Sunday, November 10, 2013
So I'm building a new bike. From the ground up. Because I can.
A while back I decided (and my wife agreed - thanks Honey!) that I needed some "me time". I'm an engineer, so relaxing ("me time") for me means building something, because building things is what makes me happy. I normally build things that are measured in picoseconds, nanometers, and microwatts with long hours spent in front of a computer screen, so to disconnect I needed to do something completely different. I had heard of a local Bicycle Frame Building Course ( www.ufv.ca/bicycle-technology/bike-f
rame-building-101/ ) and had it on my bucket list, so I thought "why not?". A couple other guys from work were also thinking of taking it, but for one reason or the other couldn't make the commitment, so I was the only one.
However, before I start talking about the new bike, I need to talk a bit about my current bike. My current bike is a 56cm 2012 Brodie Once. When I was looking at bikes two years ago, I had been running through a string of bad experiences with the external derailleur setup on the bike I had at the time, and had been looking closely at Internal Gear Hubs. I knew what gear range I needed for my daily commute, and knew that the Shimano Alfine 8 (or Nexus 8) would not cut it, that I really wanted the Alfine 11 IGH.
The problem was that there were very few production bikes with the Alfine 11, and that most Alfine 11 installs involved either a fair amount of custom modifications to a production frame or a full custom bike. The Brodie Once (pronounced "on-say" which is Spanish for "11") was one of those production bikes, and on paper it looked great and was on top of my list. At the same time, in the back of my mind I was thinking "it would be even better if it had drop bars".
I went into one Local Bike Shop that I knew was a Brodie dealer, but they didn't currently have either an Once or an Ocho in stock. The Ocho is the 8-speed bike that uses the same frame, Ocho being Spanish for 8. There is also a Brodie Dos, for 2. That store, however, phoned around for me and found out which stores had the Once in stock, so I went off and ended up wandering into another LBS, Mighty Riders, and talked to Ed the owner. As luck would have it, Ed had just gotten in the Versa-11 drop bar shifters necessary to put road-style drop bars on an Alfine 11-equipped bike (the Shimano shifters are twist-style for flat bar bikes), and had just put them onto a 56cm Once as an experiment. I said I was looking for an Once, and that I wasn't sure if I needed a 53cm or a 56cm, and after a bit of experimentation on a trainer with a 53cm Ocho, it was clear the 56cm was the better choice. Then the subject of drop bars came up and I said I had been thinking of drop bars, so he pulled the experimental Once over, and put it on the trainer, and I gave it a whirl. It felt good. He then put his fit stem/handlebar on the bike, and we experimented a bit with combinations and rapidly found a great fit. I walked out, having put down my money to purchase that experimental 56cm Once with the bar combination we had worked out.
(after adding fenders, a rear rack, panniers, and a frame bag)
That bike has been my daily commuter now for almost two years, and it's been great, and I've ridden it almost exclusively on the road. It's not really set up for any off-road use, not even on well-prepared trails. When I decided to take the course, I had to decide what bike to build. I wanted an "everything" bike that was a bit more rugged than the Once, which would allow me to do a little bit of off-road trails riding if I wanted. I love the Alfine-11 IGH, but felt that if I were to take it more off-road and/or on hills that are a bit worse than I normally commute on I wanted a bit lower low gear. At the same time, I wanted a bit higher high gear - at this point on the straight and level on the road I'm limited by my bike's gearing, not by my legs.
As a result, decision #1 was that if I were to stay with an IGH, I wanted to use a Rohloff SpeedHub 500/14, and use a 46T/16T or 48T/17T single-speed drivetrain. The SpeedHub 500/14 is a bullet-proof 14-speed IGH that was originally designed as the ultimate MTB hub. They've been manufacturing the hub, almost unchanged, since 1998. Some of the oldest hubs have over 100,000km on them, and they have proven to be extremely reliable. They started out in MTB's, but they have since found a lot of use in commuters, touring, and tandem bikes, with some crazy people also using it on road or Cyclocross bikes. I also spent a lot of time thinking about how I ride on the Once, thinking about how things feel, and what I wanted to change, which wasn't much. From there, I spent a fair amount of time reading up on bike geometries and found out that I was one of the crazy people because I ended up being heavily influenced by Cyclocross bikes.
