Rattle and Bang

January 19, 2023

Hmm. No sooner do I sort out my mysterious on-again off-again puncture, and make a passing comment about the bike needing to find new and entertaining ways to go wrong (from my mouth to God’s ear and all that), when it does just that. Shortly after that post, my bike developed what I can only describe as a percussion section – not just a click or a creak, but a whole symphony of clicks, rattles, bangs and pops which would start up when I got on the bike and continue to a greater or lesser extent regardless of whether I’m pedalling or not, or even sitting in the saddle or not, until I get off the bike and try to investigate the cause, whereupon it would revert to complete silence. This was beyond irritating, not to mention embarrassing, especially in town, although at least it completely eliminates the ‘bell or no bell’ dilemma when coming up behind pedestrians on a shared path – long before I need to warn them of my approach, they have already turned to see what on earth was coming up behind them sounding like a free-form jazz percussion solo.

Given that I can’t reproduce the noise except when I’m actually riding it, I’m a bit stuck as to what might be behind this racket, unless there’s a mouse-sized samba drumming band concealed in the frame somewhere. The local bike shop guy – who was treated to an impromptu performance when I passed him while he was out walking his dog on his lunch break – had no suggestions either (at least when I bring it in I won’t have to persuade him that it’s not some figment of my imagination). It does seem to happen slightly less when I’m pedalling uphill, or putting in more than my normal effort – going uphill and into a headwind seemed to hush it almost completely – suggesting something related to the saddle and/or loading on the frame.

And so it went on until today when I got on the bike to head into town, musing about other matters. I was almost at the outskirts when I noticed a disturbing new noise: the sound of silence. After a whole week of pure annoyance, the noise had gone. And remained gone, all the rest of the way into town and all the way home again. I’m fairly certain that self-sorting rattles are no more common than self-repairing punctures so I regard this as a sinister development (while welcoming the quiet). My suspicion is that the noise was due to something that was breaking and which is now completely broken, and I can only hope that it wasn’t something safety critical. The alternative is that the bike is simply possessed. Either seems equally likely at this point…

In Search of Schrodinger’s Puncture

January 8, 2023

As my adventures in bike maintenance continue, it never fails to amaze me how something so simple as fixing a puncture on my bike seems to throw up a new problem every single time. But as puncture season (approximately October to September round here) continues in full swing, the surprises continue, and now I’ve apparently got an intermittent puncture which is a new one on me.

I’ve long argued that there’s no such thing as a self-fixing puncture, although I also believe in ekeing out a slow puncture for as long as I can, mainly because as soon as you actually repair them you just get another one. So when I set off home from the Pepperpots last week and discovered my back tyre was flat as a pancake, I pumped it up (hooray for the miracles of my tiny folding track pump) and took it home, meaning to deal with it later. The next morning it was still apparently holding air so I assumed it was just a very slow puncture and took the bike into town and back. The next day it was a little soft so I pumped it up and then we seemed to settle into the normal pattern of pumping it up daily until I had the time and the energy to fix it properly. Fast forward to the end of this week and it suddenly went flat on me after five miles. Fair enough, slow punctures usually become fast ones in the end, so I pumped up enough to get home and resolved to fix it at the weekend.

Anyway, this afternoon I duly took the back wheel off, removed the (once more flat) inner tube and started hunting for the culprit, to no avail. No hiss of air when I pumped up the tube. No tell-tale bubbles when I dunked it in a bucket of water, not even from the valve. And nothing inside the tyre that might have caused the puncture in the first place. Odd. This tube does have slime in it (apparently, the bike shop replaced it when I was getting the bike serviced) but I can’t see any sign of where it might have sealed up a hole. Or work out how it could do it while the bike was sitting in the garage with a flat tyre. But if I couldn’t find the puncture I couldn’t fix it so all I could do was put the tyre back on, pump it up again, and hope for the best. Perhaps my bike just wanted the attention. Or decided I needed the practice. Either way, we will see what tomorrow brings.

Meanwhile, I do have Tannus inserts on order, which I hope will sort the problem out for once and for all. Although I do realise that the Puncture Fairy laughs in the face of such optimism.

Caution, I Brake for …

November 29, 2022

Regular readers will know that I have something of a love-hate relationship with bike maintenance, in that I hate doing it and I love moaning about it on Twitter – mainly because half the time when I attempt to fix my bike I end up making things worse. One task I can perform reasonably competently, however, is changing my brake blocks, which is a good thing when you live up a bit of a hill and the roads for most of the year are filthy enough to wear down even the toughest brakes.

