UPDATE: Made some changes to 1999 Cannondale R300

I was pretty happy with the way the bike came out the first time around, but after riding it for a while some things bothered me too much: the 48t chainring made the gear ratios just a little too hard on the mid-to-low end, the frame was probably a tad too big for me, and most importantly the tow-overlap was absolutely maddening – especially on my commute where I stop and make several tight turns. So I decided to sell it for someone else to enjoy.

The only problem was the cost of the components I updated it with made selling it for $675 pretty much impossible – after all it’s a 21 year old frame.

So in order to make it easier to sell I pulled off the pricey parts to keep for another future build, and picked up some much more cost effective, but nice, components. Now it’s got drop bars again, typical integrated brake/shift levers, and a new crankset with a new look and smaller chainring to ease the pedaling woes.

New components:
-Origin8 Classic Sport Single crankset
-Origin8 Classic quill stem
-Microshift R8 1×8 integrated brake/shift levers
-Original Cannondale Coda handlebars
-All new cables & housing

All the other components remain the same from the previous build.

Here’s what it looks like now. I took it for a shakedown ride last night and it felt good. The reach to the hoods was a little far, but I built it for whoever buys it – not me. Most people are taller than me, so…

I’ll probably ride it for a little while until bikes get back in stock. If I sell it right away I won’t have a geared bike for group rides. I’ve been riding my single speed for the last 4 weeks but sometimes when the group hits a tailwind in the flats my gearing just can’t keep up!

Anyway, this will eventually go to a good home hopefully.

Now, to find the new project!

Rebuilding a 1999 Cannondale R300 from a clunky triple to a slick street ripper

It didn’t take long after finishing my last project to get the itch to start another one. So far my stable consisted of a carbon fiber endurance bike, & two vintage Raleighs; one a single speed.

I spend a lot of time following bike profiles on Instagram & Facebook, while also browsing many bike forums of the internet. I started to realize while I loved the look of my vintage road bikes, I also was really starting to love the look of many modern urban & track bikes: wider frame tubes, straight forks, modern stems & wide riser bars.

I certainly wasn’t in the market for a brand new Cinelli – or any new bike/frame to be honest. So I started trolling craigslist, eBay, and FaceBook Marketplace to see what I could find. After about 4 or 5 weeks I came across a Cannondale frame in a nice color that looks like it could fit the bill – at least close to something I had in mind. After a little haggling I came home with it ready to strip it down, take stock of what was good to reuse & begin to plan out what I needed to rebuild it to suit my vision.

The bike as it looked after getting it home.

I was certainly excited to bring home my first Cannondale – especially a classic in such good shape. I did a little research after initially finding the listing & dug in more after getting it home. As is typical of sale listing on the internet it wasn’t a high end bike – just someone’s bike they bought X years ago, rode 10 times, and forgotten in a garage. After some Googling, and looking through PDFs of old Cannondale product catalogues I determined this was a R300 CAAD2 from 1999.

The R300 was the bottom-of-the-barrel road bike frame for Cannondale’s lineup at the time: aluminum frame & fork with a mixture of fairly decent drivetrain components, unremarkable bars & stem, & a decent wheelset. It should still be noted even their aluminum frames back then were second-to-none when it came to keeping weight down. The R500, R600, R800 & up models were outfitted with a lighter, higher quality aluminum frame, carbon forks, & high end shifters & derailleurs. But for my purposes, this would be fine for a project bike.

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images (this applies to all the galleries in this post) of the bike as it was when I got it home:

Like I said, the R300 came with a decent caliber of components for the time period. The Shimano RSX groupset is well regarded in the bike community for it’s solid feel, reliability, & relative light weight. Everything was in good working order – if not a little grimy. Time to strip it down.

My previous project bike was from 1974, and I was timid about working on certain parts so I let the bike shop handle those few things. But this time I decided I wanted to do it all myself. I knew I wasn’t going to replace everything but what did need to be fixed were some of the more important and less approachable components for the DIY layman: the headset & the bottom bracket. The upside – besides gaining the experience – was that I got to buy more tools! I did a bunch of research online and poured over the 1999 Cannondale catalog for the bike specs. It took a while but eventually I took the dive, ordered the parts, and figured what the hell.

Original components to keep – just needed some cleaning:
– Wheels / hubs
– 8 speed cassette
– Front & rear derailleur
– Seatpost (for now)
– Front & rear brake calipers (but new pads, obviously)

Components I replaced:
– Headset
– 1″ threaded stem
– Handlebars
– Brake levers
– Shift levers
– Bottom bracket
– Crank & arms
– Saddle
– Pedals
– Cables & housing (duh)
– Tires

Taking off the bars, levers, cabling, and wheels isn’t anything special. But removing the headset, crankset, & the bottom bracket required some new tools. I needed a tool to remove the headset cups which are pressed into the frame, a crank puller to force the crankset off the spindles, and a tool to remove the bottom bracket itself from the frame. All-in-all it was quite easy. Some pics below, click one to open the gallery. (I wasn’t able to grab any of pulling the crank or unscrewing the bottom bracket since they required both hands at all times.)

Here are the tools I used in case you’re thinking of giving it a go:
Headset remover: CyclingDeal Headset Cup Remover
Crank puller: Park Tool CCP-22
Bottom Bracket Remover: Park Tool BBT-22 -–NOTE: different BBs require different tools – it’s not universal. Make sure you get the right one.

The R300 still used a 1″ threaded headset instead of a more modern threadless one. There are plenty of simple, no-flash threaded headsets out there to be had for about $10. But I wanted to put something a little better in, so I opted for a FSA Duron X 1″ threaded headset. It was about $50 but it’s a sealed bearing design, has a nice look to it, feels superb, & is quality built.

