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Troubleshooting!

This past week our Salem State Student EXPECT team finished up their semester with us, and Fred, one of the students, brought in his bike for repair.

He was stumped – his rear wheel kept getting flats! Even a few visits to other bike shops still led to the same results. So, we told him we’d try to get to the bottom of his issue.

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First issue – removing the wheel. Obviously. A single speed can be tricky to do at home, but KT is a pro at it by now.

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And the tire – we go the extra mile and fill up the old tube with air to find the hole. It was on the inside, which confirmed what KT and Mike suspected – the wrong rim strip was used for his wheel. Too thin, and the intense air pressure from the tube can be sucked into the spoke holes and cause a flat. This is a quick, and cheap, fix.

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KT puts the correct rim strip in. This should solve the problem.

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After putting a new tube in and filling it up to the recommended psi (road tires like Fred’s take 115 or so!), KT puts the wheel back into the frame. Again, single speeds need a lot of adjustment to get correct, so it can be time-consuming to get right. The aligment of the wheel is incredibly important. Off, and it can throw the chain off the crank or rear sprocket, rub the brakes, cause premature wear, and further cause all kinds of a ruckus.

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All set and good to go!

Columbia Playbike Restoration

Once in awhile customers come in asking if we can do anything with their vintage bikes, and most times the answer is YES! Parts are still made for many older bikes, and it’s usually not prohibitively expensive to fix up.

Recently we undertook a Columbia Playbike restoration. This had been found by us years ago at a yard sale, but it was put on the back burner for a long time. A LOOONG time. Finally, we unearthed it from the shed.

Columbia

It was in pretty rough shape. Over the course of a week or so, we overhauled the bottom bracket, cleaned the frame, and then put in all-new parts, including a hot pink chain and white cruiser tires – and white streamers! Luckily, they still manufacture the banana seat (in many colors!), rear bar, extra-long seat post, and “ape hanger” type front bars.

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And here’s the finished product! It’s now for sale at the shop for $209.99.

Moving!

It’s no secret that our 50 Maplewood Ave location was tiny. 425 square feet of tiny. While we made it work as long as possible buy investing in a lot of storage solutions, in the end it was just getting too crowded.

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STUFF EVERYWHERE.

Meanwhile, our neighbors in the much larger store adjacent to us, Miguel’s Grocery, had moved out over the past summer. A church was supposed to have moved in, but backed out of the lease because they would’ve needed to renovate heavily to add a second bathroom. It sat empty, while we secretly wished we could get in there and spread out.

New spot
The emptiness! So much of it!

Finally, our landlord lowered the price to below market value enough where we took a second look. Could we swing it? We did some calculations based on last year’s sales, and decided that well, we had to do SOMETHING. When we called him, he told us that he had another person renting the space! Argh! Thankfully, the screenprinting company interested in the space was willing to take our old space – but we had to make the move in 4 days.

So that’s what we did last week. Painted, moved, moved more, painted more, chased down a dog who ran out the backdoor while a friend helped us move heavy cases, and then went to bed every night exhausted.

But we’re here! We’re in!

Panorama

And we’re excited, because we’ll have more to offer. More bikes, more service (and less wait time), more rentals, and even things like maintenance classes, used sporting goods like ice skates, and other goodies.

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All set up!

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Best part is, we have tiny helpers.

We’re open in the new space. Still 50 Maplewood Ave. We’re sharing the same wall as our old space. Same phone, same everything! It’s exciting. Come down and see!

What’s In A Flat Tire?

It happens to everyone – your bike has a flat tire. It can be a pain in the butt – at best, a leisurely ride is cut short or doesn’t happen. At worst, you’re late for work, or a meeting, or school, and you’re in the middle of nowhere. You can’t avoid them all, but there are things you can do to minimize flat tires.

The simplest, cheapest way to keep your tires from going flat is inflating them to the proper pressure regularly. We recommend doing it before every ride, or weekly at the very least. Filling tires correctly requires a pump with an air pressure gauge – if you don’t have one, they’re normally $20ish and up for a floor pump, a bit cheaper for a frame pump. A lot of people don’t know this, but several PSI air loss per week is completely normal. A normal bicycle tube will lose about 15 psi per month – which is why a lot of people think they’ve got an air leak and need new tubes if their bike is stored over the winter months. A normal mountain bike tire is recommended to have 40-65 psi, so it could flat entirely in 3-4 months. Riding on low tires can not only ruin your tubes, but your tires as well. Too low a PSI, and your tires’ sidewalls will begin to crack prematurely. If the PSI is low enough, your tubes will get pinch flats. Keep your bike’s tubes inflated properly, and you have the best chance of staying flat-free.