Of course, there’s no point being able to do something if you don’t actually get off your arse and do it. I’ve been noting the gradual decline in stopping power of my brakes and thinking I ought to sort them out, but as I knew the bike was due for a service anyway, I didn’t get around to it. And, having finally booked it in for a service, I decided to leave the brakes to the bike shop as well as everything else and hoped that they’d last me the week until it was due to go in (see also the slow puncture that I’ve been nursing since early November).

View looking out over Lochrutton church and Lochrutton Loch behind

And then Sunday we had a lovely ride to visit a stone circle that just happens to be reached from a steep track, and I found myself having to walk down the steepest bit because I just didn’t trust my bike to stop if I asked it to. That gave me some concern, but I still thought I’d make it through to Wednesday if I didn’t try anything too ambitious and kept my speed low. All was well until half way to Bigtown on Monday afternoon, when my back brake took matters into its own hands and disconnected itself entirely from the lever. After hastily rearranging my afternoon plans so I could drop it off at the bike shop, I attempted to keep going with my (still sort of working) front brake for the last couple of miles into town…

Reader, it turns out that worn brakes go from ‘sort of working’ to ‘really not working at all’ quite quickly once they’re the only brake being used. Fortunately for all concerned, I was riding very slowly and there was no real traffic around when I discovered this for myself. I also learned that, in extremis, you can stop a brakeless bike by pointing it up a dropped kerb and then using your foot to scrub off the remaining momentum. On the whole, though, I do not recommend this.

Anyway, lesson learned, and thoroughly chastened, I walked the final two miles to the bike shop, which has restored it to working order (and removed TWO bastard big thorns from the back tyre). I am lucky to have escaped with nothing but somewhat dented pride and a renewed resolve to keep on top of the bike’s stopping power. Hopefully, the latter will last me until the brakes start to need attention again… slow punctures, on the other hand, will continue to get ignored as long as possible.

Every Day’s a School Day

March 2, 2022

You’d think that bike maintenance – and when I say ‘bike maintenance’, realistically I mean ‘fixing a flat tyre’ – would be a process of gradually improving and evolving skills. Given the number of punctures I get (hello, blackthorn), surely by now practice must have made perfect? Yet what it actually seems to be is an arms race between me and my bikes as I adopt increasingly ingenious measures to compensate for my mechanical ineptitude, and my bikes come up with increasingly ingenious ways to thwart my feeble progress.

Take, for example, this Monday. My new-to-me regenerated bike had developed a puncture on the way home from our latest adventure on Sunday. No problem: armed with my trusty tyre jack, the latest weapon in my flat-fixing armoury, I would have the wheel off, the hole found, and the inner tube patched in a jiffy, if by ‘jiffy’ we mean ‘about 30 minutes including swearing time’.

Tyre jack

Oh foolish me. Because as the new-to-me bike last had its wheels put on by someone with reasonably strong hands, and the wheel itself belonged to the old bike, with a rather old allen key fitting instead of a quick release (because one of the things I’ve learned along the way is that I don’t actually get on that well with quick release wheels), I ended up stripping out the the socket (or whatever you call the bit where you put the allen key) by impatiently trying to loosen the wheel. Gah.

On the plus side, another thing I have learned over the years is how to patch an innertube with the wheel in situ, and I’ve even got the time taken down to about 1.3 jiffies (those tyre jacks really do work, I can confirm).

As a sensible, responsible bike owner, obviously what I should absolutely not do next is leave the back wheel with its knackered skewer on the bike until such time as I really do need to get the back wheel off, probably somewhere very far from home on a day when the rain is travelling horizontally. So if anyone does want to make a helpful suggestion about getting the rear wheel off with a stripped out allen key socket I’m all ears. Other than ‘make it the bike shop’s problem’ of course.

I wonder what maintenance challenges my bikes will throw up next?

A Moment’s Silence, Please

November 21, 2021

Among the many other things on my after COP to do list has been a long standing item to deal with the damaged paint around my bike’s bottom bracket. I’d already had it checked at its last service to make sure that the signs of corrosion I’d started to notice weren’t anything too dangerous, and had been given a cautious all clear for now. But I wanted to make sure the frame would last so I picked up some paint for it, and this morning started by cleaning up the frame and taking off the kick stand so I could remove the flaking paint and touch it up.

Unfortunately, I found a bit more than I’d bargained for…

Bike frame with crack

Twitter, sadly, concurred

The consensus (in so far as Bike Twitter has a consensus about anything) is that the bike might be salvagable in the hands of a decent framebuilder (steel is real and all that) but for now it is not so much a bike as a death trap – if it goes, it will go suddenly and quite painfully for anyone on board.

