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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Will you go to Flanders: Day one

It was an insanely early start on the morning of the 4th April. I strode down to the farm where the Scout minibus was parked up, laden with the bikes we had tied on the night before. The sun had not yet crept over the horizon, and we were due to set off for Dover at 05:45. We were Explorer scouts and our mission was to place a poppy wreath at Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium to honour the memory of a soldier born in our village who is not on our village war memorial. He was missing in action at one of the Ypres battles and his body never identified, consequently his name is carved into the Menin Gate along with the names of the 54,895 other commonwealth soldiers who died at Ypres and have no identifiable individual grave.

With the last of the three Explorer Scouts who were coming aboard the bus and myself, Mike and Howard in the front seats we headed for Dover. We unloaded the bikes at the ferry terminal in the midst of a scrum of drunken braying students, luckily they were not going on the same boat as us, they had barely made it out of the coach park by the time we were loaded up with panniers and tents and cycling towards passport control. Immediately we ran into technical difficulties as one of the lads’ wheels came off on the ramp. This did not bode well. We wove in and out of lorries looking for our lane to be loaded on the ferry. The sound of an ill-fitting wheel buzzing against a frame like the engine noise of a buggered moped accompanied us up to the front of the loading ramp where we were loaded first, right at the front of the ferry. A balaclava-clad ferry worker in a grimy orange overall lashed the bikes to the metal insides of the lorry bay. We went upstairs and consumed huge amounts of pasta salad, during the foggy crossing, carb-loading in anticipation of the day’s riding, which was to be, according to Mike, a mere thirty miles.

Dunkirk loomed suddenly out of the sea-mist, alerted by the profusion of bouys in the shipping lane we had headed down to the freight deck, becoming momentarily lost in a maze of tightly parked lorries. Eventually we found the bikes and saddled up as the ferry doors slowly opened. Immediately we dismounted again, having been told we weren’t to ride off the boat, spoilsports.

Back in the saddle and off the ramp we were spat out into an endless stream of heavy freight. Like an overboard sailor all we could do was go with the flow, cycling at speed past chainlink fences, through gates and along long roads with no idea which way we were headed or even facing. The lad with the bust bike was in danger of losing his wheel again so we found a convenient area of blighted tarmac to effect a repair. Beneath the gaze of a brace of parked up Polish truckers, we searched for a bolt to secure his rack, the only one that fitted came off my rack extension for my rear light. A piece of sticking plaster took its place on my bike, most effectively it turned out. After much booting about, straining and choice words, the offending back wheel was bodged into place and we set off again.

For miles we cycled through a flat industrial landscape covered with serious looking factories, gigantic pylons and trainlines running by the road. After the trucks had gone, there was no traffic at all and the roads were dead straight disappearing into the distant fog without a kink or corner in sight. Finally we saw some gigantic wind turbines and headed for them, crossing a main road and leaving behind the industrial area, which we had cycled through for miles:

sdc16341

Now we were surrounded by fields without fences, here and there a long deep ditch lined the road or cut away at ninety degrees from us, cast iron sluice gates punctuated the waterways and crumbling farmhouses squatted near the tarmac, casually disgorging barking dogs as we rode past. Lapwings rose from the plough furrows, or pecked around amidst green shoots. The mist showed no sign of breaking and it was now four in the afternoon, but we were making good time because the roads were so flat. About an hour and a half later, I was plagued by a pinging sound from my bike, and it wasn’t long before I felt  the back brakes rubbing on the rim of the wheel, I pulled over and my fears were realised, the back wheel was not only buckled, but a spoke had broken, shearing by the thread. Another sticking plaster held the spoke in place and stopped it flapping about. We were miles from anywhere, I offloaded my tent onto Mike’s Dawes Super Galaxy, which if you know anything about bikes is a bombproof tourer on which you can carry anything (unlike my Lemond Etape). I arranged to meet the others in Wormhout, and sped on ahead to look for a bike shop, it was getting close to closing time! I raced through the countryside ignoring the wobble in the rear wheel and actually quite enjoying the speed and thrill of being on my own in another country. I passed through Esquelbecq, wasted fifteen minutes circling the town once looking for a bike shop, nothing, so I shot on for Wormhout. The road rose and fell so gently the incline was barely evident. The sun was starting to droop towards the horizon and now it was way passed closing time on a Saturday night. I burst into Wormhout and began asking about a bike shop around the town centre, incredibly no one I asked seemed to live in the town. I had been there about twenty minutes when I saw the others coming in on the Esquelbecq road. I passed a short man with grey hair and a ‘tache and asked him if there was a bike shop nearby.

