Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Bikes, trikes, personal mobility and getting to/from the event - this is the place to discuss general transportation issues.
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Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by rideincircles » Mon May 04, 2015 12:56 pm

I was looking through the threads we have and there is a lot of info regarding bikes on the playa, but it seemed like there wasn't a place for general bike discussions for information. As a first time burner, I am still debating what bike to bring and what all I will need to do to it to prepare for the playa.

I know some general guidelines include:

Fat tires are best for desert travel.

Lighting up your bike is absolutely mandatory once it gets dark.

Locking up your bike is important so that it does not wander off with some new friends while you are roaming about.

Customizing it is encouraged and there is a thread for bike builders.

Labeling it with your real world contact info and Playa info is highly recommended.

Trikes are a good option and are less inclined to tip over in sand and there is a good thread regarding trikes vs bikes.

I know there are tons of other things we should know, but it may take a while to find all the info.

I guess some things I wonder about:

What can be done to prepare a bike for the playa?

What does the playa like to corrode first?

Do shocks work well, or is it something that might fail out in the desert, or later once I get home?

What are the best options for cleaning a bike post burn?

What are some things you may not expect when riding around in the playa?

What did you learn after bringing your bike to the playa?

I am debating on bringing my Trek mountain bike, and I may bring my flatland bmx bike out there, but it's $1000 in parts. Cleaning it wouldn't be much of a problem, or would it be?

I know Figjam had a good post about playa conditions on page 5 of the bike builders thread, but that requires some searching to find and most people may not end up finding that. That response could be reposted here since it has a lot of detailed info though.

I was hoping to create a thread for all the general bike questions that do not involve where do I find one in Reno.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Lonesomebri » Mon May 04, 2015 1:21 pm

The bike you bring becomes your Burn bike. Subject to being borrowed forever and massive corrosion, why would you bring a $1000 bike out there?
Sure, if the $1000 was for decoration and all, but ain't that investment in bike for being fast elsewhere?

Bike thread- Bring a serviceable running mountain bike or beach cruiser that is inexpensive. Bring extra tubes. Realize that this bike, like your tent, and yourself, ain't coming back the same.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Morrell » Mon May 04, 2015 1:27 pm

I have used a three speed beach cruiser for eight burns. I use an air compressor to clean it thoroughly and it is holding up extremely well.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by TT120 » Mon May 04, 2015 1:32 pm

I would suggest NOT bringing your $1000 trek or any other expensive bike out there. Buy a cheap mountain bike and it will become your burner bike. If you bring your fully suspended super duper rock hopping mountain bike, it will get stolen. Locking it up helps but there are bolt cutters out there.

Your chain will be the first thing that corrodes. I bring mine out with a dry chain and don't clean it till I get home. I don't bother cleaning it much after that. It's my burner bike and I only ride it one week a year.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Dr. Pyro » Mon May 04, 2015 1:46 pm

I paid $5 for mine at a garage sale. Sure it's a POS, but I don't care. I only ride it at Burning Man and it's holding up well enough. Crappy is good in the desert.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by rideincircles » Mon May 04, 2015 2:06 pm

Noted. I bought a $30 bmx bike for sxsw after having my bike stolen from the stairs below me when I was on the porch in Austin the previous year. BMX bikes don't seem preferred as the main transport, so that bike is mostly ruled out.

I was thinking about bringing my flatland bike so I could do random bike tricks and stuff with all led lights and el wires in the desert, but I have no clue how tires at 90+ psi would function in the dust and what the surface is like for riding on. It may work fine at the skatepark, but it may too much of a pain to mess with. Flatland tricks would be like my poi, hence my username rideincircles. I have an old Dyno that is about 75% complete and I may throw that together, but it would not be as comfortable as riding my custom bike. I don't ride as often as I used to, but I still can do a bunch of bike tricks that very few people can.

I will start looking for a cheap bike to bring, and will debate on my flatland bike. My Trek will most likely stay home.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by LowePro » Mon May 04, 2015 3:00 pm

more pro-tips: you want a bike with a kickstand so you can park it easily. Put a tennis ball or something rubbery on the end of the kickstand so it doesn't sink into the playa dust.

Let some air out of the tires if you are coming from low elevation.

Lube it up real good on Day 1, esp the chain. Also the wheel bearings. Use real bike lube not WD40. Oil it again every few days while on playa if you want, it doesn't hurt. Just don't oil it so much that you're dripping lube onto the playa.

Bring a spare tube. A flat tire is a buzzzzzzzz killllllllllll!

