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My newest piece of fitness equipment…

August 4, 2013, 12:47 AM

So I have a new piece of fitness equipment:

A bicycle.

Yep… it’s a bicycle.  Specifically, it’s my sister’s old bicycle – thus why it’s a female bicycle.  But no worries.  I’m secure enough in my masculinity to use a women’s bicycle, and besides, the only difference is one bar, and that lower bar means it’s easier to get on and off since I don’t have to lift my leg as high to get over the horizontal bar on a male bicycle (so there).  When I wanted to get a bicycle for myself, I asked my parents, thinking that all of the old bikes were still in the shed in Stuarts Draft.  Thus I was hoping to get my hands on my old bicycle (the “baby elephant“, as it was), which was a green Huffy mountain bike that cost $110 at Walmart’s “Sample Store” in Bentonville, which I got in 1992.  It was a very nice bike, though as one of my childhood friends mentioned, that bike was too big for me at first (I later grew into it).  Surprise: my parents got rid of my old bike.  I guess that’s what happens when you don’t ride a bicycle for more than a decade.  Don’t know what happened to it, but it’s gone.  However, Sis’s bike was available, so when Mom came up recently for our trip to Chicago (more on that in another entry), the bike came up with her.  This is a Mongoose Threshold mountain bike.  Not bad.

Now if memory serves me correctly, Sis got this bicycle at about the same age as I was when I got my Huffy, i.e. around age 11.  That would put her in middle school, and the bicycle would thus be from around 1996 or so.  So that would make the bicycle around 17 years old, and in fairly good condition, since I don’t remember her ever really using it.

My plan for the bicycle is to use it as a piece of fitness equipment that has an added benefit of getting me places where I would otherwise drive.  I could bike to the pool, for instance.  Or I could bike to the Metro.  You get the point.  But first, however, I have to get this bicycle to the point where I feel comfortable riding it.  It’s not that I haven’t ridden a bicycle since before high school.  It’s just that since this bicycle was not purchased with me in mind, hasn’t been ridden in over a decade, and since I don’t feel like I know enough to make sure it’s safe to ride, I’m not comfortable taking it out yet.

If it shows you how little I know about such things, and how ill-equipped I am, let’s start with the tires.  I have a small electric air compressor, but it only has a car adaptor.  So in order to pump up the tires, I have to take the bike down the stairs and down to the car to run the compressor off of the car’s electrical system.  That leads to this scene:

Filling up the bike tires with Soul power.

And for those wondering, there is a 12-volt power outlet in my trunk.

That also led me to another problem: what pressure do I take it up to?  When I first got the bike, I ran it up until the tires felt hard.  I don’t know what the PSI was on it, because I went entirely by feel, afraid that the tires would explode in my face (I have the same fear when I inflate my car tires, even though I know that they’re not being inflated past a safe level – maybe it’s a somewhat irrational fear).  Once I was finished, I gave the bike a quick test ride.  Turns out that I had far too little air in the tires, and they were soft once I got on them.  I shelved the bike project for the time being, since I was leaving for Chicago in less than 24 hours.  When I got back and after Mom left, I tried again, filling the tires up to 110 PSI.  This was based on my best guess after reading stuff online about how to fill the tires based on expected cycling conditions and rider weight.  Translated: I had no clue what I was doing.  But the tires didn’t explode (that counts for something, right?).  I gave the bicycle a test run around the parking lot, and it seemed to ride well enough.  However, the valve stem caps were bad, having cracked (probably) from age and after being tightened too hard by me.  So I had to go out and get new ones.  Since I was going to get the new caps on the way home from the pool, I brought the bike back upstairs and stashed it in the living room (the property management where I live recommends keeping bikes in the apartment rather than using the rack).  And then while I was working on the computer, I suddenly heard a loud hissing sound.  That was the sound of 110 pounds per square inch of pressure escaping from a valve stem on the front tire of a bicycle in a suburban living room.  Well, there goes that.

So after I got the valve caps, I went back down on Friday and tried again:

Once again filling up the bike tires with Soul power.

However, I quickly encountered a small but important problem: the front tire wouldn’t fill up anymore.  I don’t know if that was because I filled it up and left it uncapped or if that would have happened regardless, but the tire was not filling.  I wondered if it was my compressor, so I threw the bike into the back of the car and took it down to the BP station in Olney, which has free air.  As it turned out, it wasn’t me.  I attached the big BP air hose to the tire, and when the air was flowing, the tire went up a little bit.  Then when I stopped the air flow, the tire went back down.  So that settled that: I had at least one bad tire.

So on the way home from Olney, I stopped at the Kmart store near my house.  My plan was to get a new inner tube for the front tire in order to get things going again.  Since I had the bicycle with me, I took a photo of what looked like tire specs before I went in:

Tire specs on the wheel

So I was looking for “26 X 1.50 HE”.  When I went over to the bike department, however, they didn’t have that size.  They had smaller, and they had larger.  And I had no clue what to get.  I didn’t want to get the wrong size and end up getting killed while cycling as a result of my own stupidity.  But I also wanted to ride.  Finally, however, I had a moment of clarity, when that little voice in my head told me, you are way over your head here.  And the little voice was right.  I had no clue what I was doing.  My friends on Facebook were great about helping me understand what the numbers that I was looking at meant, but the best advice that I got at this point was to get the bike checked out professionally and get a tune-up for it.  Then another friend recommended some places to get the work done locally.

Honestly, a tune-up is probably what I need to have done, if not for the bicycle, but for my own peace of mind.  While the bicycle appears to be in good shape, its having been idle for more than a decade makes me nervous.  I don’t know if something important dry rotted in that time.  If it tells you anything, the tires are brownish in color rather than a nice black (see the close-up of the rim above), and that’s not from dirt.  So getting a professional who knows what they’re doing to look the whole thing over and make sure that it’s not going to fail on me and cause me great injury is probably the best course of action at this point.  Said person would also be able to make sure that the bicycle is properly adjusted for me, and not for my sister, who is several inches shorter than me.

So that’s what I’m going to do.  The bicycle is not at the top of my priority list right now (“finding a job” currently fills that spot), but it will happen, and I will gladly join the DC area’s many cyclists once I’m sure that my bike is good to go.

Categories: Bicycle, Olney