Decison #2 was the geometry: I chose a 56cm seat tube at 73 degrees, a 56.5cm top tube, a 14.5cm head tube at 72 degrees, a 43cm chainstay, a 7cm bottom bracket drop, a 102.5cm wheelbase, and a rigid fork and rear end. A modern Cyclocross bike has slightly slacker seat tube/head tube angles (road bikes are often 74 degrees, sometimes more) than a modern road bike, longer chainstays (a road bike is most often in the 40-41cm range), similar bottom bracket drops, almost flat top tubes, and rigid forks and rear ends. A modern mounain bike (including 650B's and 29er's) generally have shorter seat tubes, even slacker (71-69 degree) seat/head tubes angles, similar chainstay lengths as a CX bike, smaller bottom bracket drops (5-6cm), sloping top tubes, front suspension forks, and many have rear suspension. Touring bikes, depending upon the designer, can have almost geometry combination but almost always have slack tube angles, even longer chainstays (up to 47cm), and rigid forks and rear ends. My geometries are quite close to the Once but I've ended up with a slightly shorter (1cm) top tube and a slighly shorter (1.5cm) wheelbase. I'll use a slightly longer (1cm) stem, which will give me the same riding posture, but one that's a bit closer to the front wheel.
From there, I needed to figure out how to maintain chain tension. An IGH has a single-speed (i.e. "Track" or "Fixie") chain, without a derailleur, which means that there has to be a way of adjusting the distance from the crank spindle to the rear axle to maintain chain tension. Most Track or Fixie bikes use horizontal dropouts, allowing the rear axle to move back and forth, but IGH's use a series of planetary gears internally and require one or both sides of the rear axle to be rigidly attached to the frame, and these attachment points need to withstand immense torques, especially when climbing hills. This requirement means that horizontal dropouts are a "challenging" problem with IGH's, so many standard frames with IGH's attached require special torque arms to be added to the frame to create these rigid attachment points and then use a chain tensioner, essentially a much-simplified derailleur. Frames that are designed with IGH's in mind use different approaches.
One of the most common solutions is an Eccentric Bottom Bracket where the spindle center isn't aligned to the middle of the bottom bracket shell and the bottom bracket can itself rotate in the shell to adjust the spindle location. This is the solution used on the Once, but I've occasionally noticed the most common issue with EBB's: squeaking. The EBB needs to be secured using set screws and/or clamping mechanisms built into the shell, and if it moves at all during peddling (even a mm or fraction of a degree) it can squeak. Nonetheless, I was thinking of building an EBB frame, but after talking to the course instructor (Paul Brodie, the founder of Brodie Bikes, the manufacturer of the Once) about the additional machining steps necessary to avoid the squeaking I chose the alternative solution, a sliding rear dropout. A sliding dropout consists of two pieces, a fixed piece (known as the "insert") attached to the frame with rails that the second piece (the "dropout" that the axle is attached to) rides on.
Decision #3 was to use Rohloff's sliding dropout, which they they refer to as "Type F", which is then combined with the "OEM Plate" which then slides into the long slot on the dropout.
Here's a picture of a "Type G" dropout, which is the EBB variant, but it uses the same style slot and OEM plate to create the rigid connection to the frame.
Decision #4 was that I wanted to use disk brakes. Pretty much a no brainer - I want the braking surfaces as far from the road surface as they can be.