Back at home, spritz the bike and chain and everything with vinegar water, wipe it down with a rag, and rinse, then oil again. This will help minimize corrosion. It won't prevent all corrosion, but it will help. A full wheel bearing grease and overhaul is in order for my bike after 2-3 burns.

Comfy seat! The playa roads get bumpy.

A cup holder and basket are nice additions.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by LowePro » Mon May 04, 2015 3:49 pm

Edit--
I did a 20inch BMX for 2 years, then upsized to a 24' BMX (Both cheapies, not technical bikes). It's more of a challenge to pump through the rough roads and dust on the BMX, but it worked out ok on the 24". The 20inch BMX I would not do again personally.
As for doing bike tricks, I love the idea, and don't want to discourage you from it, but just know that the playa surface gets beaten up. There can be sporadic smooth, hard-packed areas, but the majority of the roads get ruts and dust piles. The playa surface is variable and a lot depends on the weather. So your bike tricks may be best out in the deep playa, early in the week. Or if you have some tricks for rough roads with dust and dried mud, even better.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Eric » Mon May 04, 2015 3:56 pm

I use a mountain bike (with shocks) that I got for $50 in 2010. It's been to the playa every year since, it's never been washed, I think I've lubed the chain once, and I've had to change one tire. I get home, I put it away, and I don't think about it until about a week before we leave again. Then I pull it out, inflate the tires, make sure the chain moves, and done. I'm not going to call this a recommended method, but I will say that this is the longest lasting playa bike I've ever had...

I do need to upgrade the seat this year - it hurts like hell after about day 3. Make sure you have a comfortable, well cushioned seat.

As for doing tricks on the playa surface ... unless it's a really hard-pack playa, that's probably not a good idea unless you can do the tricks on a beach. The playa is like talcum powder, there are some areas of very solid right next to dunes, and sometimes it's difficult to just go in a straight line.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Captain Goddammit » Mon May 04, 2015 4:23 pm

If you're ok with spending a little money I'd recommend one of the Mongoose fat tire bikes with the 26x4 wheels. WalMart and Target compete against each other on price for those. I bought a 7-speed Mongoose Dolomite for &191, free shipping. Then swap a cruiser seat and cruiser bars on it.
Otherwise just get any beach cruiser.
90 psi tires are NOT what you want on the playa.
We never know what surface we will get each year; sometimes it's hard-packed dirt (the playa is NOT sand!) and sometimes it's soft and very difficult to ride bikes on.
You want the biggest fattest softest tires.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Ratty » Mon May 04, 2015 4:56 pm

Eric I mistreat my bike too. It's been out there year after year with no issues. Not even a flat. OK. My luck may be running out. This year I'm having it greased, new chain and tubes before I go. The chain looks like a mastodon. I bring along an extra tire and maybe a rim if I have room. Also a box of seats for Elliott.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by mudpuppy000 » Mon May 04, 2015 5:41 pm

For bike chains, make sure to use "dry" teflon lube, not a wet "grease", or you'll get playa mud balls jamming up your drivetrain. :)

My playa bike happens to be my 22 year old mountain bike, complete with nearly useless elastomer shocks. That thing is pretty much indestructible so I keep bringing it. Oh yeah, a couple of nice additions are a basket or rear rack with panniers. Very nice for hauling ice around.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by DoctorIknow » Mon May 04, 2015 5:53 pm

If you can, bring two bikes. If you have a bottom bracket problem or almost anything except a simple fix, you don't want to spend time trying to fix it.

The extra bike can be a replacement if you space out and lose your bike, or can be loaned out (talk about being optimistic!) to someone. Or gifted to that special person....who you won't see again....but actually, I did gift one and FIVE years later, was in a theme camp I'd never been to and the giftee approached me saying "Are you DocIknow? You gave me a bike, I've used it every year since and thank you so much!"

Get two locks that are keyed the same, or if you use those alphabet locks, use the same word for both.

Yeah, WD-40 is dissed, with validity, all over the eplaya, BUT, if one puts some moop absorber on the ground, and has a rag, the WD will blast out some of the playa in a chain and the rag can suck up most of the gunk and funk. I find it attacts playa much less efficiently than oily lubes, and specialty dry bike lubes are just too expensive...it's not the Tour de France.

My yard sale mountain style bikes have served me well on the playa for over 10 burns. One would think that the spokes would fail due to corrosion at the rims, but that hasn't happened.

When I return from the playa, I powerwash the heck out of them (and I know I am "pushing" playa further into the bearings and chain) and then invert them sideways to let real bike lube flow into the wheel hubs, bottom bracket and pedals.