So I’m left with a problem, or a number of problems. Whether I opt to get a new bike, get a new frame, or try and have the frame repaired, it’s not going to be a quick process. That means my main means of transport is now the Brompton, which is fine for heading into town and back (well, less so back, given I live up a sizeable hill) but I’m not sure I relish doing anything longer on it. Still, at least I have a good second bike so I’m not completely stranded (I did recently, out of curiosity, look at whether there was any usable bus to get me into town or back, and short of a three mile walk along a B road, there isn’t).

And then there’s what to do about my big bike. Just getting the frame repaired seems like the most attractive option right now. I don’t know anything about bike geometry, but I do know that the combination of that frame, my touring bars, and my Brooks saddle, I had something I could ride pretty much all day without any real discomfort. If it can’t be fixed, finding a similar frame, if such a thing can be found – and swapping over all the components would be almost as good and has a pleasing ‘my grandfather’s axe’ sense of continuity about it.

But then there’s the question of whether I really want to just replace my bike like for like. It has been suggested in certain quarters that it weighs more than a bike ought, and that there have been advances in technology that I might want to take advantage of, like brakes that actually stop the bike. I have long thought that my next bike would probably be an e-bike, but I was thinking that would be a decision I wouldn’t have to make for a while. I wasn’t sure I was ready to go electric, mostly because I know that once I do I would probably never go back. Although maybe after I’ve slogged the Brompton up our hill for a week I’ll be more than ready for any form of e-assist.

Either way, I am preparing myself for the fact that my bike – my faithful companion on so many adventures for over 12 years – may well have pedalled its last. It feels like the end of an era.

The bike the day I got it

Jacking it in

February 28, 2021

It is a well-known fact that any cycling purchase related to the ahem slight downsides of cycling life work a powerful but temporary magic: waterproofs, for instance, can usher in a few days of fine weather, longer if they’re really expensive ones, whereas we buy anything like sunscreen or warm-weather gear at our peril. And it seems the magic also works on the puncture fairy for it’s been a full two months since I got this Christmas gift from my nephew and I only had to get it out of its packaging today.

tyre jack

Regular readers will be aware that my cycle maintenance history is one long struggle with repairing punctures (and please, I’ve been blogging about this as a female on the internet for over a decade now, so you can be certain I have had ALL THE ADVICE I need on the subject, no, really, and that includes the video with the zip ties) and specifically the joy of the Marathon Plus tyre. Over time I have painfully learned how to get the damn tyres off (involves swearing), the importance of checking the inside of the tyre for what caused the puncture (and how to get an embedded Bastard Big Thorn out of a Marathon Plus tyre), the length of time you can let a slow puncture go without having to do the walk of shame home (N-1 days, where N is the number of days you will try and leave it for), the fact that sometimes you will have TWO holes in your inner tube, the need to wait much much longer than you think for the patch glue to dry (this is a good time to start looking for what caused the hole and then doing battle with the embedded Bastard Big Thorn), the fact that fixing a flat tyre is so much more civilised – and actually easier – inside in the warm rather than outside in the cold, and latterly the fact that puncturing a repaired inner tube while attempting to wrestle a Marathon Plus tyre back onto your wheel is the easiest way to break a cyclist’s heart and/or morale.

Which is where the tyre jack comes in. I only discovered such a thing existed last year after a couple of failed puncture repair attemptes, put it on my Christmas list, and today I got to try it out in anger. Or rather, I thought I would – the problem was that it came with no instructions – how you actually get a tyre back on with it is apparently self explanatory unless you’re me. I called the other half in to see if he could figure it out and then went to see if there was a helpful video somewhere on line.

I can confirm that the way a tyre jack works is that in the time it takes for the average YouTuber to stop talking about things that aren’t how tyre jacks work and get around to demonstrating how they do work, your less mechanically declined husband will have worked it out and got the tyre back on (this is in fact how all the best bike maintenance tools work).

Meanwhile, some friends have left a fresh supply of Bastard Big Thorns outside our front door: gooseberry bushes to be precise.

pots with gooseberry plants in them

I shall be planting them well away from anywhere I might be cycling. The tyre jack is neat and all, but it’s not magic …


January 15, 2021

After a week of work, grim weather and lockdown torpor I finally had an excuse to get on my bike today – meeting a friend for some outdoor exercise, fully within the lockdown rules (at least at the time of writing). The forecast was for it to be as decent as we could hope for in January: dry, relatively unwindy and not as bastarding cold as it’s been recently, so we grabbed the opportunity while it lasted.

foggy weather and trees

Unfortunately, while still within the letter of the forecast, the weather that greeted me this morning was not really in the spirit of ‘decent weather’ in that it was extremely foggy (and indeed, stayed that way all day) as well as a bit icy underfoot. Fortunately my ice tyres had no problem with the slippy stuff, but (as I’ve mentioned before), switching to my winter wheels means losing my hub dynamo so I had to take an improvised approach to fitting the Brompton’s front light onto the big bike, having not left enough time to switch the bracket over properly.

