Dusting off, tightening, oiling, riding

When Lucy’s mum decided, quite rightly, that the lean-to needed sorting out she attacked the job with gusto, pulling everything out, and sorting through the accumulated junk with a mind to a lot of it heading for the recycling centre. However, her eye was taken by the old red Richmond ladies bike I had picked up from an elderly neighbour for a tenner. This was a fine, if old, sit-up-and-beg roadster in good condition apart from a little rust on the back mudguard and rack, and a manky bell.

I said I’d clean it up if she wanted to give it a go. I dug out the size 14-16 spanners and set about tightening things up. The chain was foul, it looked like the dreaded 3in1 machine oil had been used to coat the links, which had then attracted every particle of soil and dust available until a greasy sludge hid the rivets. It took a good thirty minutes to get it down to bare metal. The chain itself was in pretty good condition, so a bit of dry lube later the links were purring over the sturmey archer 3 speed’s cog as I took a test ride to the garage. The brakes were not superb, neither were the tyres, but the creaking coming from the saddle was not unpleasant to listen to, although the saddle itself was nasty, plastic and unyielding.

I rode it back up the hill to the house, just in time to hand it over to Lucy’s mother who had come back to give it a go. It now lives at her house, which is immensely pleasing, otherwise the bike may have just turned into yet another of those bike refurb projects that I start but never finish.

bike and chainNext I turned my attention to my youngest son’s bike. This bicycle was the one our eldest learned to ride on, but now he has his BMX. Our youngest taught himself how to ride in an afternoon, with a little help from his grandfather. The bike itself has been a little neglected, and in true first bike style had been left out in all weathers. But it’s very robust, so with more tightening, pulling the wheel back to tighten the chain, and some oil (this time on a pretty rusty chain) it was hammering round the park and the grandparent’s drive again with all the grace of a bespoke racer. Sort of.

Both my full-size bikes need some attention – a snapped spoke on the Lemond and a slight buckle on the MTB. The Brompton is still working though, and I’ve been using it on the occasional commute to Frome.When I find the time, I’ll get those repaired. The Nocturnal riding season is upon us!

Published in: on June 6, 2010 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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John’s Bicycle Maintenance Clinic

My good friend John Hayes, who long term readers will remember is my summer cycling buddy and who works for Moulton Cycles, came along to one of our Explorer Scouts meetings in order to give a talk on ‘looking after your bike’.

He turned up with a toolbox and stand, looking lean and keen, and I provided tubes, lubes and cleaners. First the Explorers gathered round while John took everyone through cleaning the bike, lubing and simple maintenance. He talked about the basic mistakes that people make, damp in the cables, dirty chains and soft tyres. Then he moved onto how to get some longevity out of your bicycle, mainly through the use of GT85 to chase out water and give a teflon coating. Mike’s chain was pretty filthy, so it was a good opportunity to use it as an example of how to clean and maintain a chain.

All the Explorers had brought along their bikes, and soon we had them all upside-down and John was getting everyone to check over their bikes, clean out the water and muck and relube.

The chain is clean, now the dry lube goes on

The chain is clean, now the dry lube goes on

John then got out his spanners and went round adjusting brakes (including mine, the back blocks had been worn right down in a month by the grit from the muddy roads), sorting out gears and recommending which bikes needed attention from a bike shop (including one that needs a complete wheel rebuild – but that was a 1980s Peugeot). He also shortened Howard’s bike’s chain by two links and sorted out his gear problems.

John sorts a rear mech

John sorts a rear mech

By the end of the night the Explorers departed with bikes in a much better condition than when they arrived, and hopefully John’s talk has inspired them into looking after the bikes a bit better. It was good to see teenagers who had no real bike knowledge gaining confidence as they found their way around the components. Even the simple act of inflating the tyres to the correct psi (45 for knobblies, 85-100 for slicks) gave an instant and marked improvement to every bike. They took them for an excited spin round the car park at ten, and I think all of them were delighted, the thanks they gave John was certainly ethusive and genuine. From Mike’s and my point of view, we certainly felt a lot more confident about the forthcoming cycle trip to Belgium and France, knowing John had given the bikes a good look over.

Afterwards Mike and I took John to the pub for a couple of pints. We left at 23:30 and, as Mike and I both had our steeds and full kit, we briefly considered a quick night ride, luckily the cold wind instantly disuaded us from this excellent, but ultimately foolish idea.

A great evening, cheers John.

Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 12:15 am  Comments (2)  
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Riding into Spring

Spring can be a messy time of year

Spring can be a messy time of year

I had a ride planned with local smallholder, home-brewer, engineer and cyclist Mike, however as the hours ticked down the evening before I suddenly realised that my Lemond Etape was locked in the shed at my in-laws, and they were away. As the ride was scheduled to begin at 0745 on Sunday morning, this meant I would be trying to pull my mountainbike out from under the accumulated junk in our storage shed at 0700. Before going to bed I looked at the weather forecast, absolutely filthy. Rain, wind, cold and more rain. Nothing was going to stop me from getting in the first ride of Spring, (not even a sore knee) so I sorted out my waterproofs before calling it an evening, leaving a choice of cape or light rainjacket on the chair along with my cycling plus-fours and merino wool top.