The bike having a classic threaded headset meant that most of the time it would be paired with a traditional quill-style stem and bar clamp. But as I mentioned I wanted to give it the more modern look so I picked up a threaded-to-threadless stem adapter from Profile Design. This let’s you attach a modern 1 1/8″ threadless 31.8mm front-loading bar stem and opens up a lot more option for handlebar choice as well.

To finish the cockpit off I picked up a Ritchey Classic C220 stem in an 80mm reach (I’m short), and my favorite new piece; Nitto For Shred handlebars with a very wide 650mm wingspan (they actually come 750mm standard).

I borrowed my buddy’s headset bearing cup press to install the new headset, which I had to do before anything else could happen. It was surprisingly simple, but can be understandably more difficult without a cup press – and this particular one costs almost $200. There is a cheaper one, but it’s not as fully featured. I’ll admit I watched a few videos on YouTube and read the Park Tool page about 4 times before giving it a go but in the end it was so damn easy.

Once the fork was in and the locknut was on, I could start fitting the adapter & the stem. There’s nothing special about adding these pieces, but I did run into a small issue. The length the fork was cut made fitting the right amount of spacers to fill the gaps a bit tricky. You’ll notice in the 3rd pic above there is a small amount of available threads at the top of the fork.

So you’ll notice in the 3rd picture above there is a small empty space beneath the Ritchey stem. I tried adding another metal/silver spacer under the headset’s locknut to close the gap but this left too few threads for the locknut to tighten upon. So, I was going to have to add spacers to the adapter. My buddy gave me some extras he had and thankfully one of them fit the space perfectly. I tried it under the stem but it interrupted the aesthetic flow from the locknut to the stem. Remember, usually a narrow quill stem would protrude from the headset so aesthetics wouldn’t be an issue, but I’ve added a wider stem & adapter. In the end I had to add the spacer above the stem, right under the top cap of the adapter. Apparently I didn’t take a pic of that so you’ll just have to look at the final build pics.

Brake levers, the shifter, and grips were next.

There’s no shortage of badass grips out there for the flat bar single-speed & fixie crowd. I ended up falling in love with RaceFace’s Half Nelson grips. They come in a lot of colors, and are covered in a sweet topographic design! Between my wife being a geologist & myself a science teacher I basically couldn’t not get them. They’re not the the cushiest, but the material offers an excellent grip.

I wavered endlessly on brake levers. I wanted something that was low profile but also fit the look of the bike. Paul components are far out of my price range so it came down to Tektro’s FL-750’s, Dia Compe SS6′s, and some Shimano 105 BL-R550’s which I ultimately went with (obviously).

Lastly, the RSX cassette required an 8-speed shifter. I didn’t want to use a friction shifter, or an indexed thumbie; I wanted a trigger shifter for quick, easy shifting. I had to go to Amazon to find this part since 8-speeds aren’t typical anymore so finding NOS is really you’re only choice. I went with a Shimano Altus SL-M310 rapidfire shifter. Check it in the 2 pics above.

Ok – time for mounting the sexiest piece of hardware; the Sugino RD2 crankset I ordered from Retrogression. It’s got a 48 tooth chainring with a 130mm bolt spacing configuration, and since I’m short I got it with 165mm crank arm length.

First comes the new bottom bracket – which was a simple Shimano UN55 square taper with a 110mm spindle length. Mounting is pretty straight forward – screw in the two pieces, then mount the crank & arm to the spindle.

The 8-speed cassette & the crank take a 3/32″ chain, FYI.

Nothing special about the pedals – just a set that are relatively light, look good, and can mount toe cages & straps. I threw on another set of Origin8 Pro Track Lite pedals – the same ones I have on my every day commuter bike.

That’s pretty much it. The wheels, cassette, and rear derailleur were thoroughly cleaned up to look basically new. My buddy trued the wheels for me. I ordered a set of Kenda Kwik Trax tires in 700×28, and a Specialized Milano saddle and was basically done!

Oh, one tiny little thing – I ordered a set of Problem Solvers downtube shifter boss caps to replace the cable guide on the left side of the downtube. It would usually be used for the front derailleur, but the bike was now a 1x, and I couldn’t leave the original piece there it looked awful. You can see this cap in the final picture gallery below.

So I assume you’d like to see the whole finished product finally, eh? Well if you’ve ready my drivel for this long you’re certainly ready!

The finished product!

Full spec list:

Frame: R300 CAAD2 Aluminum
Headset: FSA Duron X1 1″ threaded
Stem: Ritchey C220 1 1/8″, 80mm
Adapter: Profile Design 1″ to 1 1/8″ threaded-to-threadless
Handlebars: Nitto For Shred, 31.8, 650mm
Grips: RaceFace Half Nelson, blue
Levers: Shimano 105 BL-R550
Shifter: Shimano Altus SL-M310 8 speed rapidfire trigger
Bottom Bracket: Shimano UN55 square tape, 110mm spindle, 68mm shell
Crank: Sugino RD2, 48t, 165mm
Pedals: Origin8 Pro Track Lite
Wheels: Mavic CXP11
Hubs: Shimano RSX
Tires: Kenda Kwik Trax, 700×28
Rear Derailleur: Shimano RSX 8SIS long
Cassette: Shimano RSX 8 speed
Seatpost: Stock, 27.2

***To see all the photos above & more not included here please visit the photo album on Flickr.

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed the process as much as I did. Already looking forward to my next project.

Get out there and ride!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram & Twitter.

Restoring a vintage 1974 Raleigh Super Tourer to a commuter/grocery getter

Christmas 2016: a card & a $150 check from mom & dad.

The perfect gift. I can get what I want.

