Goodbye, N + 1

Black and white and soon, rode all over: My old Trek 2300 and its new owner.

N + 1 is the formula to calculate the number of bicycles one should own. Have one bicycle? The right number to own is two. Have 15 bicycles? The right number is 16.

There are at least three reasons why this should be.

  1. There’s always something new. Something that requires possession. Thirty years ago, that bike was a Trek 2300 with carbon fiber tubes glued to aluminum lugs. (I immediately swapped out the Ultegra crank for a lighter, more beautiful Dura-Ace model. Despite the limitations of vertical dropouts, the bike eventually morphed into a flat-bar single speed, thanks to a White Industries Eno hub.)
  1. There’s always something different. Bicycles with equal-sized wheels? Been there, still doing it. But a bicycle with a 50-inch front wheel, no air in the tires, and a commanding view of the terrain? That’s what attracted me to a Kennedy ordinary, an Indiana-built reproduction high-wheeler I rode several times on PACRACC, a long-gone three-day ride around Bloomington/Normal.
  1. Sometimes (okay, all the time), the bikes you own are more valuable to you than anyone else. You keep a bicycle, even if you aren’t riding it, because you think it’s worth $500 and the rest of the world thinks it’s worth $40. Or less.

These reasons–and the fact that you’re a hoarder–mean you go from two wheels to four wheels to…well, to N + 1.

Yes, you sell a bike from time to time to buy tires, chains and pizza. We all have needs that require sacrifice. But over the decades, the number of bicycles in your basement, your garage, your two-car shed with no cars in it rises.

Until it doesn’t.

Maybe you get older and the space and cash you’d gain from a sale are more meaningful than the bike hanging on the seventh hook from the right.

Maybe you spend too much time every spring moving bikes around the basement trying to retrieve hummingbird feeders from the shelves said bikes are leaning on. (Which should be right about here; isn’t this where you put them–right next to the third edition of the Sutherland’s repair manual? And where are the hummingbird feeder hooks? Why did you mix them in with fender stays?)

Or maybe you find a bike, a heavily modified Giant Escape, that does several things well: keeps you dry because it has room for fenders; moves you down dirt roads as well as smooth pavement because it has wide tires; and lets you wear whatever shoes you want because the pedals sport a flat platform on one side for your Oboz trail shoes and Chaco sandals and cleat engagement on the other for your Shimano cycling shoes and cycling sandals.

(Some folks might argue that the right number of shoes is also, remarkably enough, N + 1*).

In any case, I recently sold a Fisher Advance, a Dahon Bullhead, a Schwinn Sports Tourer and, most recently, the Trek 2300. Each bicycle was interesting in its way but, given the mathematical implications of N + 1, mostly unridden.

So I lightened the load. And due to those same mathematical implications, my remaining bicycles–among them, a Bianchi Pista, the aforementioned Giant Escape, a Trek 1420, a Paisley tricycle, a custom Co-Motion tandem, and a Bike Friday tikit–get more use.

A Sekai 2500, the any-road bike I used before the Escape, may get repurposed as a city bike with an internal rear hub. A 1964 Schwinn Corvette still lurks out in the shed, awaiting adjustment to its infuriatingly early shifting two-speed hub.

An ancient Trek mountain bike, suitably burdened with a discontinued Bionx electric hub motor and aging battery? I may just keep it–it’s worth more to me than to anyone else.

And that’s where I am today. N – 4.

Do I think about future acquisitions? Oh, yes–all the time. That’s the pull of anticipation, of owning and riding something new and/or different. That will never go away. But I’m also enjoying the living space I’ve gained.

Take another look at that picture of the 2300. See how happy Cory is? That’s what happiness is when you have something you didn’t have before–when you’re looking forward to a ride on your new wheels. That’s N + 1.

I remember it well.

*Full disclosure: When I’m not riding a bike, reading the Grapes of Wrath, or falling asleep on the couch, I can often be found selling shoes. I’m in favor of shoes and unashamedly recommend them to most people.


Posted in Bianchi, Bike Friday tikit, Dahon, Fisher, Giant, Paisely, Schwinn Corvette, Schwinn Sports Tourer, Sekai 2500 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coffee first

Everyone’s inside today, but the only thing I need to add to my work clothes is a light jacket–and a double Americano.

Came too late for a cookie, though.

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Rack and fender attachment


Two nifty design ideas from my friend Dave Atkinson.

First: the mono-stay connecting the front of Blackburn rack to the frame of this old Schwinn mixte. It’s curved to match the shape of the wheel and painted to match the fender. It replaces a flat stainless steel mount that is usually bent in the process of installation–and never as cleanly as this piece.

