"Evaluations: Bicycling & Touring Gear" Archives

Dec 03 2017

Bar(con) Talk: A Harrowing Tale of Bar-End Shifter Corrosion by Tamia Nelson

Some things look worse — far worse — the closer you look at them. That’s the case with bar-end (or barcon) corrosion. The scourge of bar-end corrosion can happen to anyone, even to cyclists who are diligent about keeping their bikes in fine working order. It’s happened to Tamia’s Surly Long Haul Trucker. And it’s been found on a Soma Smoothie built by a mechanic friend of hers. Has it happened to your bike? You’d better check. Today. Because the consequences of not nipping bar-end corrosion in the bud can make you feel faint.

I discovered the scourge of bar-end shifter corrosion when my Surly Long Haul Trucker was almost six years old, and with over 18000 miles on the clock. She’s — I named her Petra, and it suits her; she’s really been a rock — she’s my maid of all work for most everything from shopping to “amphibious” trekking. She’s held up well, despite the fact that a lot of the roads in my corner of the North Country are paved in gravel. And I’m not boasting when I say she’s been well-maintained. Petra is spoiled, in fact. Though she’s perfectly capable, I don’t ride her on winter roads. Liberal applications of salt and grit to local roads are killers of steel-framed bikes and ferrous components. I leave winter riding to my alloy mountain bike. But despite all the loving care I’ve given Petra — wiping her down after misty rides, keeping moving parts in fine fettle with just the right amount of lube — I was shocked discover that Petra had become …

A VICTIM OF BAR-CON SHIFTER CORROSION

The full horror of bar-con shifter corrosion must be seen to understand the sinking feeling I experienced in the pit of my stomach when I happened to discover it on Petra. Here are some photos of what it looks like:

Pretty dramatic stuff, eh? Yet the extent of the corrosion didn’t register until a week later. While I oil my shifters regularly, I don’t look at them closely  — I don’t often wear my reading glasses when I work on my bikes — and since both shifters had a slightly rough finish right out of the box, my fingertips weren’t much help, either. These are rather feeble excuses, of course. I should have been more attentive. After all, I sometimes rest my hands on the bar-end shifters for short periods when I’m on the road, and my hands sweat inordinately. Farwell ends a 30-mile ride with bone-dry hands, whereas I finish the distance with gloves that are so sweat-soaked that I can wring salt water from them. And salt isn’t kind to aluminum. I suppose it’s also possible that the leather of my cycling gloves contribute, if the tanning process left residues behind. I’ll never know.

Once I grasped the extent of the problem, however, I lost no time in getting a closer look, using my camera’s macro capabilities to bring me in real tight. (A camera makes a fine addition to the mechanic’s tool box, by the way.) The photos above were the result, and they made it clear that I needed to…

REMEDY THE DAMAGE RIGHT NOW

I turned to my store of gun-cleaning supplies, a relic of a time when I owned a lovely 20-gauge sidelock Arrieta side-by-side whose barrels had an unfortunate tendency to sprout surface rust after every heavy dew. The mainstay of my cleaning arsenal back then was a paste-like metal polish known as Flitz:

Flitz it Out Photo on Tamiasoutside.com (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

The maker suggests that Flitz works as well on aluminum as it does on blued steel, so I figured I’d give it a try. (I ran a test on a bit of aluminum scrap first, though, just to be sure that the cure wouldn’t be worse than the disease. Primum non nocere has relevance in fields far removed from medicine.) Cotton patches and a Scotch-Brite scrubber rounded out my anti-corrosion battle gear, with a few Q-Tips thrown in for mopping up operations in tight corners. I left the 0000 steel wool in the box, though. Using steel wool on aluminum is asking for trouble. Small fragments of steel work their way into the softer aluminum, where they remain. The result? Rusty aluminum, of course!