On waking I was amazed to see sunlight streaming in through the window. Stepping outside to retrieve the mtb provided further amazement as the sky was colouring up a lovely shade of blue with not a cloud in sight. I began the task of attempting to find my mtb in the storage shed, this turned out to be a bit of an archeological dig as I uncovered a veritable strata of garden tools, cardboard, ladders, planks of wood and children’s toys, beneath which lay my mountain bike. In common with an archeological artifact it was still caked in the mud from the time of its burial. As my road helmet was locked up with my road bike, I was relieved to see my trusty old mtb helmet amongst the associated grave-goods. Once the tyres were pumped up, the mud scraped off and the chain cleaned and re-oiled, the bike looked half decent.

I saddled up and rode down to Mike’s farm, passing the tall grove of bamboo by the driveway which was now beginning to sway and rustle gently in the light breeze, the morning calm was immediately shattered by Mike’s dog running out and barking in greeting. Mike just had to feed the chickens and chuck some oil over the chain of his Dawes Supergalaxy and we were away.

I took us past the redwoods at the manor development and towards Woolverton. There we crossed the A36 and headed into the empty back lanes. Speckling the hedgerows were tiny buds, a promise of Spring that presented a subtle, barely perceived green fuzz as we rode gently along the meandering lanes. It was still stark enough that a chaffinch flittering amongst the scrub created a riotous blaze of colour that stood out like a flashing beacon amidst the branches. The landscape pulled us into steep hollows, giving us enough momentum to be catapulted effortlessly up the hills, until gradually we were pitched up to a point were the view in all directions seemed endless. Far in the distance there was nothing but whitish haze where the horizon should have been, it might as well have delineated the edge of the world. We turned the bikes toward the sun, and hit the high gears. Chains thrummed, driving us along a rare stretch of straight and level road. The lane switched suddenly right, and the ground to our left fell away. Now we were riding on the highest ridge of a lopsided valley with the breeze behind us and the countryside laid out below in patchwork to one side. Gathering speed, we pedalled in bursts as the road surface became sketchy. Water had eaten away at the edges and dumped gravel everywhere. Mike’s bike skittered about a little, but my shirehorse of an mtb ploughed through it all with ease. The velociraptor tyres spat mud, water and stones in all directions including up my back as we turned right again and sped into Faulkland and past the derelict Faulkland inn, one of many pubs to have shut down recently in the county. Our tyres barely touched the main road before we were off into the lanes again. Now the road began to undulate heavily, before flinging us down in to the valley. With the confidence that a heavy bike and fat tyres can give I let the brakes off and hurtled down the hill, it was about the only time that I was in front of Mike for the whole ride. At the bottom I waited where the stream had torn the tarmac into shreds, gouging a channel of water into the road.

A stream across the road

Mike rode up and carefully picked his way over the ruined road surface and impromptu stream. Away from the flood damage the road pitched briefly upwards before throwing us down again, but this time I took us right before the bottom of the hill, pulling the bike into a skid to make the turning. The lanes became narrower as we passsed Stoney Littleton long barrow, climbing up Littleton Lane which suddenly deposited us into the top of Wellow. We found ourselves entering the village in the slipstream behind a huge, red front-loader, its engine gunning noisily as it took the gradient. We peeled off from it’s fumes and hot engine air and dropped down into the valley again, this time down to the Wellow ford. Mercifully it was not flooded this time. Unmercifully we now had to climb Baggridge Hill, a long, long slope, much given to drifting about and becoming narrow here and there where the fancy takes it. Mike was way, way off the front and I was puffing away in the granny gear. It probably would have been quicker to walk it, but with such low gearing there’s no excuse to put a foot down or dismount in shame. I wheezed my way to the top where Mike was just pouring out a couple of cups of coffee from a flask he had secreted in his single pannier.

We stood there for a while and talked about that elation a cyclist feels when, towards the end of climbing a long and infernally steep hill, the cranks spin faster and the gears start to move up again. That feeling of having made it, of getting up the hill, the light at the end of the tunnel.

We were off again, turning into the wind. Wind? Yes, the horizon had cleared and was being troubled by clouds, the breeze was becoming insistent. It mattered not to us, for above us was deep, calm blue and ahead of us, flat road, for the next two miles at least. We crossed the A366 at Tucker’s Grave Inn. The site of the interment of a suicide from 1747, one Edward or Edwin Tucker. As usual with folklore the facts are not easy to come by. If indeed there is a grave here though, it is safe to say that Tucker died in some abnormal way, as crossroads burial was certainly not the norm, and was said to be a way of pinning down or confusing the doomed soul that could not find rest in heaven.