Fast forward 2 weeks: a neighbor makes a post on Nextdoor for an old bike for $150: A Raleigh Super Tourer. It was an older couple who didn’t have a lot of details about the bike. It had been in their attic for years and they were getting ready to move.

The pic I saw in the Nextdoor post

I did a little online reconnaissance, and asked the “experts” on Bike Forums for some insights. I got a lot of responses pretty quick – all telling me to grab it as soon as possible. Apparently the Super Tourer is “Grail bike” to a lot of vintage bike aficionados thanks to the fact it was only in production for 4 years, 1974-1977, and the components Raleigh chose to use on it. I’ll go into more details about the specific pieces later in the post.

I went to check it out. It seemed to be in decent shape; the components looked alright, it needed a good scrubbing for sure. Everything looked to be the original parts, best I could tell. The tires were flat and cracked so I couldn’t really test ride it, but I threw a leg over it and it seemed to be about the right fit for me. I wouldn’t discover it was it was actually one size too big until I was about 3/4 of the way done with the restoration. Thankfully, I’m still able to ride it pretty comfortably.

The bike didn’t have a remarkable history, other than it had only one owner – a niece who’s father worked for a Raleigh dealer back in the 70’s in North Carolina. He had swapped out the stock riser bars Raleigh had put on it for standard drop bars with typical brake hoods & levers of the time. Like I said, the bike seemed to be in good shape with the exception of some rust spots on the chrome. Even the original, gigantic, Brooks mattress saddle was there, and in pretty decent shape. (Yes, it was actually referred to as a mattress saddle because of its enormous size and padding.) So, I handed over the cash and this piece of cycling history was mine.

SLIDESHOW: Pics from the night I brought it home (with captions!)

Now that I had to home and had some pics and a general idea about the condition of the bike and it’s components, I took to the internet for some more research. The serial was stamped clear as day on the bottom bracket, and I used this website to determine what the numbers meant: WC4001417.

The bike was manufactured in the Worksop Carlton factory in England, sometime in February of 1974, and was bike #1417 made. 1974 was the Super Tourer’s first model year, but I don’t know if they started production in 1973 or not, plus I’m not 100% if the production number stamped is from just that month, or overall in the entire year. While the Super Tourer was not a hugely popular bike it might be safe to assume there was not a huge amount ever made so each one is a rare find despite it’s seemingly high production number.

As I learned more about the bike and why it was such a lucky find – I came to find the major components are what so many people coveted. Specifically the rear derailleur: a French made Huret Jubilee. Apparently, it [still is] one of the lightest derailleurs ever made. Not to mention it’s simplistic design was groundbreaking at the time – and even today. I’d have to agree with that conclusion – it’s a beautiful piece of tech.

Everything was dirty, so I knew I’d have to clean the entire bike from top to bottom, along with all the parts. So it was time to break it down, see what condition the components were really in, and get to cleaning. I had to ask around to see what the best way was to clean rust off the chrome fork/stays, and specks all around the frame. It took a mix of using some Nevr-Dull metal polish, and some good old fashioned white vinegar rubbed on with aluminum foil (yes it works). Check out the slideshow below for a bunch of “before” pics during disassembly. The “after” pics will come shortly…

Once I got the main parts off, I went after the frame to get it as sparkly as possible and removed as much rust as I could. The Nevr-Dull worked pretty well, as did the aluminum foil trick. It took a little time and elbow-grease, but it came out well enough for a 45 year old bike. The rust blotched came off the chrome fork and stays, but there wasn’t much I could do about the actual damage to the metal. With the rust gone, I cleaned the areas and then waxed the entire frame for some protection. Close up, you can see the damage easily, but its much less obvious when standing back and looking at the bike as a whole. See pics below:

With the frame done, I set off to clean all the bits. It was a mix of dirt, grime, & grease – some worse than others. A good soak in some water with de-greaser, some brushes, and some Nevr-Dull & WD40 really brought everything back to life. Now, the original parts aren’t bright silver chrome, they’re more of a duller brushed metal, so while the initial cleaning brought out some pretty good shine – it dulled back to normal after a few days. Still, I think they all looked great – again, not bad for 45 years….

Check out the slideshow & captions below for pics showing the cleaning process & results…

So you’re probably wondering about the wheels, right? Of course you were. I brought them to a shop to get them checked out and trued up, but turns out too many of the spokes were rusted and seized so the wheels couldn’t be trued and brought back into perfect round. I was a little bummed because they were the original 27″ Weinmann wheelset, but it’s easy enough to get new 27″ wheels with better hubs. My shop ordered me a shiny set of 27″ Sun CR18 wheels in shiny as shit chrome, with decent Origin8 sealed hubs.

But there was a catch.

There’s always a catch.

That beautiful Maillard Atom 70 five-speed freewheel in the slideshow above? Well, it’s French threaded, to fit on the hubs of those old wheels that are now garbage. The shiny new wheels I just got? English threaded. Incompatible. Shit. I was bummed. That Maillard made the best sound when I spun it, and I wanted to use it so badly. The only way to use (and I plan on it in the future) is to have a set of wheels built up around the Maillard 700 hubs from the old wheels – yes I definitely saved those hubs.

I didn’t get a pic of them after I cleaned them up, so here’s a dirty one. But, they look lovely. So the next beautiful vintage bike I come across with bum wheels will have these hubs and a 5-speed freewheel ready to go.

Alright so everything is cleaned. Let’s put this sucker together.

Wait, I’m missing some pieces!