With all the up-front decisions out of the way, so it's time to get the components I need before I take the course - Paul strongly recommended that students have the wheels and the fork before starting the course. I talked things through with Ed; I want to do as much work on the bike as possible, but at the same time I want someone who knows what they are doing to check my work. I said I was willing to purchase components through him, but with a condition. We both knew up front that he would't be getting much (if any) mechanic time on this bike because I wanted to do much of the work myself. As a result, any money he makes for his time will come from me purchasing components, however the Internet has made things difficult for LBS's on component pricing because it's just to darned easy for customers to shop around. I don't want to screw him over by working out components with him and then going and purchasing them all online, but at the same time there are a couple components (the SpeedHub in particular) where the difference between online and his list price was just simply too big to ignore. He asked that if I ran into this situation to talk to him and he would see if there was something he could do to match the price. With that out of the way, we put together my initial shopping list.
The front hub is a 32-hole Velocity ATB Disc Lightweight Front Hub, anodized black.
The rear hub is the 32-hole Rohloff SpeedHub 500/14 CC DB, anodized black.
For the rims are Hed Belgium C2's 32-hole 23mm rims. Nice and strong and light.
The fork is a steel Salsa Vaya Road/CX fork, with a 45mm rake. It's not a light fork, but at the same time it's not the heaviest out there.
The spokes are Saphim Leader 296's.
Taken as a whole, these components together should make for strong wheels and a strong front end, able to take years of (ab)use.
Once I had it all, I built the wheels, starting by 2-cross lacing, then centering, truing, and careful tension adjustment. I borrowed a co-worker's truing stand and dishing gauge, took advantage of the large amount of info that's out there on the 'net, and took my time.
Once the wheels were built I installed Shwalbe High-Pressure Rim Tape.
I then installed my Continental Contact 2 Reflex winter tires from the Once as place-holders for the course, and I was set.
The next installment is the course itself. Plenty of pictures to come!
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Well, I've done it. I've gone and registered for the bicycle frame building course that I mentioned a couple times last year. Think of it as my 43rd birthday present to myself, because it starts on September 9th and my birthday is on the 10th. As a result of my highly elevated work-induced stress last year I took advantage of a program at work to spend some time talking to a councilor. One of the suggestions from that was that I needed to take some more "me" time, and this course is one of those "me" times.
That high-stress period of time pretty much knocked me off SP, and I've been only sporadically here since then, but I'm still kicking around from time to time. Still cycling to & from work, still running occasionally.
Work is fun right now. I'm right in the middle of the early design stage for a product that'll come out in 2014, right in the middle of all the cool technical problems. I'm also coordinating 5 or 6 other people all working on aspects of the project, and am already working on two patent disclosures discussing some of the new inventions. Fun times. Busy, and yes there is stress, but it's the *good* stress!
Now that I've registered for the course, I really need to do some more serious planning. Sorry, Bruce, no bike porn with pretty pictures this time, but I'm sure I'll do one or two of those as things come together.
At this point, I'm planning on building a CycloCross frame, and outfitting it with a Roholoff 14-speed Internal Gear Hub and Disc brakes. Given that I've never done TIG welding, I'm probably going to be braising - old school! A lot of people have mated the Rohloff Hub with a Gates carbon belt drive system, however the belt drive system is extremely picky about the chain line and given that it'll be my first attempt at building a frame I'm going to go with a more forgiving chain. It's also in line with the old-school CroMo braising. I'm planning on vertical drop-outs, and want to use an Eccentric Bottom Bracket for chain tensioning, and I want to run the cables through the top tube and then down the seat stays, keeping them away from the ground as much as possible. The Rohloff hub uses a twist shift system with all the indexing in the hub (their initial goal was to build the most reliable MTB IGH hub they could) so the shifter is set up primarily for use on flat bars, but there are several options for using it on drop bars, and I need to do more research. One thing I'm sure of: I want to take advantage of the Rohloff's wider gear range to give myself a little bit lower gear than I have with my current bike, 21 or 22 gear inches instead of 26, while still giving myself a bit more at the high end.