Bike light mounted onto other bike light using rubber bands

Amazingly, this worked, which is far more than I deserved.

Half fallen tree in forest, with snow
Snowy track and murky fog

Anyway, duly lit and shod, the bike and I made it safely to our rendezvous, we had a lovely and rather atmospheric (if less than scenic, in the sense of being able to see any actual scenery) walk and a natter, and just as I was moving the bike to head home we heard the ominous clatter of something that sounded important falling off the bike and found a sheared bolt.

After some head scratching about what it could possibly be, and even whether it had come off my bike at all (not to put too fine a point on it, it didn’t look either filthy or rusty enough to belong to my bike), I checked the moving parts over carefully, found nothing obviously loose or hanging off – and then attempted to mount my bike only to discover it had been the tensioning bolt of my Brooks saddle.

sheared off bolt

This made for an … interesting five-mile ride home, attempting not to put too much weight on the partly unmoored saddle. I’ve put a fair few miles into my bike’s saddle and I didn’t want to damage the leather if I could help it, as it’s reached sofa levels of comfiness.

Old saddle
Brooks in happier times. If anything, it has become even more hammock-like since

Anyway, Twitter has confirmed that this is a known thing with Brooks saddles, that a replacement bolt can easily be purchased for a fiver, and that fitting it requires much swearing and the sort of mechanical ingenuity that someone who can’t even work out which way round her tyres should be put on (even when there is an arrow on the tyre to show her) is ever going to muster. So although I have ordered the bolt, I will be taking it and the saddle down to the bike shop as soon as it arrives. Some things are just best left to the professionals.


September 29, 2020

I suppose I should have guessed when I got my back wheel off, tyre off, whipped on a new inner tube, and got it all back together again in record time on Saturday that I was riding for a fall…

Rewind to Friday afternoon, when I had decided to tackle the slow puncture in the back wheel which had been evident for a week. Being a grown up cyclist who doesn’t ignore problems in the hopes that they will go away *ahem*, I felt that showing up for our first group ride in six months with a tyre that needed to be pumped up every morning was a bad example, so I gritted my teeth, took off the back wheel and brought it inside and surprised myself by taking less than an hour to fix the puncture, even though it did take me two patches and much cursing of the declining quality of puncture repair kits in this modern throwaway age (or possibly it was user error – you all knew you weren’t supposed to peel the plastic film off the top of the patch, right?) and/or my increasing impatience with the glue drying process. I wasn’t entirely happy with the resulting repair but thought I’d got the tube air tight, got the tyre back on with a minimum of fuss and … woke up on Saturday to a flat tyre again.

By this time I was out of patches and out of spare inner tubes for that wheel (because for reasons which have got lost in the mists of time I have a front wheel which takes Schraeder valves and a back wheel that takes presta valves and even though I’ve since replaced the back wheel and specifically asked the bike shop to sort this out I still do) so I pumped up the tyre again in the hopes it would hold and cycled down to the bike shop to buy a new inner tube and a sheet of patching material, only having to top up the air once, cycled back, and efficiently swapped inner tubes before my afternoon coffee had got cold.

Of course what I hadn’t done was my normal test ride (essential whenever I’ve been anywhere near the bike with any sort of maintenance attempt) so when I set off on Sunday for the ride, my bike was doing the sort of ‘badum badum badum’ thing that suggests a wheel that is not perfectly round (there’s a pedestrian and cycle bridge in Bigtown that has been surfaced in such a way that it does the same thing, and you can tell if someone doesn’t regularly cycle over it by the slightly worried expression on their faces as they try and work out what expensive thing has gone wrong …). A quick inspection revealed that I had not properly seated the tyre at the valve so I sorted that out, happily escorted some families around the back roads and byways of Bigtown, cycled home, and was greeted the next day by a completely flat tyre…

No problem – by this time I’m a dab hand at getting wheels off and tyres off (if not on) so off comes the back wheel, tube inspected and it’s a mess (really, don’t ride on a poorly seated tyre, it’s very bad for expensive new inner tubes) and after two patches have failed to sort it out I revert to the old inner tube which I had been meaning to repatch and keep as a spare. Which is now, mysteriously, holding air again … (does the Puncture Fairy have a helpful cousin the Patch Fairy, who recognises when a cyclist is at the end of her tether, and slips into bike sheds to fix things?).