I decided when I first got the bike I wanted new bars, and wanted to move the shift levers to the downtube. I narrowed my choices down to Soma’s Brevet Randonneur Bar and Velo Orange’s Randonneur Bar. I ended up going with the Soma bar as I liked the profile/shape just a little more. Check the few pics below:

I had to turn to eBay for the downtube shifters. At first I made the mistake of just buying a shifter clamp – but turns out the levers that were attached to the stem were attached to that specific mount and couldn’t be transposed to the downtube clamp. So I wasted $20, but whatever, lesson learned! So back to eBay I went and found a Huret NOS downtube clamp with levers, so I was back in business. It was important to find a Huret model as I wanted to keep it periodic specific and consistent. It already had cables attached, and was ready to go after I clamped it on.

Since I couldn’t use the Maillard freewheel, I needed a new one – so back to eBay I went and found a 5 speed from Shimano. Nothing fancy, just a Uniglide low-end one that would work for now. Full disclosure: once I had the bike together and testing everything before riding I discovered the largest ring on the freewheel I got is too big for the rear derailleur to handle. The original Maillard one was geared 14-17-19-21-24, but the Shimano one I got was 14-28, and while it barely gets the chain onto the large ring, it won’t stay smoothly. Thankfully, there are other companies that make older style 14-24 freewheels so I’ll pick one up in the future. Thankfully, Houston is pretty flat so I rarely need the easy gears anyway.

Last but not least, I needed someplace to put my ass. That original mattress saddle was hilarious and huge, so I sprung for my very first ever legendary Brooks saddle. So far, my ass loves it.

Wait, the saddle wasn’t last – I needed a rack, so I picked up a rear Pletscher “CLEM” rack from Rivendell Bike Works. Basically a newer model version of the classic Pletscher racks adorning bikes from the 60’s-80’s. You’ll see it in the finished pics coming up…

AND THEN I WAS DONE! Fully restored (mostly) 1974 Raleigh Super Tourer. Ready to see it? Slideshow below!

Pretty beautiful, eh?

I’ll admit I wasn’t in love with the combination of the bars & the hoods. The angle of the hoods combined with the shape of the levers made it really hard for my smaller hands to pull the levers effectively. This, combined with the notoriously unreliable braking quality of those 70’s Weinmann side-pull brakes, made the whole thing rather uncomfortable to ride. It had been 2 weeks, and I already needed to change stuff. But, such is bike life.

The Super Tourer’s original setup used Raleigh’s North Rounder riser bars, so my decision to use Randonneur bars wasn’t quite true to original form – and maybe this was the universe’s way of telling me I made the bike Gods angry.

I figured I wasn’t going to find an angle that worked with the older brake hoods on drop bars because of how they connect, and because of how the brake cables were done they levers were reversed (this was purely an aesthetic choice). So, I decided to try riser bars and get it closer to the original. I went with Soma’s Late Riser Bar, with it’s low rise and minimal back sweep angle.

This obviously meant I needed new brake levers as well, plus grips (seriously, switching bar types opens up a whole new can of worms – imagine if the shift levers weren’t isolated on the downtube already!). Velo Orange had a pretty good selection of old-school city style brake levers, so after some google image searching for ideas and how other people had used the various models, I decided on Tektro’s FL750 levers. I dug the clean lines and knew they’d look sharp as fuck with the bars.

I bought both the bar & the brakes from Retrogression, a Portland based singlespeed/fixie/track oriented shop. They’re a bad ass group of folks with some awesome equipment that’s hard to find elsewhere. Highly recommend them if you live in the area, or are shopping online.

Finally I needed some grips, so to match the Brooks saddle I had, I splurged on some Brooks leather grips. I mean, why not. The faux-leather bar tape I had on the Randonneur bars didn’t quite match, and it was thin and frankly I hated it (no offense to Fi’zi:k).

With these new parts all assembled, now, I was finally done, for real! I’ve been riding it this way for the last few weeks and it’s markedly more comfortable. The only think left to do is to switch out the Weinmann brakes because frankly they kinda suck. I found another old set of brakes in a parts swap so I’m going to try those – they’re even Raleigh branded.

The last last last last piece was a new trunk bag to haul my work clothes in (and anything else depending on my trip.) I went with a bag I’ve had my eye on since 2013 – Arkel’s Tailrider trunk bag. I loved it’s low profile shape, and carrying capacity. I’m able to fit in a pair of shoes, slacks, shirt, unmentionables, with extra room left for random needs for the work day. I can also fit all the bike repair essentials in the side pockets (tube, tools, CO2, levers) with room to spare. Highly recommend it.

So, finally, here we are at the end – the bike as it’s being ridden currently:

She’s a tank, for sure. With the rack I estimate she weighs in at almost 25-30 pounds. But the bike was never intended to be a fast bike. It’s not a cross-country trail bike, it’s not a racer. It was a tooling around bike. My commute is 9.8 mile each way and I do have faster bikes I do it on, but I ride this bike when the weather is nice and I don’t have any meetings or errands. This bike is purely for the enjoyment of riding a bike. An old vintage bike with some class. It takes me about 5 minutes longer on average when I ride it, but it doesn’t matter. This bike is a piece of bike history; short lived, highly sought. There aren’t many of them out there and I’m happy as hell to have it.

Oh, the 1974 model year version came it two colorways: bronze/silver for the 5-speed version, and chartreuse/black for the 10-speed (mine). So my wife thought of the perfect name for it:

The Chartreuse Goose.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave comments.

The final piece of things past

Work on replacing the yard started. I don’t know where this got buried in the dirt & debris but it turned up today. We lost a lot of DVDs in the flood, but it’s fitting this might be the last remnant of everything.

It’s a movie my wife and I saw together early in our relationship and was important to us. We didn’t revisit it very often because it’s not necessarily a happy movie—but perhaps it’s underlying message is symbolic of what we’ve gone through in the last year since the flood, together. It’s important to fix things. Especially with those important people in our lives.

Rebuilding was very stressful on us—and our relationship. But like Steve Zissou we’ve worked through it and are on a new course.