The rest was easy. I removed the plastic covers from the levers (they slide off with encouragement), then daubed a little Flitz on the worst spots and started scrubbing. And when I say “a little,” I really do mean a little. A very small amount of Flitz goes a long way:

Flitz it On With a Swab Photo on Tamiasoutside.com (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

And when a Q-Tip proved too bulky, I turned to a cotton patch wrapped around a toothpick. That delivered just enough of the sovereign remedy to even the tightest corners. Then it was time to start scrubbing:

Scotch-Brite Scrubby Photo on Tamiasoutside.com (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

After that, I wiped off the resulting gunge:

Polish With a Cotton Patch Photo on Tamiasoutside.com (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

All that remained was to lay down a gossamer coat of light oil on the shifter pods, levers, and through-bolts by way of benison, before squeezing a drop or two of oil into all pivot-points:

Lightly Coat With Oil Photo on Tamiasoutside.com (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

Now I was ready to put the shifters through their paces, first on the workstand and then on the road. The result? A clean pass. Later in the year, I broke down the shifters into their component parts and was relieved to find that corrosion hadn’t spread to the internal workings.

The upshot? While my shifters will never regain their showroom shine — the pitting is too deep for that — I’ve succeeded in stopping the rot in its tracks. And you can be sure I do a better job cleaning Petra than I had been doing. Everything that my sweaty hands touches now gets a good wash, followed by a light dressing of oil. And what about you? Have you taken a close look at your shifters lately? If not, there’s no time like the present. I can’t be the only rider in the world with sweaty palms, can I?

DO YOU THINK CHECKING BAR-END SHIFTERS NOW IS TOO MUCH TROUBLE? THINK AGAIN

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying states. It might be winter where you are, and your bike might be on the rack for the season, but take some time to check it right now. Even if the bike isn’t outfitted with bar-end shifters. And it it IS, then take a magnifying glass if you need to and make sure there isn’t any corrosion.

Why bother? If the photos above don’t convince you, then consider the experience of a friend of mine who is also a retired professional bike mechanic. He wrote this weekend to tell me he’d discovered corrosion on the barcons of the Soma Smoothie he built up some years ago. The corrosion is so bad on one of the cable ferrules that it’s become welded to the barcon pod and needs to be drilled out, with cables and casings replaced.

The bottom line? Spare yourself the trouble and expense of having to repair the results of corrosion. A little effort after each ride to inspect — and nip in the bud — corrosion before it becomes wide spread will pay off. Do it now.

This article is an update of one originally published on 12 April 2014.

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Nov 15 2017

Swapping Stock Surly LHT Handlebars for Nitto Noodles: Why and How I Did It by Tamia Nelson

One of the very many benefits of bicycles is that most of the mechanical work can be done by you, the owner. And as DIY jobs go, swapping handlebars is pretty straight forward. Which is good, because Tamia realized early in her ownership of the Surly Long Haul Trucker that the stock bars didn’t fit her comfortably. In this article, she describes why she swapped the stock handlebars and shows you how it’s done.

How often do YOU think about handlebars? Not often, I’d wager. Unless you ride a bike a bicycle with handlebars that don’t fit. THEN you think about them a lot. Because the longer the ride, the more your body will suffer.

When I bought my stock-build Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike, it was outfitted with good basic bars, but they just didn’t suit me. They were narrower than I liked, which makes steering a tad nervous. I also couldn’t find a grip position which was comfortable for more than a few minutes at a time. And another thing was wrong. I like a handlebar bag, and the one I like best was a tight fit. My thumbs were pinched by the bag, making them go numb.

Pinched Thumbs (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

After asking the opinions of more experienced cyclists and with a bit of shopping around I decided to swap out the stock handlebars with a pair of 44 cm-wide Nitto Noodle handlebars.

WHAT SOLD ME ON NITTO NOODLE HANDLEBARS?

Carpel tunnel syndrome and too many episodes of frostbite have left my hands prone to numbness and nerve damage if I don’t move them frequently while on the bike. So a wide expanse of “real estate” seemed a good idea, which is one reason why I wanted wide handlebars. Not only that, but the Noodles have a geometry that would appear to lead to less strain and pain from neck right to the fingertips.

