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Stupid and dangerous, or just stupid?

Old 12-16-18, 07:48 PM
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Stupid and dangerous, or just stupid?

I'm going on a bike tour late this winter. The plan is to take Amtrak from Montpelier to Savannah, Georgia and ride more or less straight west to the Mississippi River somewhere around Vicksburg, then double back south and east to Slidell, Louisiana, and take another train back north. I hate boxing bikes for air travel, and I hate paying the $150 oversize baggage fee even more. On the other hand, Amtrak allows you to take a folding bike as carry-on baggage for free. It's a slower way to travel, but it's not like my time is worth anything. When packed up, my rinko bike is significantly smaller than the stated maximum folding-bike size of 15x34x48 inches.

Admittedly, the folding-bike policy is rich in ambiguity. Here's what it says in part:

"Only true folding bicycles (bicycles specifically designed to fold up into a compact assembly) are acceptable. Generally, these bikes have frame latches allowing the frame to be collapsed, and small wheels. Regular bikes of any size, with or without wheels, are not considered folding bikes and may not be stored as folding bikes aboard trains."

Does that include rinko'd bikes or not? They don't have small wheels or latches, but the policy doesn't say that those are actually required. Maybe rinko bikes are the exception that prove the rule. I'm going to try to get some clarification on that before I go, but my guess is that if the bike meets the size requirement and is neatly packed up no one is likely to make an issue of the absence of (non-required) latches.

The bike isn't really packed for rinko in the photo below, but that's how the wheels, frame, and fork stack up:


Oh, and was stretching a point when I said my bike meets the size limit. In fact, it's comfortably under the 30 inch and 15 inch dimensions, but it's about half an inch over the 48 inch dimension, thanks to the absurdly long head tube and 13-inch-long steerer (the bike is a decidedly non-C&V Long Haul Trucker 26, but it does have a Brooks saddle and Suntour downtube shifters). You can see the problem below:

Not really packed for rinko, but here's how the frame, wheels, and fork sit together when it is.

But I have a radical--and possibly foolhardy--solution in mind: the plan is to cut the steerer with a tubing cutter about six inches above the base of the fork crown, then face the cut ends so they're smooth and perfectly parallel. The upper part of the steerer with the adjustable cup, lockring, etc. can then be packed with the pedals when the bike is packed up. When the bike is reassembled, the upper part of the steerer is reattached by means of double-ended expansion fitting I made from a section of 25.4 seatpost, an M8 socket-head bolt, and two stem wedges:


The bolt threads into the wedge at left. The threading in the wedge at right has been drilled out so the bolt is a slip fit. The unit is 5" long.

I ran a brake-cylinder hone through the steerer and took off a couple of thousandths so the insert is a nice smooth fit, about like a properly-fitted seatpost. You can see that there's a little tension pin protruding from the side of the insert. That will fit into a little notch in lower section of the steerer wall, and accomplishes two things: it keeps the insert centered, with half of its length below the joint and half above, and it restrains the insert from any tendency to rotate as the expander bolt is tightened or loosened. I used a sharpie to mark the cut line and the notch for the pin in the photo below:


The marking for the notch is a little longer than it really needs to be--it only has to extend a tad higher that the 1/8" diameter of the pin .The base of the insert is over an inch uphill of the butted section at the base of the steerer--no problem there. The top is about 4 1/2 inches below the top of the steerer. It's easy to tighten the insert with a long M6 allen wrench, and there's plenty of room above for the quill portion of the stem.

Does this seem nuts to anyone? It sort of did to me when I started thinking about it, but as I thought it over I couldn't come up with a good reason why it wouldn't be safe and functional. I tried to think of all the possible failure modes.

Can the insert break as a result of bending force? I don't think so. The actual bending force a steerer is subjected to has got to be slight--certainly it's a small fraction force applied to a seatpost where it emerges from a frame's seat tube.

Could the insert be broken by twisting force, like the head of an overtightened bolt? No. There's almost no twisting force applied to a steerer in normal use, right? Just enough to overcome the friction in the headset bearings? Admittedly, there's more force in a crash or a fall, when the front wheel somehow remains stationary and the handlebars are shoved over hard, but in that case the stem quill--and in this case the wedge insert--can relieve the strain by slipping a little. That's a good thing, not a bad thing.