Flat

External factors are also to blame for many flat tires. Thorns, pieces of glass, staples, you name it – they’re hard to avoid on a bike ride. There are, however, types of tubes meant to keep the air in longer after a puncture. Slime tubes work to seal the puncture with a liquid that lives inside the tube. They are heavier than a regular tube, and hard to inflate without making a mess, but the tradeoff is worth it for many people. The other option is tire liners – heavy plastic that sits between the tire and the tube and guards against sharp objects. They may not stop every puncture, but they do a great job, and at around $10 for a bike’s worth they’re an inexpensive way to cut down on flat tires. They’re doubly worth it in rear wheels of tough to fix bikes – three speeds, internally geared hubs, bicycles with coaster brakes, recumbents, tandems – any bike that’s heavy or has a difficult to remove rear wheel can benefit greatly from tire liners.

Another factor to consider is tire width. Ideally, you should match your tire with the kind of terrain you plan to ride most. In many, cases a fatter tire is the way to go. For example, simply swapping your thin 23mm road bike tires to 28mm tires can make a huge difference. Thin 23mm tires are nice and zippy, but for a commuting situation 28mm or even wider tires are you best option for staying flat free. You will need to make sure your bike’s frame and fork can handle the wider tire before making a purchase, but obviously we can help you with that. The final thing to consider is the puncture protection offered by various tire makes and models. Some tires are belted with Kevlar, while some simply have a thicker layer of rubber underneath the tread. Many less expensive tires don’t offer as much protection.

Finally, we recommend that everyone take along a frame pump and patch kit (or new tube) on rides. You can’t stay flat-free forever, so preparation can make the difference between walking and riding!

Should I Buy a Craigslist Bike?

Craigslist is ubiquitous. Tons and tons of people use it in every major, or even tiny, metro area. Their bicycle section is huge, with well-priced bikes of all sizes and types. But is it worth it to get a bike from a random stranger?

If you don’t know much about us, we got our start on Craigslist. Mike finally felt comfortable enough with servicing bicycles to sell off a few extra bikes, and pretty soon it grew into a full-time job. People were happy with our service, and even recommended their friends to us – pretty good for a random Craigslist transaction, right? When we realized Gloucester really needed a bike shop again, we transitioned into mobile local service out of the Cape Ann Farmer’s Market, and then finally into a storefront.

We have also purchased dozens of bikes on Craigslist over the years. Bikes that needed work and were being sold cheaply were right up our alley. So we’ve been there, especially in Boston.

The first thing to realize is that mostly, people pretty honest and straightforward. We’ve never had a deal go bad. The worst that’s ever happened is that we’ve gone to meet someone, and they didn’t show. Not a big deal. However, you can’t always assume that the other person is operating with good intent. If you see a bicycle you like on Craigslist, there are a few things you should check out – even if you’re no bike mechanic, it’s pretty easy to spot mechanical problems.

1. Spin the wheels. Pick up the back of the bike and spin the rear wheel. Does the rear rim wobble from side to side? Use the brake pads as a guide. If it wobbles a lot, the wheel needs to be trued. If it’s very minor, this usually isn’t an issue. But with a big variation, problems can arise that may not be easily fixed by a mechanic, and it could need a new wheel. Try again on the front wheel – same deal. Make sure all the spokes are there (you’d be surprised how easy it is to overlook a missing or broken spoke!) Also, check the rims quickly to make sure there aren’t large dings or dents. Again, those may mean a new wheel.

2. Do the brakes work well? Are they hitting the rim correctly? If there is brake pad material hitting the tire or not evenly hitting the rim, they need adjustment. Brake pads are relatively cheap and easy to replace, so it’s not a no-go if it’s got unevenly worn pads.

3. Do the shifters work? In old friction-shift bicycles, there is no “click” between shifts, it’s just a matter of feel. With index shifting, which is in most bicycles nowadays, there is a solid “click” between each gear. In grip shifts. You should be able to go from small gear to big gear with no issues on both sides – the left side controls the front derailleur (where you pedal), the right controls the cogs on the back wheel.