SIMG_1953econd: the rear reflector bracket doubling as a fender support. Note how the bracket allows the removal of two pairs of fender stays and assorted hardware. Fewer attachments mean fewer parts to come loose, rattle and/or fall off.

Are these homemade? Only in the sense that that they didn’t come from either Schwinn or Blackburn.

They are elegant answers to the question of how to remove complexity and keep a simple machine simple.

When he isn’t working on bicycles–and air compressors, pressure washers, lawn mowers and who knows what else–Dave repairs CityLink buses.

Click here to see how he rehabbed a three-speed bicycle that was headed for the dump.



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Nitto Technomic handlebar stem

Just so you understand: The removable faceplate stem is one of the most important bicycle innovations of recent decades.

Undo four bolts (or fewer) holding the handlebar and two bolts securing the handlebar stem to the fork, and you can swap out extensions faster than you can recite the Gettysburg address, assuming you recite the address with all due gravity.

Even bicycles with one-inch threaded headsets can be retrofitted with quill extensions that accept 21-century handlebar stems. Like this one.

1-1/8-inch threadless stem on 1-inch quill extension

The quill extension–the silver column–is wedged inside the fork steerer, just like the original stem. The top of the extension is larger in diameter to accommodate the 1-1/8-inch stem.

And it works great. Need a stem that’s longer, shorter, higher or lower? Go for it. No need to unwrap the handlebar on one side and remove the brake lever to swap parts. (That’s what you had to do with old quill stem technology. Every. Single. Fricking. Time.)

There’s only one problem with the quill-extension modification. It looks like a kludge.

(Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind kludge-like solutions if they get me something I can’t get any other way. But this set-up on this particular bike crossed an aesthetic bridge too far for me.)

What to do? Head back to the past with a Nitto Technomic quill.

Tall Nitto Technomic quill-style stem

Right after I strip one side of the handlebar to install the stem old school: by sliding the clamp over the bar from end to center.


It’s back to the past with a proviso: The Technomic is an extra-tall quill stem that brings the handlebars up to the same height as the saddle on a bicycle with old-fashioned frame geometry. (The top tube is parallel to the ground.)

It’s not a position the Experts around me used to recommend. Though now you can replicate the position on just about any slope-tubed carbon wonder.

This isn’t my first go-round with the Technomic. I use one on a Trek 2300 and a Paisley tricycle. Years ago, I had one on a Trek 720.

Other notes on today’s session:

Saw a sliver of steel under the headset locknut. Turned out the small ridge retaining an o-ring on the bottom of the locknut was disintegrating.

To the junk drawer for a replacement. And–success!


Front end updated, or more accurately, backdated, I moved to the tires. I wanted to replace the 25mm Continental tires with 28mm Panaracers. (Actual tire widths as mounted on Mavic MA2 rims: 24mm and 26mm, respectively.)

I tried this before. The tightest frame clearance is between the tire and the bottom of the rear brake bridge. (If playing this game at home, make sure your rear wheel is properly dished.)


But what stopped me back then was the front derailleur.

When the the chain swung over to the big chainring, the derailleur cable anchor bolt tagged the tire. (Took twenty miles to suss that out.) At the time, I figured, well, the gods of manufacturing had spoken and it was game over.

But today, I decided I’m not going to live by their rules any more.


That new bolt is cute as a button.

Trek 1420 with new stem, larger tires

Too early for flapjacks?

Posted in Equipment, maintenance, Trek | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Wolf Tooth Pack Wrench – ultralight 1″ hex and bottom bracket wrench

If you work on your own bicycles, you know the allure of purpose-built bicycle tools.

The right tool simplifies the job, whether it’s a spoke wrench shaped to fit the hand as well as the nipple, or a threaded-headset wrench thin enough to tuck onto the adjustable cup under the locknut yet strong enough not to distort after years of use.

The right tool is a powerful repair solution–and an equally powerful reminder of every successful repair session.

Maybe that’s why I keep tools I may never use again: an Atom freewheel remover, a Helicomatic wrench/bottle opener.

Bicycles come and go, especially when your care of them spans decades.

But tools? Tools remain.

And a new tool–because there is always a new tool–is even more alluring.

Sometimes it’s because you finally have the right socket to remove a new-fangled bottom bracket cup. Sometimes because the tool is so well made it encourages you to luxuriate in the sheer quality of the thing.

And sometimes a tool is the NIFTIEST THING SINCE THE LAST NIFTIEST THING because the maker added something clever, something unexpected, something that once you see it you must have it.

That’s why I want the Pack Wrench from Wolf Tooth.

Yes, it’s a versatile piece of aluminum, supporting a number of attachments. Yes, the redesigned handle is comfortable. And yes, it’s super light.