Could the joint in the steerer be yanked apart by some massive and unexpected force that pulled the front wheel down and the stem upward? I don't think so. Has anyone ever heard of a properly--tightened quill stem getting yanked out like a loose tooth? I haven't.

Could compressive forces cause the butted ends of the upper and lower steerer to hammer together, and maybe get peened over like the end of a cold chisel where it's impacted by a hammer? I doubt it. The actual compressive force on a steerer must be slight--all the force gets absorbed by the fork-crown race, bearings, fixed cup, and head tube.

What coul go wrong, it seems to me, is that the insert could be insufficiently tightened, or tightened too much. The same, of course, is true of quill stems, and yet most of us have learned to avoid disaster by doing it correctly. The same caution would apply here.

Two issues that do concern me a little:

First, because the fixing bolt is applying force to two wedges, rather than just one (as on a conventional quill stem, or one of those crazy expansion seatposts that Peugeot made for at one time), there's twice as much tension on the bolt as there would if a single wedge were involved, even though the force on each individual wedge is about what you'd find on a quill stem. But that's still not much force--certainly nowhere near the safe working limited of a hardened M8 bolt.

Second, the steerer tube itself is being asked to handle the outward force generated by three wedges--one at the quill stem and one at each end of the insert--rather than the usual one. But again, that's not all that much force, and the individual wedges are spaced several inches apart. The insert wedges will also be oriented at 180 degrees to the stem wedge. To me, it seems unlikely that this could overstress the steerer tubing.

And yet...and yet...I'm still a little uneasy, as evidenced by the fact that I haven't yet cut the steerer. Part of my brain keeps saying, "Hey, c'mon, you can't just cut your steerer in half and kludge it back together with something you've knocked together from a piece of seatpost! What kind of idiot are you, anyway?" That part of my brain has no confidence in the problem-solving part of my brain.And in truth (I point this out myself so others won't have to), this is sort of a solution in search of a problem. I could probably sneak the bike onto Amtrak just as it is. But just like the idea of making it as small as possible.

So back to the title of this overly-long post: Is this stupid and dangerous? Or just stupid? Are there possible failure modes that I'm overlooking? Am I misunderstanding the possible failure modes that I have considered? I really should have gone to engineering school..
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Last edited by Homebrew01; 12-17-18 at 08:54 AM.
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Old 12-16-18, 08:04 PM
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Could you not just flip the fork around so the steer tube is toward the rear dropouts? It looks like the steer tube would be just about the length of the rear derailleur from the picture. Maybe I'm missing something but I always try to find the easiest solution. I would definitely not do what you are thinking about doing though.
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Old 12-16-18, 08:05 PM
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Man, that's one huge paragraph.

Sounds like a cool trip, though.
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Old 12-16-18, 08:15 PM
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Clever but foolhardy and yes, dangerous. Steer tubes are under a lot of stress. Watch your front hub move back and forth on a bumpy road sometime. The fork constantly wiggles and flexes, and it transmits its load to the diamond frame through the steer tube, and the frame also flexes and distorts. It takes a lot of force to do that, and it all goes through the steer tube.

I think the solution is n+1. You need a folding touring bike. Preferably Moulton, but Bike Friday's are kind of cool. IME it's not worth the effort to go against bureaucracy. Logic doesn't matter. If the rules say folding bike, The Amtrak employees are going to insist it's got to be folding bike. Not rinky dinko or whatever crazy thing you're telling them that they don't understand. OTOH if the rinko is in a case, isn't it just luggage? What's the problem with that?

Or you could write to your congressman and try to make a case that Amtrak needs to get with the rinko program.
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Old 12-16-18, 08:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Salamandrine View Post
Clever but foolhardy and yes, dangerous. Steer tubes are under a lot of stress. Watch your front hub move back and forth on a bumpy road sometime. The fork constantly wiggles and flexes, and it transmits its load to the diamond frame through the steer tube, and the frame also flexes and distorts. It takes a lot of force to do that, and it all goes through the steer tube.

