Winter Ready

January 30, 2019

This was the scene that greeted me as I stepped out this morning – and with a meeting to go to, there was no question, it was time to get the ice tyres on the bike again.

ice and snow on road

Despite my love-hate relationship with bike maintenance and my general inability to do anything bike-related quickly (and that includes riding the thing), I did have the weird sensation this morning of actually feeling as if I knew what I was doing. Not only did I efficiently take my tools out of my saddle bag before I’d turned the bike over (top tip!) and remember where I’d put them down, get the wheels on and off with a minimum of fuss, remember to check they were centred and running freely before tightening the bolts, and smoothly adjust the brake pads, but I also took the opportunity to clean and oil the chain and give the bolt on my Brooks a turn or two while I was at it (although I’m still not 100% sure I’m turning it in the right direction because nowhere does it say which way you need to be facing when you decide if you’re turning it clockwise or not). This sensation even survived the discovery that I’d efficiently put the front wheel on the wrong way round, despite having a 50% chance of getting it right AND carefully comparing it with the back wheel before doing so. Indeed, such are my spatial skills, this might actually have reduced my chance of getting it right than if I had left it to chance.

winter ready bike

Suited and booted

This strange sensation lasted approximately 10 minutes, whereupon I suddenly couldn’t turn a pedal and my first thought was ‘oh what have I done to it NOW?’ Fortunately this turned out to be the chain getting snagged on the bolt of my rack because the cogs at the back are slightly closer to the chainstay – a problem, but not actually one of my causing. It means I may be down to just four gears but the two I can’t use are the top ones, so it’s survivable until the current icy weather eases and I can go back to my normal wheels.

sun through winter trees

Meanwhile, I’ll just carry on enjoying the sparkly weather and the all but deserted roads and the unaccustomed feeling of mechanical semi competence. We have to take our satisfactions where we find them, these days.

frost and fog ahead


Let the Record Show …

December 29, 2018

…That I have successfully patched the slow puncture on my bike – something that involved removing and replacing a fairly new Marathon Plus tyre (and by ‘fairly new’ I mean ‘replaced this year’ – I like to get my money’s worth out of a bike component). Not only that but I did it with a minimum of swearing, sighing and looking around for A Man To Help. In fact, the tyre was actually the easy part (I may have been watching a few YouTube videos on the subject) – the difficulty came in getting the back wheel back into the dropouts and (embarrassingly) trying to pump the wretched thing up again afterwards. The other half did wander past at that point, heard me muttering something about why presta valves are even allowed to exist,* and beat a tactical retreat. The whole thing still took an hour, but that did include the whole ritual of waiting for the glue to get almost dry on the patch and washing approximately half a kilo of mud out of my mudguard.

Anyway, it doesn’t exactly count as ‘getting the hang of bike maintenance’ in 2018 but it has at least convinced me that I’m not going backwards. Next step – the unassisted roadside repair. Hopefully not any time soon though …

* despite explicit instructions to the bike shop to the contrary, I still have one wheel with a schraeder valve and one wheel with a presta valve although someone has now shown me how to turn my bike pump inside out so it can handle both kinds. I’m still unconvinced that whatever benefits there are to a presta valve are worth their tendency to just dump all the air out of the tyre in an instant if you look at them funny while detaching the pump. But no doubt there’s a YouTube video that will enlighten me…

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.