Nitto Noodle geometry seemed just what the doctor ordered. The upper grip region is level, extending from the clamp area in the center all the way along the ramps. A backward-sweep to either side of the clamp brings the Noodles’ grip closer to the rider — beneficial for cyclists with shorter arms or torsos. The slight flare of the drops — the lower part of the bar — make riding “in the drops” less stressful on shoulders and neck, too. Most of the time, I ride on the ramps and hoods — the rubber cover over the brake levers — and in this position, the ramp angle to the drops seemed just right for positioning my wrists to avoid strain and aggravating a flare-up of carpel tunnel pain. Additionally, the wider width of my new handlebars would permit me more “thumb room” between the bars and my bar bag, as well as better steering control. But the only way I could be sure the Noodles would suit me was to put them on the bike. So that’s what I did.

HOW TO SWAP HANDLEBARS

Here’s where it helps to get the advice of others who know more than you do. After asking for assistance on the Surly Long Haul Trucker and Cross Check group online, I felt confident that the swap would be well within my abilities. It’s not hard, but it is a bit involved. First, and before buying new handlebars, determine the clamp diameter of your chosen bars. If they’re not the same size as the stem clamp on your bike, you may need a new stem, though some mechanics fit a shim if the ‘bar is narrower than the stem clamp.

The stock handlebar on my LHT had a smaller clamp diameter than the Noodles. That meant that the stem (the “neck” which extends forward to clamp the handlebar) had to be replaced with one which would clamp tightly to the Noodles. So because the original stem fitted my reach perfectly, I bought a new stem with the same length and angle of rise as the original, yet with a different clamp diameter.

Is this sounding like a project? You’re right, and there’s more.

Brake levers have to be removed, too, but only after unwrapping the handlebar tape. And then the biggie was to remove the bar end shifters (“barcons”) from one bar to another. (Read how in “Bar-End Shifters: How to Remove and Install Them.”)

I made a list of the steps, then laid out my tools and new parts and went to work.

Nitto Noodle Handlebars New from Box (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

I unwrapped the bar tape and set it aside, being sure to keep left and right separated so they could be smoothly re-wrapped on the new bars. I removed the bar-end shifters from the bar ends and left them dangling on their cables and out of the way. The brake levers came off next, and then the handlebars were removed from the clamp, which was removed after that.

On went the new stem, then the Noodles were clamped snug but not tightly in the stem’s clamp. I fiddled with the bars by rotating them to get what seemed the right position, then clamped the stem faceplate snugly to prevent handlebar movement. Brake levers go on next, and then the bar-end shifters. Don’t put the bar-end shifters on first like I did originally, or you’ll realize your mistake in a hurry. I re-wrapped the bar tape last.

After two hours and a few wrong turns, the job was done. The old bars could be nested between the brake hoods on the new Noodles, indicating that I’d have plenty of room for my thumbs with the new set-up, but the proof would be in the, er, cycling.

Nitto Noodle Handlebars versus Stock Handlebars (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

A few test rides later, I professed myself happy. As you can see in the pictures below, I had plenty of room for getting a grip.I returned home from each ride without the tingly numbness and pain I’d become accustomed to.

Nitto Noodle Handlebars versus Stock Handlebars (c) Tamia Nelson - Verloren Hoop

THE BOTTOM LINE

If riding your bike causes pain, numbness, or tingling in your hands, arms, or shoulders, maybe swapping handlebars and/or the stem could make riding more enjoyable. Get some advice from experienced cyclists and do some shopping. If you have basic tools, a place to work, and can get the components you need, consider doing the job yourself. DIY bike maintenance is satisfying, it saves you money, and educates you on how your bicycle goes together abd functions. But if you can’t tackle it yourself, ask a friend who is mechanically adept, or take it to a reliable bike shop. However you get the job done, your body will thank you for the improved fit, and you’ll enjoy longer rides again.

This article is an update of one originally published on 8 June 2008.


Further Reading

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Sep 01 2017

The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System: Small Is Beautiful by Tamia Nelson

Quenching your thirst is surprisingly difficult, whether you’re cycling through rural country or trekking in the backcountry. You just can’t assume that wild water is safe to drink. Which explains why clever people have devised many ways to disinfect questionable water. Tamia has weighed her options for how to treat wild water, and the winner is… the Sawyer Mini.