I think the solution is n+1. You need a folding touring bike. Preferably Moulton, but Bike Friday's are kind of cool. IME it's not worth the effort to go against bureaucracy. Logic doesn't matter. If the rules say folding bike, The Amtrak employees are going to insist it's got to be folding bike. Not rinky dinko or whatever crazy thing you're telling them that they don't understand. OTOH if the rinko is in a case, isn't it just luggage? What's the problem with that?

Or you could write to your congressman and try to make a case that Amtrak needs to get with the rinko program.
Point taken, but can not the steerer tube continue to flex as needed by transmitting force through the insert? In any case, I suspect most of the flex you see when you look at the hub comes from the fork legs bending, not the steerer.

But you're probably right about the whole thing being a bad idea on general principles.
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Old 12-16-18, 08:47 PM
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I'm confused. You can take a full size bike up to 50# on many Amtrak routes for less than $20. You have to check it in, not carry on, but I've not heard of anyone having issues with them.
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Old 12-16-18, 08:58 PM
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As a born-lazy person, wouldn't taking the tire out of the fork and stowing the fork inside the triangle of the frame save as much space? Or like... more?
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Old 12-16-18, 09:01 PM
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Merged threads.

Next time please use the report button that is on the lower left of every post.
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Old 12-16-18, 09:11 PM
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Originally Posted by cb400bill View Post
Merged threads.

Next time please use the report button that is on the lower left of every post.
My bad! Live and learn...
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Old 12-16-18, 09:26 PM
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Many times it comes down to the luck of the draw. I have no experience with Amtrak but TSA employees can get weird. Many of them are not the crispest chips in the bag and can't think out of the box.

When I was traveling around the country doing Mfg. consulting I frequently had samples, specimens or special tooling that I needed to carry on the flight myself because I couldn't chance them getting lost or damaged in luggage. More than once I was yanked out of line, missed my flight and had to pay for the items to be air freighted on the same plane that I was going to be flying on.

Once I had to repack a frame I was shipping 3 times because the FedEx counter person was being a $##&%$&%! By his measurements it kept coming up oversize by less than an inch. I finally took it to the Post Office - no problem.

So, it comes down to "do you feel lucky"?

Looking into a bike case is a good idea.

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Old 12-16-18, 09:54 PM
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Sounds like an awesome trip!

To me, there has to be a better way other than chopping your steerer tube. Although the splice you created appears well thought out and executed, I would hesitate to rely on it at speed over unknown terrain. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me...but then again I don’t have a desire to go sky diving either.
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Old 12-16-18, 10:19 PM
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Maybe the simplest solution is to box your bike up in a regular bike box (which should not need a lot of disassembly/reassembly) and ship it using bikeflights to a bike shop or hotel in Savannah. Take the train to Savannah and a cab to the bike shop or hotel. Put it together and ride away.

Before you leave home, contact a bike shop in Slidell, and ask them to set aside a box with packing materials for you to use.

When you get to Slidell, go to the bike shop, pack up your bike and use a bikeflights label to get it back home. Hop on the train and don't worry about the bike. it will be home a day or two after you get there.

You'd be spending $60 (??, not sure) each way for bike shipping which is considerably less than amtrack might charge you.
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Old 12-16-18, 10:39 PM
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Yep, ship the thing via bikeflights unless checking it as extra baggage on the train is cheaper.

Before you ship, make a hotel reservation for your arrival day and call them to let them know you have a large package that may arrive before you. If they have a problem with that, they suck; find a different hotel.
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Old 12-16-18, 10:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Ex Pres View Post
I'm confused. You can take a full size bike up to 50# on many Amtrak routes for less than $20. You have to check it in, not carry on, but I've not heard of anyone having issues with them.
...this ^^^. sometimes you have to pull the pedals and turn the bar, but other than that, it's pretty painless. Both those operations are easily accomplished by carrying a couple of tools. What would be really great would be if they had the same rules and policies for every route, but apparently standardizing their bicycle policies is beyond the abilities of Amtrack. So you kinda have to take what you can get and hope nobody running your particular train throws you a curve.
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Old 12-16-18, 10:55 PM
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Originally Posted by speedevil View Post
Maybe the simplest solution is to box your bike up in a regular bike box (which should not need a lot of disassembly/reassembly) and ship it using bikeflights to a bike shop or hotel in Savannah. Take the train to Savannah and a cab to the bike shop or hotel. Put it together and ride away.

