Convert an old 10 speed bike to a 15 speed

Posted by on October 29th, 2023  •  0 Comments  •  Full Article

In 1972 I was one year into my tipi phase. I’d dropped out of high school in ’71 to build the tipi on the commune. I’ve written previously about this period. Or use the search function at the top of the page to search for tipi. Anyway, somewhere in that time period family legend has it that I may or may not have bought something as an investment, sold it, and made enough profit to buy this 10 speed bicycle. Or maybe I just dreamed it all. There were so many recreational drugs floating around back in those crazy commune days…who knows what really happened. But two years later when I sobered up, finished high school and went to college, I had (and still have) a nice 1972 Sekai 10 speed. That bike was my first car. I’ve known that old bike longer than I’ve known Sue. The only thing I own that is older is my first harmonica from 1967.

A few years ago I started riding Clint’s 1996 Schwinn Mesa 21 speed mountain bike. He had long moved onto better bikes and left it in our garage. I liked the granny gear for hills, and it was strong enough to fly over curbs without bending the rims.

Clint's Schwinn Mesa
Clint’s Schwinn Mesa

But a couple weeks ago the Schwinn’s frame broke and I had to dust off my 10 speed. It has a granny gear, but it’s a seven inch sprocket. I was spoiled by Clints Schwinn which had a 3.5 inch granny gear. Full disclosure: I already have 7 gears in the back on my 10 speed with an updated rear derailleur. So technically it is a 14 speed, not a ten speed. But to keep this story simpler, I’m still calling it a 10 speed.

At 69 I’m finally too old (or out of shape) to pedal my ten speed up the Tacoma hills. I wanted to change it to a 15 speed. But you can’t just slap on a 3 inch granny gear. The front crank of a ten speed isn’t designed for 3 front gears – sprockets. However, I had the old broken down mountain bike, and those all have 3 gears on the front. In a Eureka moment I wondered: could I swap the front transmission from the 21 speed mtn bike to my ten speed?

I looked online and there is no information on going from 2 to 3 sprockets. In fact, lots of people are going from 3 to 1. 

So I carried my two antique bikes into Second Cycle in Tacoma and explained my crazy idea. They didn’t bat an eye. “Try it!” they said, “it might work”.

The mechanics showed me how to mount my bike in the bike repair stand and pointed to the wall of Park brand specialty bike tools. They explained the hourly rental rates, which were very low, and said to grab them if I had questions.

I’ve worked on bikes for 50 years, but this was uncharted territory for me. I’d completely forgotten how to remove links from a new chain, or how to pull a stuck crank. It was super nice to have friendly and knowledgeable mechanics available when I got over my head. They showed me what to do, but made sure that I did the work. And tools, wow, they had a tool for everything!

Whenever I needed a new part or cable, they had one on hand.  One part isn’t even made any more, so they found a 50 year old used part in a bin that was perfect.

I was there 3 hours, but when I saw that new transmission working, I was pretty stoked. I had so much fun working on the bike that I went next door to their commercial outlet and bought a few Park branded bike tools of my own. Now I have my own crank puller and several specialty chain maintenance tools for the next time I have to mess with transmissions.

Second Cycle is a great resource for Tacoma. There are a few other bike shops in town, but this is the only one offering rental work space for DIY people who need access to specialty bike tools. I was very impressed and will be visiting them again. 

I took the bike for a ride and with the new 3.5 inch granny gear it was much easier on the hills. I did notice that the front derailleur is very touchy. It will shift to the bottom and middle gear, but doesn’t like the biggest gear. Because I was riding a few blocks from what used to be called “Old Town Bikes”, I rode in and had their mechanic look at my Frankenstein bike. He immediately said that my bottom bracket was set up for 10 speeds (naturally).

He explained that the reason my front shifter was struggling was that my bottom bracket needed to have a longer, mountain bike axle, to match up with my mtn bike crank and derailleur. This would move the sprockets farther out…or maybe it was in? Anyway, he seemed quite sure that the proper bottom bracket axle would fix my shifting problems. I also had him order a new front derailleur. Anything would be better than Clint’s worn out 1996 derailleur. Parts totaled $39 and will be here in a couple weeks.

In the meantime, I may buy the tools to fix the bottom bracket myself.

Table Tennis lesson

Posted by on October 11th, 2023  •  0 Comments  •  Full Article

I never understood the difference between table tennis and ping pong until recently. It turns out…ping pong is the sport most of us know. We play it in basements, garages, unused bedrooms, church community rooms, taverns, etc.