As I'm loading up for the next burn, I overinflate the tires, check the next day to see if they maintained the pressure, if not, I put on a new tube....I don't patch unless it was a foreign object that caused the slow leak. DON'T forget to decrease the pressure before you climb up Donner Pass!

Others I know with a whole camps worth of bikes simply use an air compressor to blast all their bikes, and then they lube the chain.

NOTE: if you are buying at a yard sale, make sure the wheels are true. Invert the bike and spin them around. Unless you know how to true them, reject that bike as a bike shop might want to charge you A LOT to true them,,,,other bike shops might do it for free, but good luck going to numerous shops to find one that understands they could be making a new customer doing something that takes two minutes for them.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by fernley1 » Mon May 04, 2015 6:36 pm

Last year I added a basket to the front of my bike. It was nice when I were gifted something and could put it in your basket and ride back to camp. I put small bungies in the basket to hold tight odd sized items.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Zubeneschamali » Mon May 04, 2015 8:40 pm

Tires fat.
Tubes heavy duty.
Seat comfortable.
Gears unnecessary.
Brakes center pull or coaster.
Chain clean.
Lights visible front back and sides.
Decoration bonus points.
Tool kit including pump on board.
Add more when you get cocky.

Me. Virgin year on a large framed 24 speed mtn bike with 1.5 inch city tires and disc brakes and darkwad. Coming home from a drum circle at 2am wearing a kimono and carrying a deep bass djembe, take a corner, hit a berm and find myself wrapped up like a pretzel in the frame and chain with the drum pinning me down. A red neck art car complete with turf, a picnic bench and pink flamingos, a grill and a keg nearly plows me into dust, stops and helps me back to vertical. We have a hootenanny in the middle of the intersection for a half hour. I limped home bloody and drunk, and woke up in a lot of pain.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Lonesomebri » Mon May 04, 2015 9:22 pm

Man, if you can do some wicked bike tricks out on the playa, with a tennis ball on the kickstand, a basket on the front and back, and fatty tires...
...without spilling the PBR in your cup holder...
...that would be great!!!

You may want to consider bringing 2 bikes, one for show (doing tricks) and one for go (blinking with the rest of the bikes while you boogie the night away).
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Jackass » Tue May 05, 2015 4:52 am

Zubeneschamali wrote: Me. Virgin year on a large framed 24 speed mtn bike with 1.5 inch city tires and disc brakes and darkwad. Coming home from a drum circle at 2am wearing a kimono and carrying a deep bass djembe, take a corner, hit a berm and find myself wrapped up like a pretzel in the frame and chain with the drum pinning me down. A red neck art car complete with turf, a picnic bench and pink flamingos, a grill and a keg nearly plows me into dust, stops and helps me back to vertical. We have a hootenanny in the middle of the intersection for a half hour. I limped home bloody and drunk, and woke up in a lot of pain.
Now, these are the kind of playa tales that get you feeling all warm n fuzzy inside...I can totally picture it, you rallied!
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by mudpuppy000 » Tue May 05, 2015 8:07 am

DoctorIknow wrote: specialty dry bike lubes are just too expensive...it's not the Tour de France.
Not really, you can get it on amazon for around $7.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Elliot » Tue May 05, 2015 2:39 pm

One thing that seems to have eluded mention so far is bearing adjustment -- steering bearings, crank bearings and both wheels. The "smart money" is on adjusting them a little bit loose, so Playa Dust can move among the balls without jamming them. One might think that 1-micron dust would not matter, but it does, because a snugly adjusted bearing is essentially a press fit. And many bikes come from the factory these days with over-tight bearings. (Why... eludes me.)

And chain adjustment -- which applies to one-speed and hub gear bikes. Many bikes come with over-tight chain. (Again, why!)
You want to turn the pedals and wheel several times around and check tension as they turn, because sprockets are never completely round and there will be tight spots and loose spots as the chain goes around. Adjust snug but not so tight as to create friction at the tightest spot you find.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Elliot » Tue May 05, 2015 3:24 pm

Here is my favorite trick: An extra tall handlebar. These are most readily available on junked BMX bikes, which are the little "stump jumper" type with 20" tires. A BMX bar is roughly eight inches taller than a mountain bike bar, but there is a variety, so look for tallness. There are also even taller bars, but you may have to order one from a store.

To install a BMX bar, you will probably need a spacer-sleeve, since BMX bars lack the thicker section where it clamps on. I simply make that sleeve from the old bar, since the wall thickness happens to be just right.