“Oui, mais il est fermé”

Drat! He gave me directions to it anyway. The others gathered round as I was preparing to race off and the man noticed the wreath –

“Vous êtes britannique, viennent de trouver la tombe du soldat? Il est moi qui a bip bip à la jonctio et…”, he held up his thumb. The others nodded, we had already been exposed to the novelty of the drivers beeping us and cheering or giving us the thumbs up, a marked contrast to the UK.

I shot off for the bike shop, only to find that as expected it was shut. But, hang on, there was a light inside and someone moving about. I knocked firmly on the door and a tall young man wearing thin-framed glasses came to the door and opened it a fraction:

“Nous sommes fermés monsieur”

“Ah pardon. Quelle heure ouvrez-vous demain?”

“Nous ne sommes pas ouverts le dimanche”

“Oh, mon vélo est cassé”

He saw the worry on my face and stepped out into the street:

“Ce qui semble être le problème?”

I didn’t know the French for broken spoke so I spun the wheel and it stuck against the brake. He nodded, and whipped the wheel off. Calling out a name that I didn’t catch he walked back into his shop and beckoned me to follow him. Another man stepped out from a door at the back of the shop rubbing his hands with a rag. I could see from the oil in his fingernails that this was the mechanic. He nodded once as the bepectacled man handed him the wheel and stuck it in a vice, removed the spoke and fitted another:

Fixing my wheel

Next, he put the wheel in a jig and carefully trued it. The whole exercise took maybe six minutes, I was thrilled to be having my wheel fixed in a French bike shop after hours, I was equally delighteed to see he had fitted a sliver spoke which stood out amidst the older black spokes as a permanent reminder. He took the wheel outside into the dusk and fitted it back onto the bike. It span beautifully. Total cost, five euros and profuse thanks in the most effusive manner I could manage with my broken French. The men waved me off with a bonne chance et bon voyage and I rode back into the town.

The others had not wasted their time while waiting for me, the hungriest of the Explorers had discovered a pizza van that, incredibly, had a massive log-fired pizza oven built into it. It was half an hour before we set off again, now it was getting dark and we were a long way from Ypres still. At some point we passsed into Belgium and immediately we were riding on cobbles. This was fantastic for about three minutes, then I realised why the Paris Roubaix is called L’enfer du nord, it hurt! A lot! And it was shattering.

As the dark came down the mist gathered strength again, we switched on our lights and slipped into the bike lanes. There was more traffic now, but it was always respectful and seemingly unhurried. We attracted more beeps, cheers, waving and thumbs up. As it became pitch black we stopped at some roadworks behind a small renault with music blaring out from its speakers. As the traffic lights seemed to be taking ages we held an impromptu rave, dancing about on our stationary bikes as a tractor pulled in behind us with headlights blazing, setting our lights to flashing mode only seemed to heighten the mood and we were on the verge of getting the tractor driver to step down and start grooving when the lights changed and we were off again.

The miles blended together and our existence shrunk down to a smear of light pooled on the blurring tarmac in front of us. Every now and then the lights from a roadside bar spilled out onto the road, a buzz of neon in the misty air, patrons at the door, laughter in the night.

Eventually we began to see signs to Ypres, or rather Ieper as it is in the Dutch, and at long last we pulled into the town. The night was filled with music and some sort of festival was afoot. Two dancers on ropes were dancing from the Cloth Hall, high above the heads of the enraptured crowd. Eventually we pulled away down more cobbled roads, until we slunk into the campsite, pitching tents in the damp dark at 22:00 before locking up the bikes and crawling into our sleeping bags. 49.82 miles on the clock, some 19 more than expected.

Published in: on April 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In John’s Workshop

Tools in John\'s Workshop

As it was sheeting down with rain all day, and I was working right up to the bell, John and I decided to postpone the Wednesday Ride and possibly make it a Thursday Ride instead. That did not stop us getting all bikey though, by eight forty-five in the evening I was in John’s workshop with some of the parts of the shopper bike. The frame and forks with stem and headset attched, and the rim, hub and spokes for the back wheel. John looked down at the Sturmey Archer hub I had just handed him and happily explained that it was assembled in August of 1984. He showed me the 84 8 stamp on the metal and said it was made in England, they stopped stamping the dates when the manufacturing was moved overseas.