Table tennis always sounded hoity-toity – even elitist when used to describe the fun and friendly family game I’ve played since the seventh grade, starting in dad’s basement. Sue and I play down at the community center two hours, up to three times a week when we are in town. It’s great exercise, easy on the knees, super social and just a lot of fun. But I’ve noticed that there are two classes of players.

The first group, which Sue and I fit into, is made of people who just do it for fun. They’ve never played in a tournament, they are self taught, never had a lesson, and usually play with cheap Big5 paddles. And you can do this for decades. Depending on how often you play you can gradually develop some nice moves, just by trial and error. That’s what’s great about the sport. Anyone with normal athleticism can pick it up quickly. Playing regularly rapidly increases your skill.

But I’ve noticed there is a second group of players. They have skills that are far advanced beyond us regular folks. They have bizarre serves that can completely dominate a game. Their spins and spikes are un-returnable. The ball comes across the net like a gunshot. Or if it’s slower, it’s spinning so fast that you can’t return it. The ball flies into the net or off the table.

As my basement skills got better I was continually dominated by these exceptional players. But there aren’t many of them. They don’t usually play in our little community center. A few have started showing up, probably because it’s shorter drive, or it fits their work schedule better.

I started watching some youtube videos on how to improve. Both our ace players, and the youtube people were using better paddles. Instead of the $100 paddle I had, they were using custom assembled paddles in the $300 range.

So I decided to upgrade my paddle. I ordered two sheets of rubber, one red and one black. I was originally going to put the new rubber on my old $50 wooden bat by peeling off the $50 worth of rubber. But my youtube studies had revealed that the wooden bat was 70% of the paddle. Why put expensive rubber on a cheap bat? I did more research and ordered a $150 wooden bat. I also ordered the glue for attaching the rubber to the bat, along with some adhesive plastic protector sheets and a zippered paddle bag.

I was worried about destroying $300 worth of high end paddle parts due to my inexperience. But with the help of my trusty YT tutorials I did a great job.

Glue on new table tennis rubbers

Sadly, all that money only marginally improved my playing. I was still getting badly schooled by the true Table Tennis players. Randy (60), Bob (83) and Alex (55?) would simply smoke me in our doubles matches. They’d take turns playing with me because my-our team would always lose. Now it’s true that playing with people better than you is good. You do pick stuff up, and you have to up your game.

But eventually I came to realize how little I really knew. Those guys are light years ahead of me. They were true Table Tennis players, and I was just a ping pong player. Long story short, I took a lesson at the local Table Tennis club. And wow, it was worth it!

Things I learned:

  • put your index finger straight out on the paddle for stabilization on both backhand and forehand
  • grab the paddle up as high as you can, next to the rubber
  • swing from down low to up high in a sweeping forward motion in both backhand and forehand
  • keep the top of the paddle tilted toward the table
  • to loop, tilt the paddle even more and brush the top of the ball. It will sound softer as the rubber applies spin instead of just a straight smack.
  • practice forehand and backhand drills with a box of balls so you don’t spend all your time chasing balls.
  • don’t play to win, play to prolong the drills
  • if the ball comes to the center of the table, and it is neither FH or BH, dodge left or right to make it one or the other. Don’t change your grip!
  • If your opponent holds his paddle by his left shoulder and strokes to his right shoulder, counter the spin by angling your paddle toward the beginning shoulder, and vice versa.
  • Always prepare for a topspin serve with paddle held in topspin position. If it comes over really fast, it will be a top spin and must be countered with same.
  • If it comes over slow it will be a bottom spin and you will have time to change your paddle to a chop (a lift).
  • When you chop, keep the ball low over the net and dead slow. It needs to be so low, soft and short over the net that it bounces twice on their side, preventing them from doing a long windup to a loop.

That was $40 for a one hour lesson and money well spent. I think I’ll go again. The way I could play while he was coaching me was remarkable. He kept correcting my bad habits. My balls were flying over the net fast, low and true. And when I missed, which I did a lot, he simply pulled another ball out of the box. He never frowned or tried to smoke me. It was all patience and positive encouragement.

Unlike my usual pattern of spending money to purchase stupid toys, gadgets or tools I rarely use, I spent money to buy knowledge that will improve my skills. Reminds me of that old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.