Whether I’m heading out on a long bike ride along back roads with no services, paddling a lonely stream, or bushwhacking into a favorite beauty spot, I have one nagging worry: drinking water.

The Adirondacks, my backyard, is a well-watered place, but trekking is thirsty work, and there’s really no way for me to know if wild water is drinkable. The only valid rule of thumb was articulated many years ago by veteran desert walker Colin Fletcher: “If in doubt, doubt.”

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find a dented tin cup upturned on a stick alongside a stream or spring hole. And I drank my fill at such informal watering spots many times without any qualms. But times change. Nowadays there’s likely to be a 100-unit second-home development just a mile upstream. Or maybe the last person to pass by thought the spring hole was the perfect place to take a bubble bath. Or the trail might be popular with local dog-walkers, all of whom think pooper-scoopers are for city folk.

Which is probably why you don’t see many tin cups by streams these days — and why I’m left with only Fletcher’s Law to guide me: If in doubt, doubt. And then? Treat the water! It’s not as if there aren’t a lot of options. But before deciding on the best method for my trips, I thought I’d better get a clearer idea…

WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST

The answer? Just about anything I cared to name. Pathogenic bacteria. Protozoan parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. The eggs of infectious tapeworms (Echinococcus). Even waterborne viruses. Not to mention chemical contamination — that devil’s cocktail of subtle, insidious poisons that we regard as the inevitable price to be paid for progress and prosperity.

That said, I’m not likely to find all of these in one cup of water. But who wants to play Russian roulette with her health? If in doubt, doubt, and take reasonable precautions against foreseeable risks. The bad news? The risk posed by the chemical contamination of surface waters and aquifers can’t really be assessed or addressed in the field. While the activated carbon filters found in some portable filters may indeed improve the taste of water,…

ACTIVATED CARBON FILTERS DON’T REDUCE THE BURDEN OF TOXIC ORGANIC CHEMICALS

Is this a concern? Yes and no. Though there’s not much heavy industry in the Adirondacks, there are mines, commercial forests, farms, and lawns, all of which are fertile sources of noxious pollutants. (Yes, even lawns. Could any McMansion owner forgo having a vast sweep of lawn, maintained with an arsenal of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers? Certainly not. What would the neighbors think?) There’s also direct contamination of surface waters by runoff from parking lots and highways, not to mention the oil-rich exhausts of the outboards, jet-skis, ATVs, and snowmobiles beloved of many outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen.

The bottom line? The water flowing brightly under the road bridge, gurgling down the trailside stream, or passing under my keel may well be chemically polluted. And there’s nothing I can do about it, except hope that the risk is small. Or drink only bottled water — not really a practical alternative on long trips away from “sivilization.” Having said that,…

SOMETHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT PATHOGENS AND PARASITES

In fact, when it comes to disinfecting water, I have an embarrassment of options. I can boil it. I can dose it with a germicide. I can filter it. I can even zap it with ultraviolet light. That’s almost too much choice, which is why I decided to narrow the field before coming to a decision, weighing the merits and demerits of each method in turn, beginning with …

Boiling.  What could be simpler? Fire up the stove. Bring a pot of water to a good, rolling boil. Then — since I won’t be camping above 14,000 feet — I’m done. But nothing’s really this simple, is it? Boiling water has to cool before you can drink or decant it, and I’d need a big pot (and plenty of fuel) if I were going to boil up enough to see me through a sweaty day. In other words, boiling makes sense if I’m just brewing a pot of tea or making coffee for breakfast, but it’s an awkward and time-consuming way to meet all my drinking water needs.