John’s first job was stripping down, cleaning and rebuilding secondhand bikes that had been brought in for part exchange at a bike shop. He learned about classic hubs like the Sturmey – many modern bike mechanics in a shop would rather you bought a new hub that have to open up a Sturmey, but not John, he has an appreciation of good engineering. John got the stem off with a combination of brute force, a metalworker’s vice, GT85 and a big hammer covered in a rag. Then he made me laugh, he kept saying, “well I’m not going to take off the bottom bracket tonight”, then proceeded to do so, then “I won’t take off the cups on the headset” just before doing just that. We surmised about doing up old bikes and reselling them and I brought Coco’s Variety Store to his attention. This fantastic shop, owned by the legendary Mr. Jalopy is a model of recycled cycling, with bikes rebuilt from scrap with parts from other reclaimed bikes.

With the last bits of the bike in pieces, much chat and a cup of tea later, we decided to call it a night. Phase two of the shopper rebuild is now in operation – parts cleaning and repaint. John has the back wheel to build and I now have a lot of greasy bearings and oily bits of metal to clean up. then comes the repaint, and finally the all important reassembly.

The only problem is, I now have to go to London for a client meeting with ingrained oil on my hands tomorow.

In Praise of Old Tools

business card of Penny Farthing Tools Salisbury

I’m sitting outside, typing on the laptop, waiting for John to arrive, we’re going on the Wednesday ride, at the moment it looks like a trundle round the Frome bypass then up a stupidly big hill under the forest, sounds interesting, and more on that later.

As I’ve started restoring this old shopper, it’s given me a good excuse to have an overview of my tools. A workshop is a fine thing to have access to, it allows you a place for your tools, and of course, the space to actually own some. I think it’s a shame that many of my friends have less than the bare minimum of tools in their houses. The attitude these days is that if something’s broke, buy another. I remember my wife’s Uncle Roger telling me how his grandfather, a ship builder lavished incredible care on his tools, and never recovered from having a portion of them stolen. Although I have bought a fair few tools brand new, I tend to pick up other ones as donations, or from shops like Penny Farthing Tools in Salisbury. Penny Farthing is a terrific store, essentially it seems to be in an old garage, but it is packed, absolutely packed with amazing tools. Some are specialist or collector’s items, but alongside all that you will find a box of spanners where everything is 50 pence, or an old oil can for a couple of quid. I absolutely cannot leave without spending some money – often only two pound fifty or so, but coming away with a nice tool, such as a well used spanner, or a wire brush drill attachment – or even as I did once, a German Engineer’s folding ruler that folds out to two meters.

penny farthing tools - salisbury

I am reaching the stage now where when I need a tool for something, I actually have it in the workshop, I recall the days when I would be having to take a trip to the hardware store for a new screwdriver or wire cutter. At the moment though, I own very few bike tools beyond tyre levers, chainbreakers (2) box spanners and bike size hex keys. I could also do with a magnetic tray to hold small parts.

Luckily for my bank balance, Penny Farthing’s only bike tool was an old fashioned bike spanner. Well, it was their only bike tool, until I bought it.

Sturmey Joy

Shopper Sturmey Archer 3 Speed

Work continues on the recycled shopper. I finished work today at 23:00 and I’ve just spent forty five minutes taking the bike apart. I had to drill out two of the bolts holding the mudguards on, but thankfully not the cotter pins as I did on my Alpine 10. The seat post was surprisingly not rusted in and came out fairly easily, bright, unmarked chrome emerging from the downtube. I was hoping to get away with not taking the forks off, but it’s readily apparent that the bearings are crumbling away – a horrible grating feeling attends each twist of the headset. I shall have to borrow a headset spanner off someone. The handlebars came off with reasonable ease, as did the grips (with a bit of pulling). Finally I unpinged the remaining spokes of the rear wheel and released the Sturmey Archer three speed hub.

Ah the Sturmey Archer- a masterpiece. Beneath the caked on grime, the metal was bright and shiny, unmarked by rust. The gearing seems unaffected by the neglect the bike has suffered, so hopefully, with a little servicing, the hub will be good for a long while yet. Here for your entertainment is an exploded diagram of a 3 speed Sturmey that I have scanned in from the legendary Soames Bicycle Maintenance Manual.

3 speed sturmey archer hub - exploded view - Picture from Soames Bicylcle Maintenance Manual.

