Thursday, March 18, 2010

Project Failure

From jwm's world famous blog
'56 Starlet with three-speed


I finished up the work on the '56 Starlet last weekend, and put the old girl on the street for the first time in almost thirty years. Of course there were some bugs to work out. Even as simple a job as putting a three-speed on an old bike can give you a world of grief. But I got lucky. The little bugs were just that- small matters of adjustment that I got worked out with a little fiddling. The shifter works fine, and the heavy old machine is just a little easier on the legs than it was before.

And completing that project bolstered my confidence, and opened the door on the big project I've been anticipating for a couple of months now- putting the big three speed hub on the chopper bike. In fact, I used the picture of the stick shift mount to head up the last post here on the wfb. I was going to wait for the weekend, but I'm working the 6:00 AM to 2:30 shift, and daylight savings gives me a long afternoon. I couldn't wait for Saturday, so I ripped into it on Tuesday after work.

Taking the bike apart is easy. Machines always come apart easily. It's getting them back together where you encounter the problems. Before having the new hub laced into the rim I figured it would be a good idea to bolt it into the frame, hook up the chain, brake and shifter, and make sure everything fit, and worked the way it was supposed to. Once I had that assurance I could get it all spoked up and then just re-mount the wheel on the bike, and go cruisin'.

And here's where everything just went horribly wrong. I'll spare you all the tedious details, and sum it up: I couldn't get anything to fit right. Within the span of an hour I made a precipitous plunge from reasonably competent backyard mechanic to being a left thumbed geek who couldn't tell a crescent wrench from a claw hammer.

This was gut drop, red lights in the rear view, weak in the knees, full body sweat, Oh my God, what have I got myself into here? An hour became two, and then three, and then Mary came home, and I hadn't eaten, and she said, "OK I'll cook dinner tonight." Sit at the table with black fingertips, I haven't had a shower, what the hell it's after eight...
And I got into bed with my self esteem in free fall, and realized I hadn't done one single thing right since 1974. I couldn't sleep. I had to get up early. What the hell am I gonna' do here? I know! Put a post on the Schwinn forum. One of those guys will know what to do. So I did. The answer came before I'd finished typing. The moment of genius came on like a soft warm light in a cold dark cave. I figured out the problem. Easy. Drill some holes; cut some metal. Go down and get a couple nuts and bolts. Sleep followed.

I woke up Wednesday morning with my self worth restored. I could do this thing. Sure it'll take some work but I can do it. At lunch I checked the Schwinn forum, and Wayne, one of the more competent guys who posts there, had given me a list of steps to resolve all the issues, and finish the project. His solutions were better than the ones I had come up with. I got home Wednesday afternoon in good spirits, and went straight into the garage. I did all the stuff that Wayne recommended. The hub went into the dropouts just fine. Then I looped the chain over the sprockets. It almost fit. And the rotor was jammed into the brake pad. And there wasn't enough axle protruding on the shifter side... OK, I could see what I needed to do. See if I can find some ultra thin washers to space out the left side. Get out the die grinder, cut into the frame right there...

No. No fucking way. The lights came on again, only it wasn't the magical soft glow of Wile E Coyote Super Genius. It was the bright epiphany of realization. I was in over my head. This seemingly simple task was, in reality, an engineering project that was just beyond my skill set. I could push forward, but I stood a much better chance of ruining the bike than improving it. The best thing to do was to leave it alone. I felt like I'd been released from jail.

I unhooked the chain, pulled the hub out of the frame, took off the rotor, and bolted it back onto the wheel. I noticed that the wheel bearings were too tight, so I re-set them a little. I put the bike back together, gathered all the parts for the three-speed hub, and put it all back in the box. Then I wheeled the chopper bike out of the garage, dusted it off a little, and took it for a cruise around the block. It worked just fine, and it felt as cool as ever. Mary drove up beside me when I was halfway down the street. I told her I'd meet her back at the house in a minute, and then we'd go get some dinner. Job finished.

JWM

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