With the clock counting down, we left morbidity behind trapped at the crossroads and shot towards Lullington, the next node on our ride. There was hardly any mishap en route, save the boulder in the road we both managed to miss, and my failure not to throw the chain, though that’s what happens when you try to get from the big ring to the little one without touching the middle one. We skimmed the A36, frantically spinning the cranks to get off the main road and away from the hurtling cars. Then back into the village, where Mike paused briefly to engage in the well-known Somerset practice of gate-leaning and striking a deal with a farmer.

Striking a deal with the farmer.

Striking a deal with a farmer.

Clouds had gathered and the wind was starting to rage as I arrived back at the house. By the time I had finished having a shower the rain was hammering down. The last gasp of winter, but Spring cannot be stopped now, here’s to warmer weather and more rides.

Dead Chain

Dead Chain, spotted in the kerbside ice crusted leaves, Guilder Lane, Salisbury

Dead Chain, spotted in the kerbside ice crusted leaves, Guilder Lane, Salisbury

Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Little Bike


The Little Bike that the village children
learn to ride on

Recently we were given a special little bike by one of the families in the village. This little bike has been passed round several children who have all learned to ride on it. There are at least four that I know of, but I think the bike has been in the village for quite a while, so it could be many more kids that have gone through the whole rite of passage on this bike. Now it is the turn of our youngest boy. However, the bike itself was looking a little worse for wear. So the first thing I did was cut off the manky foam grips (or at leasst what remained of them) and replace them. Then I sorted out a new brake block and adjusted the brakes so a child could easily work them, brake handle reach was pulled in and the biting time shortened by tightening the cable. The chain wass a mess, I’m not sure when it last saw oil, so a good soak in WD40 was followed by an oily rag wipedown and re-oiling with lube on every link. The chain guard is missing its cover and the remaining part is split so I will either have to fashion a replacement or strip the whole thing off. The bike is now ridable again.

I love the idea that so many children have learned to ride on this little bike, nowadays it seems that everything has to be bought new and disposed of once it’s finished with. Passing a bike round is a tremendous community activity, no one actually owns that bike any longer. It reminds me of an article in the American magazine Bicycling that I read last year, though the bike featured in that article was a little more stylish. We will do our best to look after the bike and pass it on once our youngest has finished with it, it would be lovely if the bike keeps helping children for years to come. I think with a little TLC it should do.

Wash, lube, ride

I took the opportunity on Sunday to make use of the stable weather and get my Lemond Etape cleaned up a little. I don’t think I’d washed it down since the end of the summer, chain-oil was smeared over the top and down tubes, and dried mud was splattered everywhere. It didn’t take long to give it a scrub down while at the In-laws house, the kids were delighted to see me take the wheels off to clean them. I spent a lot of time on the chain with some WD40 and various rags, gently removing the grime before drying it out and re-lubing. Within an hour I was cycling around on a gleaming bike. I took it out of the village and back along the main road, getting up to 24mph before putting it to bed in the workshop.

Me on my Lemond Etape

Published in: on March 3, 2008 at 1:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bikewash and Beer-run

It was incredibly hot here today. The boys played in next door’s paddling pool while the wife went shopping, she asked if I wanted anything and off the top of my head I thought of 25cl bottles of French Lager. While she was out and the boys were occupied next door, I wheeled the LeMond Etape out and gave it a much needed wash. Warm water, washing up liquid, a rinse down, a polish, pulling the chain through a rag until all dirt and oil had gone. Nothing but bare metal drying in the sun. If I had tried to ride it at that point, with no lubrication the drivetrain would have started to rip itself apart. Metal on metal, imperceptibly grinding until the gears slipped. So when the bike was fully dry I applied the unguents, dry lube for summer, sprayed on and allowed to cure into its waxy sheen. I do love the feel of dry lube on a clean chain.

I read recently that you shouldn’t use a chain cleaning device and solvent on a chain because it breaks down the lube built into the links. That may explain how I got through so many chains on my older bikes, I was a bit fanatical about applying the old solvent in my Halfords chain cleaner. Little did I know I was shortening the life of my chains, the crankset and the gears. So now I just apply a bit of washing up liquid in water, run the chain through a clean rag until the rag is black and the chain is golden. Then I dry it off and apply the dry lube link by link.

They didn’t have any 25cl bottles at Sainsbury’s and the weird thing is that although it was a throwaway request, suddenly I really wanted those little bottles. Only the Brompton had the capacity to carry the bottles so it was onto the folder and down the A361. Damn it was hot! I had changed into a freebie Amateur Athletics Association vest I was given when I worked for a bookshop, and a floppy hat, but it really was baking. There was a lot of slow moving, very hot, very dusty traffic all round Trowbridge, luckily there were also a lot of cycle lanes around Tesco and it was easy getting in there. Here’s another advantage to owning a Brompton, you don’t need a bike lock when you go shopping.

Brompton and bag in the trolley.

A quick pasta hit, back on the Brompton, easily carrying beer, dressing, shower gel and some Tesco value bicycle clips to stop my enormous trousers flapping into the drivetrain.