Maybe this DVD will serve as a final reminder of things past, as we move ahead on our next adventure.

I wonder if it remembers us.

What it’s like to recover from a natural disaster, Part III: Getting your shit together (Part 1)

This will probably be the longest post I write about this whole ordeal so I’m splitting it into two parts. Yes, I’m parting the parts. There’s so much shit that goes into getting your ducks in a row before you even begin to start tearing out your walls. It was confusing and overwhelming. Not even 24 hours after we’d been plucked from our flooded house by boat we were digging through more information than our minds could handle. We hadn’t even come to grips with the fact that we’d just left our home to be consumed by water – when we had to begin the circus act of getting help.

And what a circus act it is. Actually it’s more of an unorganized clusterfuck of flaming hoops swinging back and forth – and you’ve got to jump through them, but your leg is in a cast and you’re on crutches.

Hopefully this can help to serve as a bit of a primer for y’all.

Let’s start with the basics. If you live in a 100-year flood plain you are usually required to carry flood insurance. If you’re in a 500-year flood plain I believe it’s optional depending on your situation. Insurance is available to anyone, though. Our home is not in a flood plain, so we did not carry flood insurance even though we could have if we wanted. This would (should?) have been disclosed to us when we were signing the bank documents to secure the loan, and/or when we went to State Farm to get our homeowners insurance. Neither my wife or I can recall if it was brought up.  I’d estimate roughly 40% of our neighborhood had flood insurance – some from experience, others were just prudent.

The great thing about being insured is you’re covered usually up to around $250,000 or so – depending on damages. That amount is split between personal items and home construction. Depending on how much water you took on, $250,000 should cover you just fine – assuming you even qualify for the max payout. You can always appeal the decision and have another inspection as well should it come to that.

The bad thing about being insured is the insurance companies and NFIP are notorious for taking an exceedingly long time to conduct inspections and settle your claim (read: give you the monies). By the time we were already starting to build back months later some of our neighbors with flood insurance were still waiting to hear back. Many ended up appealing the insurance’s low-ball settlement as well.

In the end, having insurance at least guarantees you a pretty decent chunk of money. It may not be enough to replace your collection of X or get brand new marble floors – but it’s supposed to either. Because we were uninsured our only options for assistance were FEMA and the SBA.

We now have flood insurance. – though we are still not in a flood plain. This allowed us to get it for the cheapest possible price – $450/yr. The flood maps may be redrawn at some point and put us in a flood plain. Had that been the case our yearly premium would have been well over $1000. But now we are grandfathered in. I should also note obtaining flood insurance was a requisite for receiving an SBA loan for assistance (I’ll get into that later as well).

Important Note: If you have flood insurance you cannot apply for FEMA federal aid. Well, you can, you’ll just be denied because it’s double dipping. If they do by any chance grant you FEMA money you’ll have to pay it back once your flood insurance payment is disbursed.

So, the first thing you should do once your feet are on dry ground and you’ve got your wits about you is call your insurance company to get the ball rolling. Those in the neighborhood with insurance were still waiting for payouts, and some even for inspectors, or re-inspections, for months after we had already received FEMA aid and could start doing stuff. In the end you’ll probably be made a little more whole again but you’ll probably wait a little longer to get started and to get all your money.

The day after we evacuated I was already on the phone with FEMA and the FEMA website registering us for federal disaster aid. My first piece of advice is: DO NOT WAIT to start this process —- because it is quite a process.

Side note: WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING. Registration numbers. Logins. Passwords. Phone numbers. EVERYTHING. You will need all of this stuff for all the websites and people you talk to. Take notes on EVERYTHING. When you talk to FEMA on the phone, write down whatever directions they say. Write down any people or numbers. Write down dollar amounts or quotes. Everything. This applies to everyone you talk to and any service you register with for the entire duration of the process of rebuilding. Remember, this is the federal government and they are terrible at everything they do.

Shortly after registering with FEMA for federal aid for Harvey, we were contacted by our case worker and they scheduled an inspection date for the house. Many of our neighbors had already had their inspections and said it was pretty simple: the inspector would come in, look around, take some pics, ask a few questions, notate stuff on their tablet, and peace out. Some even mentioned their inspector told them how much money they would probably get. Our guy wasn’t very talkative. He asked about what rooms were upstairs, what we were able to save, what we lost, etc. I didn’t get the best vibe after it was over. But all we could do was wait for the outcome.

The maximum amount of aid you can receive from FEMA is $33,000. The money is split into different categories such as ‘house repairs,’ ‘rental assistance,’ and ‘reimbursement.’ House repairs covers what they think you need to make the house safe and livable again. Rental Assistance helps pay for temporary housing while your house is repaired. The catch with that is they’ll give you what they think two months rent is (hint: it’s not), and then if you want more you have to reapply. But you can still only receive up to $33,000 so if you can swing rent on your own, just do that. For the 3rd category, they gave us some money back for the dehumidifiers we bought to help clean the house.

FEMA only gave us a little over $18,000. That’s it. $16,000 of that was for repairs, $2,000 for rental assistance since we had to rent an apartment, and about $300 to reimburse us for the dehumidifiers. Most of our neighbors received close to the maximum. So we didn’t understand why (like always) we got the shaft. Our house had exactly the same amount of water in it as theirs. We also lost everything on the first floor. But we basically received half of everyone else.

There is an appeal process, of course. In your account page on the FEMA website, where all the details and correspondence is kept, you can click a button to indicate you want to appeal a decision. Then you have to write a letter, submit evidence, and have your letter notarized. You can then either upload it to the website (what we did), or risk mailing it to FEMA and pray that it gets where it’s supposed to go. They tell you it could ‘take up to 90 days to get a response’ – and what they actually mean is ‘we’ll not do anything for 90 days, then on day 91 we’ll look at your letter, call you, and set up another inspection if your letter lends any credible information.’

