Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

Writing on Two Wheels
Missouri Showme
And furthermore...
Reach out

Spin along for posts on cycling and cycles
A from-the-wheels-up view of rides, builds and fixes.

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Seized grub nut

Departure in 72 days.

Preparing for this trip – an adventure I’m uncertain I can pull off physically or fiscally – is now in full bloom. I have multiple fronts –files with hyperlinks, blog entries, lists; spreadsheets with mileage, links, mileposts, and intersections; images with Trace map sections, county highway maps, and adjacent bike paths – on parallel tracks with the tandem refurbishment detailed along one rail and the voyage planning along another shiny rail running off toward the infinite horizon.


At the same time, I’ve piled up the texts. The relevant Foote volume is pulled down, another Eudora Welty collection is requisitioned, Faulkner is staged, Trace histories are ordered. Returning to the Vicksburg campaign narrative has been a revelation even before my son and I roll through history on the Natchez Trace National Parkway.

Maps make the difference.


Maps bring a story alive, place a tale in context, allow it to occupy a space beyond imagination and project it onto a segment of the globe. Without one revolution of pedals or wheels, I gain a sense of the landscape. Cycling cue sheets are complemented by elevations along the Trace. At my online disposal are dynamic maps of the full length of the parkway, its exits and services within 2 miles of those access point. This is valuable information, all available at a touch on my phone. Even so, I’ll print out county highway maps and cue sheets and mark up Trail guides. Because that’s what I do.


The path we’ll follow is real. This is distinct from our first tandem trip, along U.S. 90 from Tallahassee to Pensacola, following what is called the Old Spanish Trail, a remnant of the subscription road associations created to encourage construction of auto-worthy paved highway systems. It was only called the Old Spanish Trail, without any connection to a historical version.


Contrarily, there has been real suffering and tragedy along the Natchez Trace’s route. For the United States alone, a short-term actor on the global scene, here is the nexus of the nation, its dark underside and unforgivable past, the truth and shame of our present so many of us cannot or do not or will not acknowledge. It is here where so much has been nurtured into being. More than the alluvial soil is rich. U.S. Grant, Lightning Hopkins, Andrew Jackson, Eudora Welty, Marcus Dupree.

It’s a remarkable place, fertile land with a unique ecosystem and a firm hold on the narrative of this country’s history.

All of this fascinates and motivates me. For now, though, one of the set screws securing the eccentric sleeve of the captain’s bottom bracket on the Santana is locked up in its corroded threads. The other, the left of the two, I successfully backed out. Further, with the right one being thus stuck, I’ve managed to round off its hex sides. I dropped the Santana’s frame off at a bike shop and asked them to have a go at extracting what I was told is called a grub nut.

I knew I’d been feeling out of sorts. Of course. My grub nut is seized up.

Sat, December 30, 2017 | link          Comments

Sunday, December 24, 2017

In store


Ahead is a full strip down.

Followed by powerful cleaning, degreasing and de-griming.

Next, the buff up.

Finally, wrenching it all back together finely tuned and fully lubed.

I must commit to it. No half measures allowed or shortcuts taken.


All the way. Don’t hesitate to unroll the tape from the handlebar because it will only have to be rewound. Replace all the housing along with the stretched and compromised cables. While the tape is off, the cables pulled, the levers removed I will not fail to replace the handlebars, misshapen in a 2014 collision.

This Santana, as compared to the Bianchi, is outfitted with exceptional componentry, specially chosen to withstand extreme tandem stresses, provide the keenest performance, and integrate with seamless precision the frame and drivetrain and wheels. The Nebraskan who owned it before me – we exchanged my check for his tandem in northwest Missouri in Rocheport or King City – loved it so. He made meticulous, reasoned choices to outfit the bike – switching out much if not all the original componentry and sending the frame in for a great-looking two-tone paint job while he was at it. He maintained it lovingly.


Since 1998, when I think I bought it, I’ve done nothing of consequence to the tandem. In part that’s a testament to the quality of its components, in part it’s luck, in part it’s pure bicycle maintenance malpractice on my part.

I’m about to remedy that.

One set screw on the eccentric bottom bracket shell – it’s an elliptical shape, not endearingly idiosyncratic (though, now I ponder, I believe it’s both) – is seized up. The actuating arm of the drum brake, or else the pads of the brake itself, is out of whack and causing considerable drag. The rim brake pads are hardened and useless against glazed rim walls. While the Phil Wood bottom brackets are notably resilient, and distinctly not grinding or binding, the pair are just as clearly performing below peak. Without an acceptable alternative solution, I’m not particularly pleased with the lever setup: the two rim-brake cables run to the same, right-hand, lever and the drum brake cable is assigned the left lever. As mentioned, the captain’s handlebars are stove in on the left drop.

All that and more is ahead.


I believe we’re fully outfitted, with an answer in place for all the above. Chances are, overwhelmingly, against this holding true.

We shall see. More on my mind is while it may be Christmas Eve, it is also 78 days until March 12, and that day is what should be the first day of the Natchez Trace ride. Several thousand things need to go the right way for this to come off as envisioned. 

Sun, December 24, 2017 | link          Comments

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tandemic times

The organizing idea around here is the wondrous perfection of the bicycle as machine, how its basic principles of geometry and mechanics and efficiency make it endlessly fascinating.

For immediate purposes, if you can stipulate the truth of this then the next bit must naturally follow: If a bicycle is X, a tandem is, by necessity, at least Xx2 or maybe it’s X2 or perhaps instead I mean X+1. Point being if bicycle is good, then tandem is good and then some.


I find in the meanwhile since the Hugo Black project, of lessons learned preparation and patience pay in virtues both expected and unforeseen – similar truths attain to the tandem with the tantalizing possibility of more. This something more is in the machine itself as well as the reach of the experience it offers, a patch of ineffable possibility transcending the already exceptional travel through time and space offered by bicycles featuring a single saddle.

In part, I project. The ride in June pedaling with my son was terrific and positive and inextricably linked to this Santana tandem.

In greater degree, I think, I now see the expanding possibility because of how little familiar I am with the Santana and how meaningful it may prove to Change that.

I have never once torn the Santana down, never replaced the cables, never repacked the grease in the hubs or the bottom brackets (all four of these had sealed bearings and were service-free in theory), never switched out the brake pads, and never put on a new chain.


I’ve owned this second-hand, meticulously maintained tandem for 20 years. It’s such a rock-solid reliable harmony of frame and components that I pedaled it over thousands of miles with four different stokers on the back saddle with nary a problem more serious than a flat tire. It’s a testament to Santana’s bulletproof design and component specs and the over-engineered substitute cranks and brakes and bottom brackets and expensive, handsome two-tone paint job the previous owner put on the rig. Phil Wood. Top-of-the-line power brakes, lighter *and* stronger chainrings and cranks. The wheels are laced up with four-cross 48s.


I kept the Santana running. Cleaned the chain and cassette, fine-tuned the derailleurs over the long pull of cable from the bar ends all the way back and looping around the rear dropout. I wrenched around on the caliper brakes as well as the drum brake.

I put new tape on the bars an added a bell.

It’s going to be something to strip this down to the bones and understand intimately its workings. I’ll get to know the Choctawhatchee Chariot in all its details. If I do it right, it’s going to ride so much better.

Tue, December 12, 2017 | link          Comments

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