Recycle Cycle

Shopper at the recycling centre

I was at an un-named recycling centre (nee ‘tip’ or ‘dump’ as they used to be known) last week, when I spotted a rusted shopper – a Halfords own brand knock off of the folding Raleigh R20. I knelt down to snap a few photos on the ol’ camera phone, next thing I know a florescent jacketed workman is helping me to load it into the back of the car. The location will remain nameless as apparently one is not supposed to take stuff away from the recycling centre once it’s there. This to me seems like utter nonsense – In order I think the mantra goes something like ‘reduce, repair, reuse, recycle’ – with recycling at the end of the line. I’m sure there are very good reasons why operatives are not allowed to let people have things from the centre, but surely people taking stuff away is going to firstly make their job easier, and secondly it will put less pressure on landfill etc. Anyway – good on the team of bleeeep recycling centre for giving the bike to me.

It folded up nicely to fit into the car. On arrival at home I got it out of the boot and gave it a good look.

  • Wheels – 3 speed SA rear hub – still functioning smoothly – badly buckled – both rims steel and shot through with rust – verdict – rebuild wheels (actually get someone else to rebuild wheels would be more accurate).
  • Brakes – nothing a bit of WD40 won’t cure – no terminal rusting – blocks fine.
  • Cables – shot – verdict – will need replacing – white housing.
  • Tyres – front is original whitewall – shot into oblivion – tube stuck to it. Rear has been replaced at somepoint, but is heavily cracked – surprisingly the tubes are holding air fine – verdict – new tyres – (sourced through ebay)
  • Frame – minor rust on bottom of rear triangle where paint has scratched – verdict – treat rust – respray blue and white.
  • Seatpost and saddle – Saddle needs a cover and some cleaning, seatpost could do with being replaced or at least sanded off and painted.
  • Handlebars/levers/grips – handlebars will need sanding off and painting – levers are fine as are white plastic grips.
  • Bottom Bracket/chainring/chain/cranks/pedals – all good apart from the chain. Verdict – cleaned up well except for the chain which is to be chucked.
  • Stand/bell/lamp – all dead and removed.
  • Mudguards – very rusty – verdict – take off sand down and repaint – if they hold together that is.

The Shopper\'s chainwheel

This could be a fun project. I’ll try and do it as cheaply and quickly as possible. I think there is potential to make this into a very characterful and fun bike, saving it from being scrapped and hopefully give it a new lease of life. I’ll post regular updates and let you know how it’s going.

Published in: on May 19, 2008 at 10:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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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.

Customized crashbike

The kids from next door asked if I knew how to get the forks off a bike. The younger had crashed his 20″ wheel bike and totalled the forks and front wheel. The eldest was donating the forks and wheel from his 26″ wheel MTB. I used my alligator grips to undo the forks and they swapped them over. The resulting hybrid is a masterpiece of hack-bikery, the kids were calling it a modern penny farthing.

hybrid bike

I made them promise they would always wear their helmets when riding it.

Published in: on August 27, 2007 at 9:36 pm  Comments (2)  

New/Old Crankset

The postman brought me a package of sheer joy today. A few days ago I ‘won’ a crankset on ebay (it was easy, I was the only bidder). I’m going to use it on my rebuilt Alpine 10 (see the Bicycles of the Highway Cycling Group page for details of this bike). Although it’s new to me, it’s actually a 1949 Raleigh set, and that’s what really excited me, the ‘spider’ as it’s now known (the material between the outer cog and the hole for the shaft, nowadays that is ususally made of two separate materials bolted together, the spokes that join the cog to the centre now resemble a spider’s legs, hence the name) is cut from a single piece of material and instead of spokes, it’s cut into the shape of three herons’ heads, the heron being the symbol of Raleigh bikes, as seen on the headbadge of Raleigh bicycles, even today.
Raleigh crankset
As I’m converting the bike to six-speed I figured I needed a slightly smaller drive on the front, this one is about halfway between the two current rings on the Alpine 10, so it will give me a higher cadence in cruising, but will make the lower gears a little easier on the hills. To be honest I anticipate a lot of getting off to push on the big hills, but it is going to be a heavy bike with all the racks and stuff I’ve got planned for it. ‘Grinding the big gear’ to get up to 30mph is out of the question, I have to admit that at its best it only ever hit around 26mph on the flat anyway. I’m a long way off putting the cranks on, but it’s good to get everything ready, and at the princely sum of two of your British Pounds for the crankset, I just couldn’t resist buying now.

Right! No matter what the weather, I’m going for a big ride tomorrow morning.

Published in: on May 26, 2007 at 9:44 pm  Comments (2)