So, we had another inspection. This guy was way more personable, and felt bad about how we were shafted before. He went through everything thoroughly, and told us we’d hear soon. Four days later, FEMA gave us another $6,500, bringing the total amount for house repairs to about $22,500. Still well short of the maximum and what our neighbors received. Let me tell you, though, when you’re rebuilding your entire first floor from floor to ceiling from the studs – $16,000 is a drop in the bucket. And that $6,500? Well, a master electrician will run you anywhere from $6,000 – 10,000 depending on how much work is needed.

We took what we could get and that money is long gone. FEMA will tell you their aid is not supposed to ‘make you whole again,’ it’s merely to help obtain the most basic elements to make your house safe & livable again. But it really doesn’t. Spend it wisely.

So; you don’t have flood insurance, you’re not independently wealthy, and FEMA barely gives enough to build new walls. What do you do? Well, you have to turn to the Small Business Association for a low interest loan. It’s just like getting a real bank loan except there are lots of other caveats that include things like liens on your house, and having contractors sign the papers as well. It’s all quite complicated, but they run a pretty tight ship. We were able to fill out all the paperwork and take care of everything at one of the many FEMA pop-up tents around the area.

After applying online, I received a call from our case worker for an interview about the condition of the house. I honestly can’t remember if they sent an inspector or just asked about what we lost. In the end, we were approved for a 30-year loan of $84,000 with an interest rate of 1.75%. Not too bad. They split it up and dedicate certain amounts for different parts of your reconstruction. For instance, they initially told us $45,000 was allocated home repair, $25,000 for personal property, and the rest for other things like landscaping and fencing, etc. The good thing is you can request to have the allocations moved around – which we eventually needed. They begin by disbursing $25,000 to you to begin with but require filings of court documents and bank forms and insurance forms before they will disburse the rest. There are a lot of hoops to jump through but in all honesty it’s been the easiest of everything so far.

The good thing is there’s no penalties for paying it off early, and payments don’t start until 1-year after the initial disbursement of the $25,000. Thankfully so far we haven’t had to touch any of that money since we’ve been fortunate to have money from friends, family, and donations from work. If all goes according to plan we should be able to pay back the entire $25,000 when the first payment is due. *crosses fingers*

Why did we get it, then? you’re probably asking. Well for one FEMA won’t take you seriously when you apply for your initial federal aid unless you’ve also applied for an SBA loan – it’s like they don’t want to give you much money if you can get it from someplace else. Secondly, it’s common sense because how else are you going to rebuild your entire first floor? The only other catch is that in order to get the SBA loan, you have to get flood insurance. So as you can see the whole thing is one big lasso of circular logic.

Like with FEMA – SAVE EVERYTHING. They require receipts to prove that you spent their money on rebuilding your house and not on hookers and blow. Though, it doesn’t say anything about not hiring hookers to rebuild your house or writing off blow as necessary materials….but I digress…

So that’s the, uh, brief, run down of everything we had to do to even get started. The follow-up to this post will be a kind of continuation – but deal more with the absolute bullshit we went through with everything else.

I hope this can help serve as a bit of a primer for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation (but I hope not).

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments.

What it’s like to recover from a natural disaster. Hint: It sucks balls. Part II: Aftermath & Advice

It’s safe to say we were not prepared for what we found when the water was gone. I’ll mostly let the pictures below do the talking, but it was devastating to say the least. We walked around, taking as many pictures as we could to document everything. I was finally able to get into the garage and look at the car and the bikes, too. Later in this post I’ll discuss what decisions we made during demolition and remediation.

But first – depressing photos (with captions)! NOTE: everything you see as how it it settled after the water. We didn’t touch anything. It was a goddamn mess.


The first thing we saw when the front door opened.


Entryway, looking toward the dining room.


The living room – yes there is still about 4″ of muck water in the sunken living room. Had to pump it out. YUMMY.


Dining room


You can tell which way the water mostly flowed.


Dining room, again.



We lost so many books (and DVDs)


This used to be our coat closet now it’s a mold storage unit


Now the fridge is a 400 pound smell-box. Plus the 1970’s cupboards were falling apart. Note the mold.


Utility room – the washing machine floated and tipped.



My poor car.

Even though our lives were in ruins, we had to act fast. As you can see there was already fucktons of mold everywhere.

So here’s where the advice comes in. We’ve learned A LOT about remediation since this happened, so I’m here to share it with you should fate ever decide to drop this steaming pile of donkey shit on you as well. Here’s a quick list of bullet points to start you off, then I’ll get into more detail about our situation specifically.

Many people in my neighborhood made the mistake of only removing the first 5 or so feet of drywall from the floor up. This was a huge mistake. You’ll hear the general rule of thumb is to take it out to ~3 feet above the water line. This works well if water depth was only a few inches, and if the water came and went relatively quickly. But you’ll remember the water was in our homes for two weeks. Drywall, and whatever moisture barrier/backing board you have on the outside of the studs will soak it up. and up. and up. Initially, we took it up to around 6-7 feet but in the end ended up taking out all the walls floor-to-ceiling on the entire first floor and garage.


Drywall and insulation removed in the living room before we decided to remove it all.


Demo in the downstairs bathroom.


Demo in the hallway & kitchen.

In addition, we removed all the gypsum board that was originally put on the outside of the studs during the house’s construction because it too had been soaked and compromised with mold. Some folks in the neighborhood thought that it was OK to leave it and it would “dry out” so they left it – which again is a huge mistake. In a later post I’ll get into what further complications this caused during out rebuild.


After we decided to take out everything.


Everything removed in the dining room.


The kitchen is a blank slate.