But none of those facts are really important to me.

I’m way more likely to use Wolf Tooth’s attachments with breaker bars and torque wrenches at home and work. And I don’t haul around a ride mechanic’s kit on race day–which is why the light aspect is nice.

But look at the shape of this tool. Note the dogleg to the right of the flower-shaped hole–a 16-notch 44mm bottom bracket and/or centerlock rotor tool–in the picture.

The apex of the triangular dogleg points to zero on a chain line measurement gauge.

Position the dogleg over the seat tube near the chainrings and hold the wrench perpendicular to the bicycle frame.

The straight ramps of the dogleg automatically position the gauge over the centerline of the frame regardless of the seat tube’s diameter.

If you have a single ring, read the gauge as it passes over the middle of the ring. Two chainrings, halfway between them. Three rings, over the middle of the middle ring.

A chart to the right of the gauge matches chain lines to nine hub widths.

All of which means if you have shifting or chain retention issues because of an errant chain line, you’ll know.

This laser-cut gauge is convenient, accurate, easy to read and takes up zero additional space on your tool wall.

You can’t lose it unless you lose the much larger wrench it’s etched on. And you know what that means.

The Pack Wrench is a keeper.

Posted in maintenance, tools | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

You may be about to pass a fixed-gear bicycle if…

A Campy peanut-butter wrench. One of the oldest tools I own, hanging from the seat bag of the only bike I’d use it on.

That’s because the wheels of this Bianchi Pista are secured by nuts, not quick releases. So if I get a flat, I need the wrench to take the wheels off.

Let me rephrase that: I need a wrench, not this particular one. But this is one of only two wrenches I have (the other is a Campy 5mm) that reminds me of riding in the 1970s.

Memory athletes often use a memory palace strategy to perform prodigious feats of recall–the order of a shuffled deck of cards, for instance.

That technique, associating things you want to remember with a series of familiar spaces, takes study and practice.

My reminders are of the accidental kind. A letter that never hit the trash. (Dad used a manual typewriter.) A framed print too big to ignore. (When ceiling plaster of an early apartment fell, it missed the print and landed on me.) A one-day clock with weight-driven works. (That grandparent smoked cigars and grew tomatoes behind a garage with a dirt floor.)

And yes, an Italian wrench meant for one use but nicknamed for a different one.

I have yet to spread peanut butter with it. Nor did I need it to change a flat today.

I did, however, remember to carry it. (Just as I did when I rode an older coast-free bicycle from Washington to Normal for breakfast at a place that specialized in gyros.)

It’s one of those things that’s hard to forget.

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A chicken’s tale


Why do we ask ourselves why the chicken crossed the road?

To get to the punch line in a hurry.

It may also be a way to explore the human condition without the human.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Peer pressure.

One reason the chicken joke thrives is its simplicity. Its accessibility. Kids tell chicken jokes. As adults, they remember being the kids telling the jokes. As extraordinary adults, they teach their kids chicken jokes.

We have a lifetime of chicken joke experience. And so when we see a chicken, whether or not that chicken is near a road, neurons in our brain automatically transmit the setup to the joke.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Adults never remember reading Dante’s Inferno or Matheson’s What Dreams May Come at five years old because a sad group of adults early on determined the exploration of hell’s many levels is best reserved for Sunday school. As if hell is a poorly lit sub-basement of the church. Which is about the only thing I thought they were right about.

Another reason, of course, is that most five-year-olds are still trying to figure out whether Pat is the bunny’s name or what you’re supposed to do to the bunny.

I could use some help with that one myself.

But I digress. Back to the chicken joke.

Even when it merges with another form, the knock-knock joke, the chicken joke is mercilessly simple.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To visit the village idiot. Knock knock. Who’s there? The chicken.

Why do we ask why the chicken crossed the road? Because asking who or what the chicken crossed the road doesn’t make sense. And because asking how, when and where results in obvious answers.

The chicken in the picture, a rooster, walked across the road in front of our tandem at 10:30 a.m. this past Sunday southwest of Edelstein, Illinois.

(That’s not a chicken joke, by the way. I just really like using an italic font at regular intervals.)

Because there were witnesses to this crossing, the rooster becomes another data point in historic road-crossing chicken research.

I saw the best chickens of their generation distracted by their desire to reach the other side of the road, ignoring community, eggs on the nest and the neighbor’s indifferent Labrador in search of another mindless quest.

This was not one of those chickens. This was no quest. We know why this crossing happened.

The rooster, shorn of most tail feathers and all the feathers on its back within two inches of the tail, crossed the road to get away from the bigger, meaner rooster on the south side of the road.

Been there. Done that.

No joke.


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