Before you leave home, contact a bike shop in Slidell, and ask them to set aside a box with packing materials for you to use.

When you get to Slidell, go to the bike shop, pack up your bike and use a bikeflights label to get it back home. Hop on the train and don't worry about the bike. it will be home a day or two after you get there.

You'd be spending $60 (??, not sure) each way for bike shipping which is considerably less than amtrack might charge you.
Amtrak is $20 (or less)
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Old 12-16-18, 11:41 PM
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I would simply disassemble the bike. Remove bars, fork, wheels, pedals, bundle up neatly, wrap with something presentable-looking and carry on board.
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Old 12-17-18, 12:34 AM
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For French Fender Day this year I shipped my "rinko'ed" bike in a case to a shop near @rhm's place in Mastic Beach, Long Island. Cost less than $50. After quickly assembling the bike, I shipped the bike case to @nlerner's nearest FedEx Print and Ship office, which I knew to be walking distance from his house. The end of my trip was Neal's house in Boston, we walked over and got the box, packed my bike, rolled it back to the Fedex place, and shipped it back. I can highly recommend the Trico Iron Case. You can usually find them on Craigslist for under $150 used. It's a great investment, even if you only use it once you can resell it.



Ship it to a FedEx office near the train station. I just mapped it, there's one 11 minutes by taxi/Uber/Lyft away from the Savannah Amtrak station. They'll hold it up to 5 days. You might get a BF member to facilitiate for you. Heck, if you were starting your trip in Portland, you could send it to me, and I'd be happy to pick you up at the train station and reunite you with your bike!

If Amtrak doesn't work out for you, this is a good option.
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Old 12-17-18, 04:56 AM
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I don't think cutting the steerer will be that dangerous, but nor do I think it solves anything.

To those who are suggesting taking the bike on Amtrak as a bike the rules are strict and stupid. You can take the bike only on trains with a baggage car (not every train does) and it has to be loaded by Amtrak station personnel, so it has to be a station with baggage handling services. That's a pretty select group of stations, and they don't publish a list of them. To find them you have to look up each station and see what services it offers.

I, for example, would have to get my bike to New York or Philadelphia; my local station is Trenton but they don't have a baggage office there.

There is one train daily, the Vermonter I think, that allows bikes in certain cars. I can get on this train in Trenton and go wherever it goes, which is Washington DC to Vermont.

Rinko would allow me to use the Trenton station and transfer to any line and get off anywhere, but it is clearly against the rules as written. Bottom line, iI just don''t believe Amtrak, with or without Rinko, is the solution. Perhaps if you put a decal on the frame that said "folding bike" you could fool someone, though.

In 2019 I hope to explore the possibilities of Rinko and buses. Buses will usually take a complete bike, even a touring bike with all the panniers etc still attached, I'm not sure whether Rinko will make this better, but I mean to find out.

In August 2017 I did a successful 3 day tour based out of Greenville SC, using a Chinatown bus. It worked out well, but I had to go to NYC to get the bus. Since I work there, that wasn't too terrible. And it was really cheap
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Old 12-17-18, 05:23 AM
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seems to me that taking the fork out makes it a folding bike. It's definitely a hinge. And in the OP's case, I would disassemble the fork from the wheel. If I was rinkoing such a large bike, I would make a fender easily removable from the fork.
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Old 12-17-18, 05:46 AM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
In August 2017 I did a successful 3 day tour based out of Greenville SC, using a Chinatown bus. It worked out well, but I had to go to NYC to get the bus. Since I work there, that wasn't too terrible. And it was really cheap
Sounds like a trip to 'eclipse' all others. Did it all go well or did you have some DARK moments? Were you happy or did you moon around a bit? Any corona for refreshment? Did anyone take umbrage with your choices?