My advice is to err on the side of caution when tearing out your drywall. It’s all dependent on how much water was in your house and how long it was there. Don’t be afraid to play it safe and rip it all out. Yes, this will initially cost more to replace and rebuild but the peace of mind is worth it. Also, it’s much easier to replace full boards of drywall from floor to ceiling than it is to try to patch the bottom 4 feet. It takes really good drywall skills to create a nice smooth wall.

Once the drywall is removed you’ll start to notice how your studs have been affected. Remember, water gets everywhere – even inside the walls. Our studs were surprisingly in OK shape. There was evidence of some mold, but thankfully there was hardly any wood rot. We were pleasantly surprised – and relieved.

Assuming you don’t need to replace any studs, you definitely need to treat them. We painstakingly used a small wire brush to brush clean every single stud that was exposed. This helped get any residual mold or flood gunk off. This was a vital first step, as after we finished that we painted the bottom 1/3 of each stud (higher in some areas like the kitchen) with Zinsser mold killing primer. This kills any remaining mold that didn’t get brushed away, and also seals and protects the wood before you seal it up inside the wall again. Hopefully, should it encounter any water again, it will help protect the stud from further water damage. Make sure you don’t skip this step.


Picture from a little further along – but to show how we treated the studs and sills with the Zinsser.

Finally, before you put up any new drywall, or seal up anything, make sure you get a qualified mold remediation specialist to come examine the house, take mold and wood moisture readings, and perform any treatments. We had two separate treatments at different intervals. The first was a treatment from a local Servpro that took moisture readings after we’d let the house dry out for about three weeks. He checked the studs and sills and gave us the all clear. He then sprayed every exposed stud and sill with a chemical compound that kills mold, treats the wood, and protects it from further infection. A month or so later, we decided to have another treatment – one that becomes aerosol and filters through your HVAC system and kills anything that has been transported in the time you’ve been back working at the house. This was a chlorine dioxide treatment. It’s been roughly 6 months since then and there’s been no sign of mold.

Mold is the biggest concern you need to worry about after a flood. It can be anywhere, and grow in places you weren’t expecting. Make sure you rip out everything in the walls – drywall, insulation, moisture barriers, etc. If you aren’t careful and do not remediate properly, it will come back – and it will be sealed up in your walls growing and there won’t be anything you can do about it except rip it out again.

While this post is pretty short I must stress that these various tasks took months. There is nothing short lived about recovering from a flood.

In my next post I will talk about all the steps we had to go through and all the flaming hoops we had to jump through for FEMA, the SBA, the city, county, banks, and God knows what else to get things rolling on repairs.


What it’s like to recover from a natural disaster. Hint: It sucks balls. Part I: The Happening

So this series of posts has been a long time coming. I’m going to try not to make it too long, but, I’m a talker. At least since I’m typing you don’t have to watch me constantly gesticulate with my arms. I’ve got a lot to say. This will mostly be about the hoops we had to jump through to rebuild our lives – but also tell the story of how we went from ‘oh look it’s raining’ to ‘I’ll step into the boat then you hand me the dog.’


Taken from the 2nd floor on Monday 28 August 2017, around 10:00am. The floodgates are open & the neighborhood is filling up.


As many of you know, our entire neighborhood was flooded (intentionally by the Army Corps of Engineers) during Hurricane Harvey. All told, the water line inside the living room when we were finally able to get back to the house two weeks later, was 41 inches. That’s nearly 4 feet of water on the ground floor. Since we weren’t expecting the flood, we hadn’t moved anything to the 2nd floor of the house, so, we lost everything. From every piece of furniture, to every book on the shelves, to every major appliance and piece of cookware in the kitchen, to the car sitting in the garage. It was all destroyed.



The high water line was about 10 inches higher that shown here.

Where do you even start?

To make matters worse, the house sat in water while the ACoE emptied Barker Reservoir for two weeks. Two weeks of stagnant, flood, sewer water. Then, even after the water level was low enough to have emptied the house, it still wasn’t low enough for us to reach the house. Wading through the water was not recommended for health reasons and the police weren’t allowing it anyway. Drywall is like a paper towel – dip it in water and capillary action will take care of the rest. Our walls were wet and mold-ridden almost the whole way up to the ceiling – that’s 8-9 foot ceilings by the way.


Oh yes, let’s talk about the mold.

Two weeks of stagnant water, & moisture filling the house with no circulation. Mold was on almost anything open to the air, or touching the water that would allow it to grow. You do the math. Yes remediation was possible, and we did, but, holy crap. And now every house in the neighborhood was have that stigma of a “moldy, flooded house.” It’s something that will always need to be disclosed when a house goes on the market. We’ll have to show proof we properly remediated and took every precaution to prevent the mold from coming back. The integrity of the house will now always be in question. Sure we scrubbed every. single. stud. By hand. With a wire brush. (All credit to my wife who did most of this). Then painted every. single. stud – with mold killing and prevention primer (Zinsser). While many floods occur quickly, with water flowing in a few inches or a few feet, then receding the next day – this was obviously a different situation. We couldn’t take the first few feet of lower drywall out and call it a day. It all had to go. It was the only way to get rid of the mold, and the compromised drywall. So before we could even think about rebuilding, we had to rip away everything we’d worked for in the last 2.5 years. Strip it bare and throw it on the front lawn in a disgusting pile of destroyed memories.


Our first floor on the front lawn.

The Day Of… (Monday 28 August 2017)

It had been raining since Friday evening and the streets in the neighborhood were flooding and emptying cyclically as the bands of rain rotated over. Even during the day on Sunday I was riding my bike around the neighborhood between rain bands and checking things out after the water had receded. Our neighborhood drains into the Bayou that runs behind it (and is the outflow for the reservoir), and once the rain gave it a rest, it was able to pull the water out and things were basically back to normal.

