Squeaky Wheel

October 15, 2018

So, one of my aspirations for this year was to get better at bike maintenance, which – unlike my other aspiration of regularly baking sourdough bread which is going swimmingly – has not progressed markedly beyond some vague and, as it turned out, unfulfilled plans to get some practice at taking my Marathon Pluses on and off my wheels. Today though, which was as fine and still and sunny a day as anyone could hope for in October, I took advantage of a gap in the work schedule and the nice weather to at least clean and re-oil my chain prior to riding down to fetch the paper.* This, I hoped, would sort out the intermittent squeak which had developed when I was pedalling with any sort of determination, and hopefully also the fact that the last time I’ve been out with the other half I’ve been badly dropped on all the hills.

Oiling done, I set off with the the light heart of one who has done a necessary chore and, more importantly Not Ignored a New Noise and who will shortly be enjoying the silkiness of a smoothly running drivetrain on her bike. Whereupon the bike started squeaking again, and now not just when pedalling hard. By the time I’d got to the bottom of the hill, it was now squeaking more or less all the time, so I got off and investigated a bit more thoroughly. Front wheel spinning fine and silently, back wheel spinning fine and silently, brakes clear of the rims, no sticks (or kittens) stuck in any of the spokes. Weird. Back on the bike, squeaking resumes. Eventually, I look again at my back wheel and discover that it is in fact skewiff and almost resting against the chain guard. With the bike unloaded, the wheel was spinning fine, but once I was on it and pedalling it was pressing against the frame, hence the squeaking. This, in retrospect, might go some way to explain my speed wobble the other day, which is also a little reassuring.

Now this is an easy problem to fix, one even I can do – but that’s when I also discovered that I have lost the allen key I need to loosen the wheel and reseat it. After a brief tussle between laziness (top tip: when your bike develops a New Noise, investigate at the top of the descent not the bottom) and common sense (the only thing worse than a New Noise is a Worsening New Noise), I have a stern word with myself and turn around and pedal, squeakily, back up the hill, raid the other half’s allen key collection and straighten the wheel.

sunshine in October

Still – there were worse days to have to add an extra 3 miles or so onto your ride down for the paper. And, in related news, I have discovered that a bike gets one hell of a lot easier to pedal when its back wheel is on straight. More findings from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious as they emerge.

sunny road

* and, er, lunch, as the sourdough bread baking schedule had broken down somewhat after a weekend away in Duns.


Getting Shirty

March 19, 2018

All this sourdough and gardening is all very well, I hear* you cry – but what of your plans to get better at bike maintenance in 2018?

Well – I have news, of sorts. One advantage of the current weather (it’s spring! It’s winter! It’s getting warmer! Fooled you, it’s minus five!) is that I’ve got almost speedy at swapping my winter wheels on and off, at least the front one. and the bike is booked in for a service tomorrow, and high on the list of things to be done are getting a new back wheel that’s the same width as the front wheel (and my winter wheel), and getting new brakes that don’t get jammed on and have a quick release for speedier wheel swapping (hopefully they won’t also result in me ending up headfirst in a ditch as I’m not that used to super effective brakes that actually, you know, stop the bike)

Today, it being sunny, if not exactly warm, I thought I’d better give the bike a quick wash and also put all the tools back in my tool roll having taken them all out the last time I switched the wheels round. They had been wrapped up in a bit of old shirt to stop them rattling and provide something to wipe the worst of the grease off with, but that had died a death, so I finally got around to pulling a new old shirt out of the pile of shirts to go into the garage to act as rags.

In fact, this was one of my favourite shirts ever, despite costing £2 at Elephant and Castle market, and I had only stopped wearing it once its initial ‘shabby chic’ (humour me) vibe had passed through to ‘shabby’ and then ‘possibly homeless’. So rather than just cutting it up as a rag, I put a little bit more thought into it and decided to utilise the pocket (this was part of why I liked it so much – pockets!) and button hole to make a nice inner tool roll insert:

cut up shirt

This is about as crafty as I get, so humour me here.

assembled tools

Slightly random assortment of tools.

With the tools in place I rolled it up and sewed a button on so it could be buttoned closed using the existing button hole. (I’d like to say that this was the work of seconds, but it turns out I’m as embarrassingly rubbish at sewing as I am at bike maintenance)

tool roll buttoned up

Once installed, it almost looks as if it was the sort of thing you could buy for £25 from Brooks as an accessory for your tool roll.

tool roll with insert

There being a little space left, I added a handful of these in the corners – I can’t remember where I read the tip about having sweets in with your bike tools for those moments when you’re trying to refit a Marathon Plus tyre by the side of the road in a howling gale in November, but it struck me as very sound advice.

coffee sweets

Final bike maintenance essential (along with a tenner for a taxi home)

I’m now hoping that Sod’s Law means all this preparation will guarantee I don’t get to use my tools again … but I’ve a feeling it doesn’t quite work that way.

*OK, so I made this up.