The below bicycle started life as an old "road racing" style ten-speed, with skinny tires, rock-hard-and-narrow saddle, and drop-down handlebar. Now it has modern mountain bike wheels and BMX handlebar. A cruiser saddle is next -- though the one it has is sort'a tolerable.

Yes, it is a Chicago Schwinn.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Zubeneschamali » Wed May 06, 2015 12:32 pm

And if you're really honestly considering bringing a thousand dollar bike onto the playa, then do yourself a favor and decorate it heavily. Make sure that it looks just like everything else out there or else it will be ripped off. Seriously, camouflage that fucker or it doesn't matter how many chains and locks you use, you're going to be crying about the thousand dollar bike you used to have.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by rideincircles » Fri Jun 19, 2015 12:34 pm

I went thru and fixed up all 6 of my bikes to get back in riding condition, but none of them are what I want to bring out on the playa (3bmx, one nice mountain, one tall skinny tire cruiser, and a junky mountain bike). I was considering modifying junky mountain bike, but thatwould require lengthening all the cables and gearing to add taller handlebars along with some other parts. I have been scoping out craigslist and pawn shops to see what I can find for what I am looking for, but that is now unnecessary.

I ended up late night shopping this week to buy some dog food and decided to checkout the bike selection and went ahead and bought a new cruiser for $130 with a rack, basket and cup holder. It basically covered all my planned modifications in one package and frees up my time to focus on other stuff. Aside from that, it should hold up relatively well post playa to use later.

I went ahead and ordered some more lights to add to it, and have about 10 strands of EL Wires now to trick it out at night.

Will look into seeing what can be done to personalize it now.

I may still consider bringing out my flatland bike, but will change out some of the expensive parts if I do.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Elliot » Fri Jun 19, 2015 5:15 pm

Wow, old threads become like new!

A luggage rack on the back is good – and even better if you hang baskets on the sides of it. I like this better than a basket on the handlebar, because the extra weight up on the handlebar tends to make the bike tip off the kickstand.

Keep in mind… leg extension. Make sure the seat post can extend high enough. Many Burners ride bikes that are too short for them, resulting in unnecessary leg muscle strain.
Narrow saddles are narrow for a reason – they allow the thigh to swing down to where the knee is almost fully extended, which is best for the leg. Cruiser saddles restrict thigh movement, so you must sit a bit lower. This is not ideal for the leg, but is absolutely the way to go for us who do not have calluses on our butt from lots of “serious” bicycling. Just be aware of this compromise, and have the saddle as high as thigh movement allows.

Cheap bikes with suspension tend to have only springs in the suspension – no dampers worthy of the name. That means the suspension works like a pogo stick. And depending on your mass and whatnot, it may hit the upper stop with every boing. Bang, bang, bang…. I find this worse than no suspension at all.

Single speed cruisers tend to be geared for pavement. Last year I had a customer with a long list of complaints such as lack of traction and whatnot. The bike was close to useless as it was. She asked me to install different tires – knobbier, or less knobby, or whatnot. I tried to listen between the lines, and what I did was… I replaced the front sprocket with a smaller one. This gave the bike a lower gear ratio – as if shifting down a gear or two on a multi-speed. With that, all the bike’s problems evaporated.

I remain in favor of multi-speed bikes for this reason. Add a good headwind to a chewed-up surface, and I’m in the lowest gear I have on my own bike.

If your cruiser has a 44 tooth front sprocket, try a 40 or a 38. Yes, this is a job for a Technician. Conversely, you can install a larger rear sprocket, but then you need to lengthen the chain, which requires an extra piece of chain.

Most one-speeds have a coaster brake. That means you pedal backward to slow down. This is more far reliable that hand brakes, but there is a price to pay. Ever notice how difficult it can be to get started with such a bike? This is because… with a coaster brake you cannot spin the pedals backward to a good starting point, like you can with other bikes.

Fenders. Remove them now. In Playa duty, they get dinged into and rub on the tires to no little annoyance.

Enough for now.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Canoe » Sat Jun 20, 2015 2:23 pm

Elliot wrote:... bearing adjustment -- ...The "smart money" is on adjusting them a little bit loose, so Playa Dust can move among the balls without jamming them...
(I missed this when it was first posted)

Seems to make sense, but how might that compare with the strategy used in wet and web&salty environments:
pack the entire space with grease (and combined with a true zero-pre-load) so there's no room for contaminants nor contaminated grease to enter?
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Molotov » Sat Jun 20, 2015 3:43 pm

:?: Elliot,

My home base elevation is 270 feet above sea level. The highest pass I will be traversing is 8800 feet elevation. (I-80 summit) What do you suggest I bleed the air in my 26 X 2.125 trike tire tubes down to in order to prevent an altitude induced rupture?