I've built up a great big list of links, discussing bike design (including the older edition of the Patarek manal), frame geometries, frame construction, components, as well as a couple YouTube how-to videos on a whole bunch of topics. I'm wanting to do as much of the work as possible (including building the wheels!) but I'll be going to Mighty Riders (my LBS) to do some of the things I can't do or don't have the equipment for. I'll also get them to check over my work just to make sure I don't royally screw it up! It's a hole in the wall, but Ed (the owner) is one of the most knowledgeable bike mechanics in Vancouver, and his shop is the go-to place that both Shimano and Rohloff send people to if they need IGH servicing in British Columbia. He also does custom fitting, and I think I'll book a session this summer to work out the geometries to make the bike fit me. My goal at this point is to have the wheels built up and have my fork before the course, and have a pretty good idea of everything else. Given that, I might have a chance to have everything together and take it for a spin before Halloween!
Of course, after I have a frame and before I can attach any components I'll need to get it painted. Given that it'll be a "go out and have fun" bike, and will probably get used for a little bit of everything including commuting in the rain, I'm thinking that I should get it painted in the most garish day-glo high-viz yellow I can get. Perhaps with retroreflector glass beads in a clearcoat on top? Perhaps that might be a bit much. Oh, and I need to think of what to call my bike, and come up with a head badge design.
This will be fun!
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Way, way back in the mists of time (97 days ago according to SP) my status update (in several chunks) read:
In order to understand my job right now, imagine that you have a Lego set that can be built up as either a cargo truck or a helicopter. Now imagine that you've built the truck. Now imagine that overnight someone broke into your house and glued half the pieces together. Now imagine that you've been given the task to build a helicopter. It doesn't have to be exactly the same as the original helicopter, it just has to work like it, but you aren't allowed to use any pieces that weren't there in the original set. You don't *have* to use the pieces that were glued together, but so many of them were glued together that it would be difficult to make anything useful without using some of them, glue and all. I'm choosing to look at this as an opportunity for creativity, not as a challenge. It's the only way to keep sane.
Oh, what prophetic words!
To give some context for the what was actually going on, it helps to know what I actually do for a living. My company designs and manufactures microchips that go into networks, storage systems, and large RF systems. The chips we design aren't household names, and most of the companies we sell to aren't household names either, however there is an excellent chance that each and every byte of data that you send over the internet or store "on the cloud" will go through one our chips, most likely many of them. There are even a couple microchips we've built that might be in your home today depending upon where you live and what type of broadband connection you have.
When I say we manufacture microchips, what I really mean is that we contract with large foundries in Asia who actually do the manufacturing, then contract with other large companies (mostly in Asia) to do the assembly and packaging and testing, although we do some of our testing ourselves. We design the chips, develop the software that runs on them, create the test programs, do the debugging, and then sell them. Hopefully through all of this, we make money.
As I said, we have the chips manufactured at a foundry. The steps involved in doing this are many, and I'm not going to go through them all, but the Wikipedia page on "Microfabrication" ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microfabricati
on ) has a reasonable description. The pictures down the side show a representative set of steps for a relatively simple process with a single metal (we use much more advanced process steps with many more metal layers), but show how everything is built up using layer after layer of photolithographic masks. Think of each mask as a negative for a picture, and think of a completed microchip as a stack of 20-40 layers of different materials, each patterned by a single mask. Depending upon what the mask is used for and how precise they have to be they can be either relatively cheap (less than $10,000) to quite expensive (more than $100,000) to produce, and as a result a complete "mask set" required to produce a particular type of microchip is an expensive piece of equipment. Because of this, creative people (like me) are often asked to make changes and fix errors by editing a smaller set of masks. It's quite common to talk about "all-layer" revisions and "metal-only" revisions, meaning revisions that change all mask layers compared with revisions that only change metal layers. Another class of revision, a "base-layer" revision, isn't all that common because the masks for lowest level of the microelectronic stack (steps 1-8 in the Wikipedia figure) are relatively expensive, and more often than not if you have to edit the base layers it's because the error is too massive and you may as well do an all-layer revision.