So that is now on the bike (with the other half’s help to get the tyre reseated) and was fine this morning and fingers crossed that it will stay that way at least until the next Bastard Big Thorn comes along. In which case, I might just revert to my previous tactic of keeping the thorn in place and pumping the tyre up every morning because honestly, it seems more effective than my efforts to sort things out properly have been to date.

Only another five months of hedge-cutting season to go …

Never Mind Self-Care …

January 6, 2020

dirty bike
… time for some bike care.

I had absolutely no plans to go anywhere by bike today but I did have some bike-related business to take care of. It’s been a wet and muddy autumn and winter so far and in recent weeks my bike had crossed the border from ‘showing that I’m not a fair weather cyclist’ to ‘active bike neglect’. This is not just the superficial matter of surface muck – I’m not that fussed whether you can tell what colour my bike is or not, but I do know that a little bit of attention to the drive train would undoubtedly make the bike work better and probably reduce my maintenance bills to boot.* I did go through a phase of at least running a wet wipe round the chain and re-oiling it every so often (and yes, I know about wet wipes but I put them in the bin, not down the drain) but somehow that has fallen by the wayside as I come home wet and tired and decide that the bike can probably wait. I know, it’s a terrible way to treat the one you love …

Anyway, yesterday my comeuppance came as I realised that not only was my chain looking a bit neglected, but that it had actively started to seize up making it almost impossible to oil the damn thing without three hands – it wouldn’t let me turn the cranks backwards to run the chain around the mechanism so I was reduced to holding the bike saddle with one hand, pressing down the pedal with the other, and wheeling the bike round in a big circle to get the chain back onto the ring. Naturally, having got enough oil on to get the bike going again, I took it out in the rain and the muck and then chucked it back in the garage unwashed. So today, I made amends, and in a gap in the rain, gave it a good wash and properly cleaned and oiled the chain.

cleaned bike

A quick test run suggests it’s still long overdue for its annual service but at least it won’t be embarrassing to take it into the shop. Although given the continuing state of the roads and the forecast, I expect it won’t stay looking respectable for long.

How often do you clean your bikes?

* In another life, I’d be regularly measuring the chain wear – probably during its weekly cleaning and oiling, haha – and replacing the chain so as to avoid wearing out the chainset quite as frequently as I do now but I’m not in that life now and if I’m honest I’m not sure I ever will be.

Testing, Testing

November 28, 2019

I have to admit that the last few days have proved testing to my commitment to making my bike my main mode of transport. It’s not just been the rain, or the dark, or the cold, or the fact that I have three evening engagements this week, one of which involved climbing back into my still damp things and heading out back into the rain and the dark only a couple of hours after I had arrived home – but if they’re giving out climate-saving medals, I would like one for that, please. No, I think the low point came yesterday evening as I was heading to New Nearest Village to find out more about the Coonsil’s declaration of a Climate Emergency.* Just as I crested the hill for the downhill run into the village (the topography of New Nearest Village somehow manages to be uphill in all directions, coming and going), my chain fell off. As it was pitch dark, I discovered the downside of having an amazing hub dynamo set up – that you can’t then point your wonderfully bright (even when stopped) but firmly attached front light at any part of the bike to sort it out (yes, yes, I know, you all carry spare lights for just this contingency). I was reduced to waiting for passing cars – not to stop and offer help, but to shine enough light to briefly work by. After about the fourth four-by-four had raced past (I’m going to assume not on the way to the climate meeting, but you never know) I’d managed to free the chain with a minimum of swearing and even managed to make it to the meeting without transferring any chain oil onto my face, which is a first.**

There are upsides too, of course, she says hastily. Mainly when the rain stops and it’s late enough that it’s just me out there on the road, with the odd owl for company. Or – as happened on Tuesday night – a Hercules lumbering slowly overhead at what felt like chimney height. I actually experienced a temperature inversion as the air warmed as I climbed out of the fog in the river valley and up our road. It doesn’t *quite* make up for foolishly choosing to live on a Cat 3 climb, but it is something to have your school geography lessons actually brought to life.

Tonight it’s my final social engagement of the week (well, my writers’ group) and I’ve only got a lift on the way home, so it will shortly be time to tear myself away from the fireside, find the least damp of my pairs of gloves, and set off again into the cold and the dark, saving the planet one bike ride at a time.

I hope the Coonsil appreciates me doing my bit.

* Actually slightly less greenwashy than I thought it would be, but they would appear to have a slightly different definition of ’emergency’ than most people.

** At least, if I did, nobody mentioned it.