauge what is going on.

Morning bike rides to work
Morning bike rides to work, average MPH.
Evening bike rides from work
Evening bike rides from work, average MPH. This ride has a small 200ft elevation change.
Total distance biked
Total distance biked (only since I've started using the app, unfortunately)

As you can tell from my evening rides, over the year, my riding time and speed had gotten progressively worse, despite no real change in fitness or external factors (that currently come to mind). One hypothesis I had was that late last year, I tried to flush dirt out of my axle with WD40 and chain oil since I had nothing else at the time, and over time, it just wore away and other dirt got into the bearings, causing friction to turn my serene ride into a grueling challenge. Silly mistake on my part. As you can see on the graph near the right, after re-greasing every axle and pedal, my performance has risen back to what it was before.

In my daily rides, the time difference is noticeable with an almost 2 minute drop in time to get to work on average, and just a more comfortable ride back home (anecdotally, I can stay in one gear higher). As you can also see in the cumulative distance graph, an easier ride, also correlates with more frequent riding too :)

In the long term, a few more things that I would like to tinker with would include:

  • Replacing the bottom bracket
  • Replacing the crankset with a single 48T (I no longer find myself using the smaller 28T and 38T chain rings)
  • Replacing the freewheel completely. Unfortunately I don't have a freehub, so the only other freewheel that fits a seven speed bike is a 13T-32T, which is a minor improvement from my 14T-34T right now. Such a change would not require changing the derailleurs, but I would need a new chain to go with the cassette.

All in all, this bike has taken me on a couple thousand kilometers of road over the years, and I hope the changes will keep it running smoothly for a couple thousand more!


Ah, the memories of MIDI

This is almost artistic, cruise ships from an ariel view

Auto-complete Bash history using arrow keys (probably the best Bash tip I know)


Remember and Big Shiny Tunes and Much Dance? Good times.

Worst office fear: Rolling over your own toes with your computer chair.

Don't say Disney won't go to great lengths to optimize their animatronics...

Like horse racing but for nerds and biologists, Genetic Cars.

Monterey 2013 (4)
Monterey 2013 (4)