Metal-only revisions have another advantage: time. When a company like mine orders a new type of chip the first time, we often start more wafers (the big circular silicon substrates that microchips are built) than we need. After the base layers are processed, we will "hold" some of the wafers, meaning that they're taken off the production line and safely stored away at the foundry until such time as we re-start them. This is an insurance policy of a sort, ensuring that if we find errors in the first run of chips we have the opportunity to re-start the processing on the held wafers with a new set of metal masks to fix the errors. This can be very important because it often takes more than half the processing time to process the base layers, and less than half the time to do the metals. When you have customers waiting for your chips, the time that you can save by using the held wafers can be incredibly valuable!
We've had a chip back in our labs since June, and like most new devices it had what can politely be called "issues". OK, they were bugs. The most serious bugs were in a circuit that we actually sub-contracted out its development to a company in Maryland, and identifying what was wrong took a massive amount of work. We had held wafers, and we had tight customer commit dates, and given that the fixes to the sub-contracted block were metal-only, we decided we would attempt to do a metal-only revision. Of course, we had to then fix the rest of the bugs. We had a "hit list", and there were two blocks that had minor problems, but we had another block that had major problems - a key feature of this chip, one that our customers were depending on, did not work. A co-worker and I were given the task of deciding if we could indeed do a metal-only revision. After looking at it for a couple days, we decided we had a fighting chance, and given that we really didn't have time to do an all-layer revision we said we could do it.
This is when I made my update.
In this context, the Lego pieces are the individual transistors that the block was originally built from. The transistors, being on the base layers, were in fixed locations, and many of them were interconnected with diffusion and polysilicon, also base layers. That's where the "glue" comes from. We were free to re-wire the glued-together Lego (i.e. the interconnected transistors) in the bottom three layers of metal. I think Barb's the only person who really understood what I was talking about.
It was not easy, and involved a lot of cursing and late nights as we continually fought with the original design (it was done badly) and had to find ever more creative ways of using the transistors we had. Along the way we actually found several new bugs in the original design, bugs we did not know about when we started, buts that if we had known about when we started I suspect we would have said "all layers, please". Our stress levels went through the roof, and I burned out. I took a couple unplanned days off (not enough) but returned to work and we eventually succeeded, came up with robust solutions to all the bugs, and sent the revised metal masks off to the foundry. Over that period of time I made various cryptic status updates about helicopters and was probably not the nicest person to be around.
December was a quiet time and my stress levels went back down to a more typical level. The foundry was processing the new metal layers on the old base layers, and then we got the new revision back in early January.
Disaster. Not only did it not look like we had fixed the original bugs, but it looked like we had created new ones. The helicopter wasn't flying - it was crashing and creating collateral damage. For the past three weeks, we have been staring at it, trying to figure out what was up, trying all sorts of different tests and simulating all sorts of crazy scenarios. Nothing made sense. Sometimes, under some conditions, the block would work perfectly. Other times it would fail in ways that made no sense, and we were looking at the very real likelihood that we wouldn't be able to meet our customer commit dates. As you can imagine, my stress levels have been going up. I've tried to compartmentalize and keep the work stress at work, but I've not been 100% successful on that. Thankfully my Achilles injury has healed so I've been able to re-start running at lunch hour so I'm able to burn off some stress and shut off my brain for a while in the middle of the day.
Today we found the root cause of the issues we're having in the lab. In order to clean up a problem on an unrelated block, we had made a modification to the power supply for that block. In doing so, we modified the power supplies for all the blocks, including the one we fixed. As it turns out, the problem isn't with the block, it's with its power supply. Continuing the helicopter analogy, the problem wasn't with the helicopter itself, but we put sugar in the gas tank. Remove the sugar, and the helicopter flies.
There are probably a couple more days to follow up on this front, but when I look ahead in time, I see my stress level dropping rapidly. I so need this.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
Wow, it's been a while since I've done more than sign on, spin the wheel, track my fitness, sometimes try to track my food, and run off again. There's so much I could say about what's been going on, but I'll try to keep it somewhat brief. Of course, my "brief" is probably someone else's "wordy", so consider the source, huh?