Wheel Adventures

January 28, 2018

With the snow and thaw replaced by milder weather and rain, I have finally had to admit that the real reason I still had the spiky tyres on my back wheel was that I was putting off changing my back wheel as it was a real bugger to get done the last time. Somehow it’s been easier to just pump up the slow puncture every morning when I need to use my bike than to wrestle with switching wheels. But with the temperatures creeping into double figures, and with a biggish ride coming up today, I finally broke down, got the maintenance stand out (a task in itself, frankly, as it was designed to be used by someone with far more manly thumbs than I have) and changed the wheel, which, in the end, only took half an hour, a record for any bike maintenance task undertaken by me.

In fact, broken down in more detail, actually changing the wheel only took about 10 minutes, most of which was spent wishing for a third hand because actually getting a wheel on and off is one of those things which is easier with the bike upside down so that the stupid thing doesn’t slide out of the dropouts the minute you let go of it to pick up the spanner. The rest was spent as follows:

– assembling and disassembling the maintenance stand: 5 minutes
– searching for correct spanner: 2 minutes
– muttering ‘lefty loosy, righty tighty’, while turning the spanner the wrong way: 2 minutes
– wandering around the garage looking for the tool I had put down while cursing myself for not putting the tool down next to the pile of tools so I could find it again: 3 minutes
– finding the tool in the pile of tools where I had put it down so I wouldn’t lose it: 30 seconds
– putting chain back onto front cogs: 1 minute
– desperately searching for the horrible mechanical thing that was causing the drive train to jam with a worrying-sounding clunk after I’d got the chain back on: 2 minutes
– realising I’d left the kick stand deployed and it was jamming the pedals: 30 seconds
– cycling up and down the road in front of our house to test everything was working: probably far longer than was necessary but then again, this is the fun bit

There was also a lot of swearing and some whimpering with frustration but, crucially, no going into the house and asking for help, even when my feeble girly hands couldn’t at first get the wheel nuts undone (it turns out getting cross and shouting at them while giving it another go helps with this one). Even more crucially, I’ve since taken the bike on a 30+ mile ride with no problems, not even the usual one of realising I haven’t done the wheel up tight enough and it jamming.

So, onwards and upwards. Who knows, 2018 might even be the year I manage to crack the unassisted sub-60-minute puncture repair. Stranger things have happened. Even with Marathon Pluses.


January 5, 2018

We woke this morning to a hard frost and fog which gradually lifted – or perhaps sank, for I discovered when I set out to Bigtown this afternoon that we were above the clouds, which is one of the unexpected bonuses of living on the side of a hill.

clouds below

It did give the road that leads down to the river valley an unusually apocalyptic feel.

heading into the mist

I was heading for Bigtown to, among other things, see* whether the library had a book on sourdough bread which it, amazingly, did

Setting off, I began to reconsider my plan of waiting until the warmer weather before getting to grips with bike maintenance. Not only is my rear brake not centring, which means I have to lean back and straighten it up every time I come to a hard stop (fortunately I have designed my ride in so I don’t normally need to do too many of those), but there’s a slow puncture in one of my winter tyres, which means I need to pump the tyre up every morning, something I invariably forget until I’ve already set off and am wondering why the handling is a bit weird. I’m not sure I can handle either learning how to sort out my brakes or working out how to change a spikey tyre without loss of life or limb, but I could at least work out how to adjust the kickstand on my bike – something I have been meaning to do for ooh, approximately three years now, so that I don’t have to find the one bit of the drive where the slope is at exactly the right angle for the bike not to fall over just as I start pumping up the flat tyre.

In other news, the first sourdough loaf is proving as we speak. I haven’t actually read the book yet, apart from dipping into it for amusingly acerbic asides but from the bits I’ve read so far, I think it’s going to be right up my street. Now, who’s written an amusing, no-nonsense guide to being a bit less crap about maintaining one’s bike?

* the entire coonsil library management system has been titsup for over a year now so the only way of finding out is to go and look…

Slime vs Bastard Big Thorn: no contest

November 22, 2017

I was a little disappointed in my Slime inner tube when it failed me yesterday, but having investigated a bit more closely I’m inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

You know how frustrating it can be, trying to track down the source of a puncture with nothing visible to the naked eye, and no sign of what might have caused the problem? That definitely wasn’t the case with this flat.

second thorn

First thorn

I think Slime works by centrifugal force – as you rotate the tyre, it is forced out of the hole under pressure and then sets to form a seal. That assumes that the hole is on the outside of the inner tube, and that the Bastard Big Thorn(s) didn’t end up going all the way through the inner tube and out the other side.

extracted thorn

This wasn’t even the one that caused the worst damage …

As it is, my backup innertube was a normal one, so it’s going to have to battle through the thorns unassisted.

mud under mudguard

At least this shows my mudguards are doing their job

As you can see from the state of my bike when I took the wheel off, the local farmers have not been very assiduous at sweeping either the mud or assorted hedgerow debris off our road. I have now cleaned my bike, but that’s going to last until the next time I cycle out of our front gate.