OK. Boiling’s out, at least for disinfecting water in bulk. But I can always fall back on science, can’t I? What about …

The Pharmaceutical Option?  There’s nothing easier than popping a pill or two in a bottle of water, is there? No, but many devils lurk in the details, nonetheless. To begin with, two old campaigners are off the list. Halazone [4-(dichlorosulfamoyl)benzoic acid], the chlorine-releasing tablets handed out to GIs during World War II and still in widespread use as late as the 1960s, start losing their oomph almost as soon as you open the bottle. And tetraglycine hydroperiodide (the original Potable Aqua), though made of sturdier stuff, with much greater staying power than Halazone, is off-limits for anyone with thyroid disease, a cohort that now includes both me and Farwell. That leaves chlorine dioxide. The upside? Treated water still tastes like water, rather than disinfectant. The downside? Treatment time is four hours. And the tablets aren’t cheap. Moreover, it’s by no means certain that any chemical germicide is effective against the embryonated eggs of hydatid tapeworms, an emerging concern as Adirondack waterways become busier (and doggier) places.

My verdict? The pharmaceutical option was also out. But I thought I might have found my answer in another fruit from the tree of technology:

The Lightsaber.  This is Farwell’s whimsical name for the SteriPEN, a portable ultraviolet (UV) generator that bears a striking resemblance to an electric carving knife. UV radiation doesn’t kill microbial pathogens outright, but it does damage their DNA, limiting their ability to reproduce and thereby preventing them from overwhelming a human host’s defenses. The SteriPEN is an ingenious device, light in weight and easy to use. That said, it isn’t without drawbacks. It’s fragile, for one thing. For another, its efficacy is somewhat impaired in turbid water, and not all Adirondack waterways are crystal clear. But here’s the clincher: I’ve found no evidence that it inactivates the embryonated eggs of the hydatid tapeworm, surely one of the nastier surprises lurking in wild waters. Bad luck, that. Looks like it’s Worms 2, H. saps 0.

And that’s three down, with only one to go:

Filtration.  Portable filters have been around for a long time, and they do a good job holding back pathogenic bacteria, protozoan cysts, and tapeworm eggs. But many that I’ve seen (and used) have struck me as impossibly fussy and rather accident-prone. One of the best, the venerable Katadyn Pocket, is not only breathtakingly pricey, but it also boasts a ceramic filter. The filter is easy to clean, and it lasts a long time in ordinary use, but if you drop it on a rock, you’re back to boiling water. Moreover, like many other portable filters, the Pocket allows pathogenic viruses to slip right through. That said, an MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter has been our go-to solution for bulk water purification for some years now, though we also zap the filtered water with the Lightsaber to hobble any viruses. As the AutoFlow’s name suggests, it has no pump, and that’s a very good thing, indeed. Pumping is always a bit of a nuisance, and the absence of moving parts in drip filters like the AutoFlow eliminates many failure points. Still, the MSR is rather bulky, and packing it up is a little like wrestling an octopus. Ours is also getting a little long in tooth.

Which is why I started looking around for a smaller (and hopefully cheaper) alternative. And I found it on the shelves of the local HyperMart:

THE SAWYER MINI

Sawyer calls it a “water filtration system,” and I won’t argue, but it’s really just a small filter cartridge paired with a sturdy laminated “squeeze pouch” and a short length of rubbery tubing, plus a plastic syringe thrown in to make backwashing easier. And at around 20 (US) bucks a pop, it’s pretty cheap.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

Photo A above shows the Sawyer Mini in its retail garb. Stripped of its packaging, the entire “system” — filter cartridge (B), rubber tubing, rolled squeeze pouch, and a 60-mL syringe (C) — weighs less than four ounces. Simple it may be, but the Mini is nothing if not versatile. You can …

  1. Use the squeeze pouch to force water through the filter into any handy container (Photo D below).
  2. Attach the tubing to the intake end of the filter — do NOT confuse the intake and outflow nipples! — then immerse the end of the tube in a water source and suck away at the outflow till your thirst is quenched (E).
  3. Screw the filter directly onto a plastic seltzer or soda bottle filled with “wild” water and drink from the outflow nipple.
  4. Mount the filter in the line leading from a hydration bladder.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

I mostly stick to Option Number One. And how does the Sawyer Mini work? I’ve no complaints to date. It’s easy to pack and simple to use. But does it do the job? Good question. Sawyer has lab data supporting the filter’s efficacy against bacteria and protozoan cysts, and the filter itself seems reasonably sturdy.

So far, so good, but…

ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES?