OK, back to trains and bikes..............
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Old 12-17-18, 06:21 AM
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Just to add two cents worth of experience on the specific Amtrak Train, the Vermonter, which @jonwvara will take from Montpellier, VT to NYC or Washington, DC, before changing trains to Savanah.

There is no baggage car nor is there any employee to handle baggage. Basically, luggage handling is self service and stows in the corner of each car. Space to store your luggage is first come first served, which is probably not an issue for where Jon boards the train (it originates almost in Canada north of Burlington and heads south). I've taken the same train several times to NYC and I board about 3 stops south of Jon's intended departure.

Once I took my folding Dahon bikes (one for me and one for Mrs. PB), in two large suit cases. While they took up a significant portion of the luggage area, they fit and no Amtrak employee questioned what was inside. The cases are the largest size permitted by Southwest airlines and each was just under the 50lb maximum. On that trip we first visited friends in northern NJ and then caught a flight from Newark to south FL where we rode the Dahons for a week before flying back home to NH.

All this is to say, that if Jon can remove the wheels from the bike, and carefully pack it into a large regulation sized suitcase, he can board the train in Montpellier and assemble the bike in Savanah. The wild card is that you will need to find a used suitcase at Goodwill, Salvation Army, or a thrift store, for a few $ in VT and do the same again at your final destination in Louisiana. I'd be glad to loan Jon one of my large suitcases, but since he is not riding a circuit back to the original departure, that won't work nor be practical.
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Old 12-17-18, 07:56 AM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
Rinko would allow me to use the Trenton station and transfer to any line and get off anywhere, but it is clearly against the rules as written. Bottom line, iI just don''t believe Amtrak, with or without Rinko, is the solution. Perhaps if you put a decal on the frame that said "folding bike" you could fool someone, though.
I was actually thinking about devising a big cloth bag to enclose the bike (and light enough to carry on the tour) with big stenciled letters on the outside reading FOLDING BIKE. C'mon, it's a bike, it folds down to the Amtrak-acceptable size. "Of course it's a 'true folding bike,' Mr. Conductor--look, the carrying case even says 'folding bike.'" Maybe the stenciling should actually say "TRUE FOLDING BIKE." That oughta convince them.

You also grasped my main reason for wanting the ability to carry the bike onto a train, which is that I really want to avoid being tied to a bulky case and a specific itinerary. This tour is a minimally-planned three-week ramble--no specific itinerary or route. Maybe I'll decide to head north to Memphis rather than south to Slidell, or will have such sustained tailwinds that I keep on west all the way to Houston. That's going to be problematic if my bike case is in Slidell.
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Old 12-17-18, 09:58 AM
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@jonwvara, I believe your bag will work on the Vermonter with no issues whatsoever! Great plan! Add backpack shoulder straps and call it a pack! Just to be on the safe side, add a folding spare tire and tube, which when quickly produced, shows that at least some parts of the bike can actually fold!
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Old 12-17-18, 10:22 AM
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https://www.adventurecycling.org/rou...ue&amtrak=true

I also am in the planning stages of a bike/train/bike trip, in May. I have adjusted my route, ever so slightly, to take advantage of the option to simply wheel my bike on board, or hand it to a baggage handler. Check it out.
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Old 12-17-18, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by 3alarmer View Post
...this ^^^. sometimes you have to pull the pedals and turn the bar, but other than that, it's pretty painless. Both those operations are easily accomplished by carrying a couple of tools. What would be really great would be if they had the same rules and policies for every route, but apparently standardizing their bicycle policies is beyond the abilities of Amtrack. So you kinda have to take what you can get and hope nobody running your particular train throws you a curve.
It has to do with the level of the train vs the level of the platform, so I read. They are adding more stations where they can. I am a BIG fan of Amtrak, being that when I am in the US,my options are either the bus or the train. The bus is the real joke
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one general tip for when the exact hub cone is not readily available. discovered that the curvature of the bearing surface on the shimano 600 was a pretty good "skeleton key" for many applications. it would sometimes require a small change in ball size to make everything come out correctly.
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