Our neighbour up the hill actually has his own petrol-powered mini road sweeper (it’s like a giant carpet sweeper) because he was sick of his car getting punctures. I have to admit, I was amused by this at the time, but I might have to borrow it if today’s rain hasn’t swept the worst of the hedgecuttings away.

There Once Was a Bike from Devizes

August 27, 2017

I think I may have mentioned in the past that I have mixed feelings about bike maintenance. I understand the attraction  in today’s modern throwaway society of something that not only can be fixed, but which positively demands to be – and indeed maintained, cleaned, oiled, improved and generally tinkered with. How many other objects do you have in daily use that you can say that about?

I can also, in theory, see how satisfying it would be to be able to competently tinker with my own bike (especially if it means confounding the expectations of those who might assume by my gender and general unhandiness that I can’t). And over the years I have gradually picked up a few things, like how to use a pump to get air into a tyre rather than removing all the remaining air out of it (look, I started from a low base), how to get the wheels on and off, how to clean and re-oil a chain, how to replace the brake pads, and how to sort out a wheel that has suddenly gone skewiff because when I say I know how to get the wheels on and off I mean I still never manage to tighten them sufficiently the first time around. And I would estimate that, given enough time and a warm day and no helpful competent person around to do it for me, I can repair a puncture at least 50% of the time without wanting to burst into tears.

However, that’s just the start of it. And if I’ve learned anything about bike maintenance, especially if your bike is more than a few years old, it’s that, whatever the thing is that you’re trying to do, the answer is always going to be that it’s a bit more complicated by that. Because bikes might look like simple and easily understood machines but they have evolved over time and nothing seems to be compatible with anything else, and all bike mechanics will tell you (with a sorrowful shake of the head) that whoever did something to your bike last was a dreadful bodger and it’s amazing you’ve got away with it without coming a nasty cropper.

So when the other half mentioned in passing yesterday evening that my back tyre had gone flat, I knew I was in for a bit of a nightmare. And I wasn’t wrong. What should have been a simple fix of a tiny hole turned into a two-patch job that promptly didn’t take (patches go off, who knew?), the discovery that the thing that makes my back brake spring away from the wheel when I release the brakes had gone sproing and needed to be bent back, the related discovery that my brake pads had worn themselves crooked, the further revelation that my spare inner tube doesn’t fit my back wheel because my back wheel is narrower than my front wheel because a long time ago when I didn’t realise that you change anything on your bike at your peril that had seemed like a good idea, and the subsequent knock-on revelation that my back tyre is the wrong size for the rim. Oh, and my tyre irons are worse than useless but that the cheap hippo-shaped bottle opener I got in a Christmas cracker in 2009 makes a reasonable substitute.

Anyway. I have now purchased a slime-filled inner tube of the right, but also wrong, size which will likely solve none of these problems but just might get me through hedgecutting season if the P****** Fairy isn’t listening, and I have just had a lot of practice at getting my back wheel and tyre on and off, which will stand me in good stead if she is.

Remind me tomorrow to tighten up the back wheel one extra turn before it goes skewiff on me when I set off.

Always assuming there’s actually still any air in the tyre …

Not So Fast

April 15, 2016

Alert readers may remember I de-nosed my Brompton saddle back in March which is hardly any time at all in bike-maintenance weeks, especially when I don’t normally ride the Brompton much when I’m at home, and besides the de-nosed Brompton saddle has been proving surprisingly rideable, at least when the alternative is figuring out how to fit a new saddle.

But I had been fortunate enough to receive a lovely new Brooks B17 from my mum for my birthday. All I had to do was order a Pentaclip to attach the saddle to the seatpost, which took me longer than I’d thought because they turn out to cost *how much* and by *how much* I mean far more than you’d expect to pay for something that is called a clip that doesn’t come qualified with the word ‘diamond’.* But I need the Brompton for POP next weekend and I wanted to look its best so last week I finally brought myself to shell out, the Pentaclip duly arrived and – with dire warnings about what happens if you allow the Pentaclip to disassemble itself spontaneously ringing in my ears – I persuaded the other half to affix it to the saddle, while I Proofided the leather and generally admired it as a thing of beauty and hopefully a joy forever.

New Brooks saddle

Yesterday I was up against a bit of a work deadline but I did have to go and get the paper and the sun had briefly emerged so I thought it might be an opportunity to try out my new saddle. I know that Brooks saddles have a bit of a reputation for being hard work to break in but my other one had been comfy from day one, so I wasn’t too worried, although it is a different model. I got the Pentaclip onto the Brompton seatpost with no trouble at all – which in itself was slightly concerning – and set off to ride the five miles or so to …


Oh no, that isn’t right at all.


I *think* it’s just the rake – and come to think of it, it took a few goes to sort out the rake on my old one – but I didn’t have time to do the painstaking adjustments required to sort it out so the Brompton went back in the shed and I settled myself comfortably into the embracing leather hammock that is the saddle on my other bike. Ah, like coming home …

Old saddle

Hopefully I will have time to get this sorted before Saturday or I’ll have to do the whole of POP – cobbles and all – standing up …

* the word ‘Brompton’ appears to work in the same way