There are. If a Mini is exposed to freezing temperatures after its first use, it’s toast. That drawback isn’t unique to the Mini, by the way. All hollow fiber membrane microfilters share this vulnerability. And since you can’t inspect the filter element without sawing through the housing, you’ll have to take its integrity on trust. Or not. Which is why I’d be inclined to season Sawyer’s claim that the filter is good for “up to 100,000 gallons” with a fistful of salt. In fact, one preliminary study reports that samples of a nearly identical Sawyer filter succumbed to irreversible fouling (and possible burst fibers) after two years’ household use, with consequent loss of efficacy. That’s why I intend to replace my Mini every year, without fail. Better safe than you-know-what.

THE BOTTOM LINE?

The Mini ticks all the boxes: It’s small. It’s light. It’s simple. Keep it warm when the thermometer dips to freezing and below, and carry a box of chlorine dioxide tablets to serve as an emergency backup in a hard chance. The Sawyer Mini’s not perfect, but it will do the job I need done. It might be just what you’re looking for, too.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

Product Evaluations Policy  TN Outside never accepts payment for product endorsements, nor do we accept product samples from manufacturers or their representatives. We write about the food we buy on our weekly rounds, and about the gear and books we’ve purchased, rented, or borrowed (from friends, family, or the public library) over the years. That said, on rare occasions we’ll write a product analysis of something we don’t own and have never used, based solely on the manufacturer’s claims, published specifications, or others’ experiences. But when we do that, we’ll tell you.

This article is an updated and modified version of one that appeared originally at Paddling.net on 12 May 2015.

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Aug 11 2017

A Kickstand Support Keeps Your Bike Upstanding and It’s Absolutely Free! by Tamia Nelson

Road shoulders aren’t always wide and paved. More often than not, the verge is adrift with sand, loose gravel, or unconsolidated soil. This doesn’t bode well for cyclists who use a kickstand to keep their bike upright when they pull off the travel lane to get off the bike. Why? Because you may walk away from your parked bike only to hear it topple over before you’re more than a few steps away. Luckily, there’s an easy way to prevent the slow subsidence that sometimes topples our bikes: the kickstand support. Tamia tells you how.

Are you tired of having your bike’s kickstand sink into sand or slide sideways in gravel? Here’s an easy solution to this common problem, one that weighs very little and costs absolutely nothing — a stout metal jar lid. Almost any lid will do, though a wide lid works better than a narrow one.

The principle is simple. The lid spreads out the load, providing a stable base of support for the kickstand leg and reducing the likelihood that it will punch down into soft sand or slip on loose gravel. Just put the lid on the ground with the threaded flange uppermost. Then maneuver the kickstand’s leg into place. That’s it. Mission accomplished.

My kickstand support is a lid from an empty jar of salsa, if you’re interested, but just about any metal jar lid will do. It’s a good idea to check that the lid doesn’t shift when you release your grip on the bike — and that the kickstand leg doesn’t skate across the metal surface. Sometimes you have to move the lid a bit to find a more stable lie. But that’s about all. Once your bike is standing pretty, you can walk away, confident that it will remain upright.

Outstanding!

After many months of use, however, your support may begin to show its age. When it starts to look like it’s been hit with birdshot, it’s probably time to consign it to the recycling bin and get a new lid. But you’ve really no cause for complaint. The price is right.

Will this work with a two-legged kickstand like the Pletscher? I haven’t tried it, but I can’t think of why it wouldn’t. You’ll need two lids, though —and it will probably be a bit fussier to get the legs where they have to go. Anyway, even if you need two supports, they shouldn’t weigh your down, and it’s not hard to keep it stowed but handy. I slip my lid into the map slot of my handlebar bag:

It's Not Heavy

But if you don’t use a bar bag your can probably find room in the seat pack that holds your spare tube and tools. (You do carry a tube and tools, don’t you?) Or just tuck your lid into your jersey or jacket pocket.

However you decide to haul your support around, you can now leave your bike on its kickstand without a qualm, knowing that you’ll find it upright and undamaged on your return. That’s a happy state of affairs, isn’t it?

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