Since my last blog update here, we went to Scotland as a family, my son's pipe band (Robert Malcom Memorial Grade 4) placed third in the Novice Juvenile category at the World Pipe Bands championship, and came home to North America via Iceland and visited for an afternoon with Sigrun (BARBIETEC) and her family. After that, we barely had time to recover and then the kids' school and other activities started up again. I had my birthday, and with my birthday money I finally got racks and panniers for my bike, and I continued biking to work for most of the fall. Of course, some of that time I had to because the truck was in the shop being fixed from a rear-ender. My fault (a moment of inattention - more on that later) so after 26 years of driving I had my first accident.
In the meantime, work has been totally insane. I was out to Maryland meeting with a sub-contractor about fixing a circuit that they designed for us (I flew the day after my birthday), then came back with it still not fixed. Several more weeks of debugging (thankfully it was a co-worker that got stuck in Silicon Valley and had to expense underwear, not me!) and we FINALLY figured out the problem. Only then management decided that now that block was fixed, and I got thrown into fixing a set of serious problems with another block, one that was designed in-house. Of course, we didn't make it easy (see my series of updates on helicopters), and that's only now finished. Of course, we thought it was finished last week, but then yesterday we found (and fixed) yet another bug. For the last six months, I have been working almost full time (60+ hour weeks) cleaning up other people's messes. Not my own messes. Not creating new messes. Other people's messes. Incompetent messes. Frustrating messes. Insanity-producing messes.
Three weeks ago, I had my second at-fault accident. Another rear-ender, and again, it was a moment of inattention. It was the second accident in 6 weeks, and it forced me come to a realization: the combination of six months of 60+ hour work weeks with essentially no break (Scotland doesn't count - I drove over 1000 miles on the wrong side of 1.5-lane roads!) fixing other people's mistakes and everything going on at home (in addition to the kid's stuff going on, we're also trying to clean out two rooms in the basement so my wife can set up a home-based business) was just too much. I've been distracted. I've been unproductive. I've not been sleeping. I'm burnt out.
I had been trying to hold things together until all the messes at work were cleaned up, but I just couldn't do it. I took three days off work with no notice. I talked to my doctor. I talked to my manager. I'm on prescription sleeping medication. I'm meeting with a stress counselor (covered by work, thankfully). I will be limiting myself to a strict 40-hour work week for the rest of the year and probably January/February; it's that or I'm going to have to take stress leave. I'm trying to straighten things out.
Of course, yesterday didn't help - the bug we found yesterday was caused by sheer stupidity. The guys who implemented the circuit removed two sub-circuits that I had put in the original design this block was based on prevent this precise bug. When I realized that I was beyond furious, as is my co-worker (the one who had to expense underwear) that I've been working to do the fixes. He is also dancing on the edge of the burnout cliff (and knows it) and will also be severely curtailing his time at work for the next while. We've told our manager that he will be the one writing up the post-mortem report because we will be unable to keep the venom in check if we were the ones to write it.
I'm just so thankful that I made the investment three years ago to get my health in line; if I were going through this now at 270+ pounds I shudder to think of what the consequences would have been. That being said, I'm not really tracking my food these days and I've found out that under enough stress I can be a stress eater. Thankfully the physical activity that I'm getting somewhat counter-acts this, but I'm pretty sure I'm back over 180 pounds. I'm not certain however, because I've not stepped on a scale for about 2 months. At this point I have no intention of doing so until Christmas craziness is over, at which point I'll evaluate where I am and take it from there. In the meantime, I'll try to update this blog a bit more often.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
I've written about blackberries before. I love the berries, but at the same time I wish the bushes weren't such a pain. I spent a good chunk of time the last couple weeks dealing with blackberries in my back yard, and I know people who are serious granola back-to-nature types, yet think nothing of attacking blackberry bushes with a passion. Blackberries bring out the best and the worst in all of us.
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