I go to the east side of Denver then turn north on I-25 toward Wyoming to avoid the 11,158 foot Eisenhower Tunnel.

After I get on the playa, what pressure should I use in the tubes for about a 240 pound max load? (I've got an electric and a manual pump.) Of course I will bleed them back down before I leave and tackle the mountains again.

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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by sadie » Sat Jun 20, 2015 4:06 pm

Elliot wrote:
Single speed cruisers tend to be geared for pavement. Last year I had a customer with a long list of complaints such as lack of traction and whatnot. The bike was close to useless as it was. She asked me to install different tires – knobbier, or less knobby, or whatnot. I tried to listen between the lines, and what I did was… I replaced the front sprocket with a smaller one. This gave the bike a lower gear ratio – as if shifting down a gear or two on a multi-speed. With that, all the bike’s problems evaporated.

I remain in favor of multi-speed bikes for this reason. Add a good headwind to a chewed-up surface, and I’m in the lowest gear I have on my own bike.

If your cruiser has a 44 tooth front sprocket, try a 40 or a 38. Yes, this is a job for a Technician. Conversely, you can install a larger rear sprocket, but then you need to lengthen the chain, which requires an extra piece of chain.
If I was to locate a smaller front sprocket for my trike, do I need to take into consideration how many teeth the rear one has? Would I need to know the measurement of the crank arm opening? Is there such a thing as "universal" in the bike world?
My test rides have gone well, but my legs would be a lot happier if it was geared a little lower. I think I am done buying bike specific tools and such but would love to assist/watch and learn if it isn't a giant time consuming modification. I wouldn't want to hold up the line for peeps with flats or whatever.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Canoe » Sat Jun 20, 2015 5:03 pm

Usually at the low end of cost, the chainring and arm are one part, and install onto a square taper. If it isn't rusted, or damaged, then swapping a crank & front chainring should be straightforward - if you have a crank-arm puller.
http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-hel ... indle-type
Going back on, they have to be torqued a lot, or they'll end up losing the bolt/nut, and then the arm, and then you're walking home.

as for "universal"
http://sheldonbrown.com/bbtaper.html
http://sheldonbrown.com/bbsize.html

If there's a bike co-op near you, where you can pull yours off and compare to spare parts to find one that fits.

Photos of your trike to show what the parts are will help to show if there are any considerations in your case, other than a straight swap.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Captain Goddammit » Sun Jun 21, 2015 6:55 am

That depends on whether you have the common-on-trikes one-piece cranks or not. If you have one-piece cranks you don't need any special tools and it's ridiculously easy and most front sprockets from other one-piece crank bikes will fit on it.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Elliot » Sun Jun 21, 2015 9:06 am

About packing a bearing full of grease.
I have installed grease fittings on some cranks I use in salt water, so I can “flush them out” with more grease. But I don’t have enough experience with this to have much of an opinion.

Tire pressure over mountains.
Just bring it down to roughly half of normal to be safe – perhaps 20 psi.

You can save a couple miles (and a mountain pass, if I remember right) by taking US 287 from Fort Collins, CO, to Laramie, WY.

On Playa, inflate to the max number stated on the sidewall of the tire.

Front chain rings.
Let me get back to that with pictures.
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Re: Biking into the dust. General Bike info for the Playa.

Post by Elliot » Sun Jun 21, 2015 12:53 pm

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This is a three piece crank. There is a bolt or nut (depending on the brand) at the point where the crank arm turns 90 degrees into the frame of the bike.

The chainring (front sprocket) is fastened to the right-hand crank arm. Replacing the sprocket without also replacing the crank arm may or may not be possible, depending on the brand.

This unit happens to have three chainrings, so it is from a bike with 15 or more gears. In this case, just use the middle sprocket!



Next…


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This is a one piece crank. There is no bolt here, just a curve in the steel. The chainring(s) is easy to replace. I put two chainrings in the picture to illustrate a switch to a slightly smaller one.


When swapping to a smaller chainring (on a 1-speed bike), the chain must be shortened, which is easy. There is no need to touch the rear sprocket.

You can accomplish the same change in drive ratio by switching the rear sprocket to a larger one. Then you need to lengthen the chain, which requires an extra piece of chain.

Of course, you can swap both sprockets. And with luck, the chain may be correct length as it is. No bets, though.

Does this help?
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