Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Worth Fixing?

So many things are made so cheaply these days in China, that fixing things is sort of a waste of time.

Today I was riding my bike around the island and the chain is slipping badly.   The fact that I ride it on the beach and it loads up with sand doesn't help, of course.

When I got home, I cranked up the Karcher Pressure washer and blasted the grease off the chain.  I used a lot of degreaser and then washed it all off with Gel Gloss, which made it shine like new.

I then went online to see if I could find a new chain for it.   The problem is, what kind of chain?  What length, width, pitch, etc?

I looked at the chain that was on it, and it said "KAZ" and "H 8" but that was it.  It was about 7.8 mm wide.  The sprockets on the rear cassette are definitely worn - the trailing edge of each tooth is mashed slightly.  It has had a hard life.
I looked for the owner's manual and receipt for the bike - and found it, strangely enough.  I keep all that stuff in a big binder (appliance manuals, etc.) and it was in there.

Turns out it was a 1999 Trek, and cost me nearly $500 back in the day,  13 years ago.  Since then, I have ridden it until the tires are nearly bald (I guess that will be next).  The owner's manual is generic and worthless.  How do I figure out what chain I should use?

Fortunately, BikePedia to the rescue.  BikePedia has a listing of all bikes (or a lot of them) and what components they are built with.  The data seems pretty accurate, although it doesn't list "RED" as an available color, and I can tell you for certain it was available in that color in 1999, as I have two of them.

1999 TREK 6000

Bicycle TypeMountain bike, front suspension
MSRP (new)$899.99
Sizes13", 16.5", 18", 19.5", 21", 22.5"
ColorsDragonfly Yellow, Team Blue
Item ID86952

Frame & Fork
Frame ConstructionTIG-welded
Frame Tubing MaterialAlpha aluminum
Fork Brand & ModelRock Shox Jett T2, 2.5" travel
Fork MaterialAluminum/magnesium, triple-clamp crown
Rear ShockNot applicable

Component GroupMountain Mix
BrakesetLee Chi TX22 brakes, Lee Chi LV77E levers
Shift LeversShimano Alivio RapidFire SL
Front DerailleurShimano Acera, top-pull/bottom bracket mount
Rear DerailleurShimano Deore LX SGS
CranksetShimano AceraX, 22/32/42 teeth
PedalsResin body/aluminum cage w/clips & straps
Bottom BracketShimano BB-LP27E, 113mm spindle
BB Shell Width73mm English
Rear Cogs8-speed, 11 - 30 teeth
ChainKAZ LR900, 1/2 x 3/32"
SeatpostAluminum micro-adjust, 27.2mm diameter
HandlebarICON 6061
Handlebar ExtensionsNot included
Handlebar StemAlloy Ahead type
Headset1 1/8" threadless Aheadset SE-1

HubsFront: Kung Ten W55F, Rear: Kung Ten W5ER
RimsBontrager Corvair, 32-hole
Tires26 x 2.10" IRC Mythos XC
Spoke BrandStainless steel, 1.8mm straight gauge
Spoke NipplesBrass nipples 

I search online for a KAZ 900 chain and find the "Surplus Center" which has 125 in stock.  Shipping costs more than the chain.

A quick trip to eBay and I find a chain breaker for $4 from China.  So for $20 we are back in business.

Problem is, a new bike, similar to this one, can be had for about $200 these days.   Spending 1/10th of the purchase price of a new bike to repair an old one is, well, questionable - particularly if it doesn't fix the chain skipping problem.

At least, since I am doing all the work myself, it will cost only $20.   Over on Rich People's Island, they have one of these boutique bike stores.  You know the kind, that sells bikes for twice what they are worth, and does things like fix a flat tire and charges you $50.

And I see people take bicycles there to get fixed - paying $100 for a "bike tuneup" or $50 to fix a flat - for a bicycle that might be worth $50 to $100 on a good day.

And that is the conundrum with cheap products from China.   You can buy a decent consumer grade bike for $200 or so, that will last you a few years - and then you throw it away.  Heck, you can buy a ride-able bike for as little as $100, if all you plan on doing is tooling around the neighborhood once in a while.