Sunday evening around 5pm it started raining again. It didn’t stop until after 11pm.


Neighbors checking out the water between bands of rain on Sunday afternoon.

Earlier in the evening the Army Corps of Engineers released the info that both reservoirs were nearing their critical tipping point and the gates needed to be opened. The first reservoir gates would open at 2am, and the second reservoir later that afternoon. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the first opened around 11:30pm that night, and the 2nd shortly thereafter. This never gave the bayou a chance to lower, or the water in the neighborhood to drain. When I awoke around 7am Monday morning, the water level hadn’t gone down like we’d expected. By 9am it was at the front door and still rising.


Over the course of the morning from our windows on the 2nd floor we’d watched many in the neighborhood hop on boats and leave. Some floated out on inflatable air mattresses, others waded. We wanted to remain as long as possible – especially since we had three animals relying on us for safety. Around noon, after watching so many leave, and our neighbors across the street throw in the towel and get picked up, I said to my wife ‘I think we need to go.’ So, we grabbed our backpacks, filled them with a few pairs of underwear, a shirt and shorts, a pair of sneakers, our IDs, iPads, cat litter, cat food, and dog food. Basically only enough for 1 or 2 days. We put the cats in their tiny travel kennels, and the harness on Chainsaw. We flagged down a boat.


Monday morning: the water reaches the front door.

It was about 1:30pm now, and water was already filling the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. When the boat pulled up to the house, it was floating at our front door. For a bit of perspective- our house is up on a small berm, and this meant the water at street level was already about 4 feet. I stepped into the boat first. My wife handed me the cats in their kennels one at a time. I set them on the floor of the boat. It was still raining and they were less than excited about this. Then she handed me the dog, and I held onto him in my lap. Then she climbed into the boat, closed the front door, locked it, and we pushed off. We stopped next-door to pick up our older neighbor who had also retreated to her upstairs. We promised her if we decided to go, she was coming with us. The ride to the front of the neighborhood took about 8 minutes. Let me tell you how surreal it was to be boating through the streets, looking at the submerged cars and houses as we trolled toward the only dry land on the main road at the entrance to the neighborhood. Once there, we got out and the boat left to retrieve someone else. Thankfully, we had a place to go. We spent a few hours at a friend’s house on the other side of the street that wasn’t flooding. Eventually our friends came to pick us up and take us to their place a few miles away that wasn’t in danger of flooding. There we stayed for the rest of the week.

The Return…(Friday 01 September 2017)


Residents & volunteers at the front of the neighborhood, Friday September 01.

When we returned 4 days later, a Friday, volunteers from all over the state, and surrounding states, were taking residents in by boat to their houses so they could grab any belongings they needed to get by. We went in with two other couples who lived nearby. It’s quite an experience jumping out of a boat into almost 4 feet of water at your front door. We were fortunate our front door seemed mostly undamaged, and wasn’t too swollen into its frame. We unlocked, and went inside.


Getting ready to go back to the house for the first time…


W. T. F.


Rounding the corner to the house.


The first thing we saw when we opened the front door.

Yes it was as bad as you can imagine. What wasn’t already floating was either sunken out of sight, or was covered in mold already. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, but suffice it to say there wasn’t much we could do at this point. We went upstairs, grabbed 2 carryon size suitcases and a dufflebag – filled them with clothes and some important papers and waited for the boat to come back.

And that was it. All we could do for the next week and a half was wait. Below is some of what we saw when we opened the door for the first time since leaving.


Looking to the right from the front door.


Main entryway


Looking through the living room into the back yard.


Living room.


We lost 6 shelves of books, plus many above the water from mold.


Fridges float in floods, FYI. Look at the dirt line on the lower cabinets.


The view from the landing at the top of the stairs.

So that’s what happened. I couldn’t get into the laundry room and subsequently the garage because the doors were swollen shut, plus the washing machine had floated and tipped and blocked the door, too. So unfortunately I wasn’t able to get pics of our car in the garage submerged in water.

In the next post I’ll write about the immediate aftermath – demolition and figuring out “where do we go from here?”

If you read through this lengthy post – thank you. And I hope you’ll read the follow ups, too, which will have a lot of important info for you in case you’re ever in a similar situation.

Tuesday Tirade: When is copyright law worthwhile, and when is it a petty kick in the junk?

So the other week I received a notice from YouTube that two of my videos were taken down due to a copyright violation. I could chose to go with it, or fight it – and if I lost I could end of up court. The offending videos were two less-than-30-second snippets of songs from a Garth Brooks concert I went to here in Houston all the way back in 2015 (almost 3 years ago).

Here’s the email:
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It’s a forgone conclusion that people take videos at concerts to relive the fun and of course to share with friends and family on various social media. It’s going to happen. It’s 2018 and we all have pocket sized video cameras, and we live in a technological world where data is shared in large quantities. This includes clips of songs from concerts.

So, Pearl Records Inc. – get your head out of your ass and get it into 2018.

But that’s not really my whole tirade. To be honest I didn’t really care. I ignored the email. The vids were gone, they were 2 years old and I’d probably never need or watch them again anyway. A few weeks had passed until today, and I found myself needing to go into my YouTube account settings – something I rarely do.

I was greeted by this:

Which in itself isn’t bad on the surface – except for the part where you can’t do anything unless you “go to Copyright school,” watch a video, and pass a 5 question quiz. There’s no way around it.




So now it’s time to circle back around to the title of this entry. Is this truly a worthwhile copyright violation or is it just petty bullshit? I vote for petty bullshit. And on top of it, being forced to do YouTube’s asinine quiz before I could get to my account settings was infuriating.

At the end of the day, it’s not a big deal. Just something worthy of a good ol’ fashioned
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