4. Is the frame damaged? Some frame damage can be really hard to spot, but by doing a once-over, you can make sure there aren’t any glaring problems. If the bike is steel, check for bad rust spots. Surface rust usually isn’t a very big deal. If the bike is aluminum, check for any wear/rubbing on the frame.

5. Test ride it! Find a parking lot, or side street, and really check it out. Shift through each gear slowly. Check the brakes. Listen for any noises that might not seem normal.

Lastly, if you really love the bike but are apprehensive about buying on Craigslist, see if the buyer will agree to bring it with you to a bike shop for a safety check/once-over. It shouldn’t be very expensive, and it’s worth the money to avoid a bad bike.

Oh – and stolen bikes can be a problem on Craigslist. Stay away from bikes that have no photos, are listed at a “too good to be true” price, or otherwise seem unsavory. Ask the seller the story about the bike. If anything seems weird, walk away!

And if the bike is a good deal, go for it! I’d highly suggest getting a tune-up to make sure everything is in proper working order. This can avoid more expensive problems down the road.

Happy riding.

It’s Never Too Young to Start Biking

Here at the bike shop, we often have parents come in asking how to start their kids off bicycling. Since we’re the parents of a 4 year old and a 2 year old, it finally feels like we’re qualified to answer their questions from personal experience.

Our youngest started on a push bike (or balance bike) at 18 months. An awesome customer of ours donated the bike to us, and it was just his size! With no pedals or crank to propel the bicycle, kids get the hang of balancing pretty easily. Both kids can scoot down the sidewalk at a fast clip these days.

Bikes
(They can also smash into each other head on.)

With our older son, we tried starting him out with a tricycle, and he was just too frustrated. The momentum needed to get the tricycle rolling was more than his little legs had the strength for, so rides would end up as us bending over in an uncomfortable way to get him started, and he wouldn’t be able to sustain pedaling very long. While he liked it at times, it wasn’t a very good way to ease him into cycling.

The balance bike was far more useful. Since he’s been on one for almost a year, he’s at the point of moving to a real kid bike – without training wheels. He has done a few short stints across parking lots by himself. I can’t imagine he would’ve been able to do that without the balance bike.

At this point, with two little kids on balance bikes, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend starting with one. There are many on the market across varied price points. You can’t really go wrong with whatever you prefer, but a moving front fork and handlebars is a real necessity for learning how to balance, push, and steer. Some have solid tires, some have regular inner tubes. We currently sell ones with solid heavy-foam tires – we’ve found that being on a trip with your tyke and getting a flat on a piece of glass or metal was really a big pain, and solid tires keep that from happening.

These in particular sell for $79.99, and are put together here at the bike shop just like a real bike – everything’s greased and double-checked for safety. You may be able to find a used one for cheaper on Craigslist, and usually they are such simple and child-friendly designs that they should last quite awhile.

Happy riding!

Why We Do, and Don’t, Sell Cheap Bicycles

We’ve had a lot of folks come in with their bicycles looking to sell them, and while we’re glad to take the majority, there’s a few brands we just can’t take in. Typically, they are the variety sold at Walmart, KMart, etc – Magna, Next, post-1990′s Mongoose, Avalon, Kent, and a few others. While we’ll take a look at every bike individually before we make a decision, those are almost universally unfit for resale. They are low-priced from the store for a reason – they are made of the cheapest components, and assembled haphazardly. While the rider may have never sensed a problem with their bicycle, sometimes parts are broken beyond repair just from bad installation. Brake pads don’t touch the rim and are worn, headsets, wheel bearings, and bottom brackets aren’t adjusted right – these can all lead to eventual damage if the bike’s been ridden without a tune-up for a long time.

That isn’t to say all inexpensive bikes are terrible. We have made exceptions, a few a year – but these are mostly for children’s bikes that were kept indoors. We must make sure that every bike we buy and then resell is safe and solid enough for someone to ride for a long time – and kids are no exception. In the grand scope of bicycle value and safety, a coaster brake, single speed bicycle from a big-box store usually will have less problems than their geared brethren, simply because they have less parts on them.

We do love to buy unwanted bicycles, but if we can’t buy yours, it’s most likely because it’s unsafe or not able to be re-sold in its condition. We hope you understand. Selling quality bicycles at a reasonable price will always be our mission. We want to keep Gloucester cycling!