I'll put a new chain on the Trek and see where it goes.  I am not sure I want to replace the rear cassette, as that would be just throwing more money at it.   If the chain still skips under load, I may retire the old Trek and buy than 29" (!!) mountain bike I saw at Wal Mart the other day.  $229 and take it home.

Or this monster 29" crusier bike they have for $135:

UPDATE:  The new chain arrives and when I compare it to the old one, at first it seems the wrong size.  Then I realize the old chain had stretched four whole links over time (Mr. torque pedal!).  The chain went on, and works fine, except when the front chainring is in the middle gear - the one I use most - and it slips when I apply torque.

I remove the front crankset and chainring and inspect.  The center ring teeth are worn to points and the chain slips off when I apply torque.

Back to eBay and I find a new crank set for $29.95, but it may not be the correct offset.  The crank set on this bike is the Shimano FC-M330.  I can download the spec sheet, but the chainring set is a welded together (cheap) one-piece unit (serious bikers have individually bolted chainrings). 

Or, since I am on a flat island, maybe I will just not use the center gear....  or maybe convert the bike to one-speed by removing the derailleurs and cutting the chain to length.

I found a Shimano FC-M340 crankset, which appears to be compatible with the FC-M330, although it is better made (separate bolted-on gears).  It has the 110 spindle length on a 50cm centerline and 175 mm cranks.  Unfortunately, the seller wants $59.95 for it and $12 shipping.  The part is NOS circa 2003.

So that would make $72 more I am throwing at a 14-year-old, $500 bike.

Maybe it is time to retire the Trek....  When a new bike is $250 at Wal-Mart, maybe the old one "ain't worth fixing"

So much of our technology today is disposable, it seems....

UPDATE:  The FC-M340 crankset arrived and fit perfectly.  I had to use a gear puller to get the old crank out.  But it even looks nice (black) and has bolted-on chainwheels, not welded together.

The problem is, of course, I can't get the pedals off the old crank.  So back to eBay for new pedals (the old ones were wearing out anyway).   Another $23 with shipping.

So, a simple "worn chain" problem has now cost me (with shipping):

Chain:  Chain and Chain Breaker:  $20
Crankset with Chainwheels:  $72
Pedals:  $20

Total:  $112

That is a lot of money to throw at a 13-year-old bike that cost $500 new!  You could argue that, "Well, it lasted 13 years, so now maybe you'll get 13 more years out of it" - and that is how people end up throwing money at cars that should be junked.

And bear in mind, this is doing the labor myself.  If I had to pay the designer bike store to fix it?  Forgetaboutit!

It is likely I will need to replace the tires soon, and perhaps even the seat.   Things wear out, over time.  And I have not ridden this bike as much as some folks ride theirs!

Mark has the same bike, but rode his a lot less (I commuted in mine, for a time) so it appears to be in much better shape, chain-wise.

$112 would go a long way to buying a newer bike.  And that is the rub, right there.  Most people (myself included) throw money at something trying to "fix" it and then end up breaking down and buying new.

Sometimes it is easier to just cut to the chase...

UPDATE: Eventually, we had to replace the tires as they dry rotted. We also replaced the seats which lasted about five years and then replace them yet again. I also found a pair of used wheels on eBay as I was breaking spokes on one wheel and it was starting to get bent out of shape.   Yes, I found some spokes on eBay and re-spoked the bent rim and I'm keeping it as a spare. We still use these bikes to go camping is they can be taken apart and fit on the bike rack. The cruiser bikes are better suited for riding around the island.

UPDATE:  I bought the Genesis GS7 cruiser bike and a "Margaritaville Special" for Mark (On sale for $79!).  Both have baskets and seven speeds, perfect for an island with a maximum elevation of 12 feet.   We kept the TREK bikes (now with new-used wheels on mine, and new seats - a second set) for camping, as they are lightweight, easy to carry on the truck, and easy to lift and suitable for off-road and on-road use.