Resolved

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…

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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 …

Nope

Oh no, that isn’t right at all.

Yikes.

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


Batteries Not Included

March 21, 2016

It was my birthday today and, while nobody gave me what I really wanted, which was a whole week of time to catch up with myself, I had many fine presents, including a new Brooks saddle for my Brompton and books from my Amazon wishlist.

bike stand

what’s in the box?

The other half, displaying rather more faith in my skills than I have myself has given me a lovely Park Tools bike maintenance stand. I did have a vague plan to get it assembled this afternoon and photograph it with my bike on it and maybe even investigate the latest New Noise that I shouldn’t be ignoring, but after it took me several minutes just to wrestle the box open (it was fastened with about 17 of those giant brass staples that say whoever fastened it meant for it to stay fastened) I realised I was not going to have the time even to unpack everything, let along work out how to put it together so I just peered into the bottom to see if they had included a tiny bike mechanic along with all the other bits.

Sadly he or she seems to have got lost in the post, so I will have to wait until the weekend to do justice to what appears to be a Serious Piece of Kit. Meanwhile, if any of you have any spare time lying around, please send it my way. I promise I will use it well.


Bike Maintenance Redux

February 15, 2016

It’s fair to say the last two days have not represented a pinnacle of my bike maintenance skills. Yesterday, what was supposed to be a social bike ride turned into a puncture fixing refresher course involving a grand total of four inner tubes, something of a record for me (the inner tube with the leaky valve that was causing my front tyre to go flat in the first place; the ‘spare’ inner tube that had supposedly been repaired after the last puncture that proved not to be particularly repaired after all; the replacement inner tube hurriedly bought at Halfords which I punctured trying to get my Marathon Pluses back on; and the other replacement inner tube which the nice girl mechanic at Halfords fitted with practised ease in about the time it had taken me to work out which way round my front wheel went while simultaneously managing not to make me feel entirely the incompetent fool that she and I both secretly knew I was).

Today, with the sun shining and the frost confining itself to sparkling attractively on the grass, I set off for the paper with the only fly in the ointment being the fact that my front derailleur was proving difficult to trim so that my chain didn’t rattle against it, something that had been bugging me for a while. Unfortunately I had forgotten the cardinal rule of all bike maintenance: never ignore a new noise. I was just at the outskirts of Papershop Village when the chain snagged on what proved to be a sheared-off front derailleur

Fortunately, the bike was rideable home (as long as I didn’t hit too many potholes; this is harder than it sounds at the moment) as that would have been a long old walk of shame otherwise…

Off to the bike shop tomorrow, I think.


More Maintenance

January 15, 2016

bike repair tools

For someone who loves her magical ice tyres as much as I do, you might think I was curiously reluctant to actually put them on my bike because – even with yellow warnings of ice from the BBC Terror Centre and actual snow falling out of the actual sky on Wednesday, I was still holding off, thinking that things might clear up a bit in the morning. It was only when we woke to discover that not only was it a bit nippy out, but that the car door had actually frozen shut, that I decided that, maybe I did want my ice tyres on after all and did the other half have time to do it?

But that seemed a tad feeble and, the other half being in a bit of a rush, I thought I’d at least speed the process by getting as much of it done as possible myself. To make the whole thing easier, the tyres are on a pair of spare wheels so I don’t have to wrestle with the spiky things myself but that was where the easy part ends.

The thing is, I’m just not a handy person. I already had the bike turned over (we don’t have a repair stand), when I remembered that all the tools I need to take the wheel off were in the saddlebag which was still attached to the bike. And then the brakes don’t have that handy lever thing (if you’ll excuse the technical terminology) that opens them out to get the tyre past them, so I had to remove a brake pad before the front wheel would come off. And it didn’t help that the spare back wheel is wider than the regular back wheel, nor that the mudguards were full of accumulated crud – and nor indeed that every time I put a tool down it froze to the bench.

tool impressions

‘shadows’ left by the spanner which kept melting into the layer of ice on the bench and then freezing there.

In the end, the other half came out in time to tighten up the wheel nuts and then escaped, having thawed out the car, so in the end I did actually manage to do most of it myself and it only took an hour.* This might actually represent the pinnacle of my bike maintaining activities to date as it included not only working out how to adjust my brakes but also how to remedy the fact that I almost unscrewed the whole brake cable from the front brake thereby rendering the whole magical ice tyres completely pointless.

By the time I had finished, the sun was warming up (not, I was glad to note after all that work, entirely melting all the ice on the road) and I barely had time for a quick test spin to check that everything still worked and briefly enjoy the sparkly frosty weather before chaining myself back to my laptop. I would post a photo, but it was only when I reached into my pocket for my phone to take a view of the snow covered hills that I realised it had fallen out of my pocket on the way (and was at that moment being retrieved by a concerned neighbour). Truly, I sometimes wonder why I am allowed out on my own.

* not counting the half hour of remedial percussive maintenance from the other half this evening to get the mudguards properly clear of the tyres…