Lever love

So on Saturday I popped in to Henry Burton’s to ask about shoes, and ended up leaving with brake levers… There was a bike on display that I think I’ve been shown before when it was upstairs, and it’s a lovely touring bike with mudguards, rear rack, and classic components including downtube shifters. I pointed out the brakes and said my own levers (Weinmann, with Dia-Compe add-ons) tended to rattle about a bit, and he uttered the magic words “just let me have a little look”, and after a couple of minutes he came back with an odd pair of Weinmann levers that had just the part I was looking for. £8 he sold them to me for, which is probably a touch on the generous side. So here they are installed:

The ‘GT levers’, as he called them, are L-shaped and riveted on to the pin that holds the front levers and the bolt to the bracket that attaches to the bar. The main levers themselves are the originals from the bike, sans the black hoods which don’t fit around the additional levers, and they’re very nice and clean looking virtually brand new. 

These GT levers mate directly to holes in the sides of the main levers rather than simply resting on top, which means they are more securely attached and don’t rattle when the main levers are pulled in, and the fact they’re riveted to the pin means they don’t swivel about side to side like the old ones did. They also allow me to use the little quick release feature that allows the brakes to open a little further when changing wheels, similar to a Campagnolo system I’ve seen on another bike.

So why do I like GT levers? Well it’s just a question of convenience on busy lanes and paths. With pedestrians and dog walkers about one often has to stop or slow down so it’s handy to always have the brakes within reach, and being able to hold the top of the bars also gives extra stability when both braking and shifting gear, which I’m often doing when I leave my drive. They don’t look very ‘pro’, but who cares?

I hesitate to say Major Tom has reached his ‘definitive state’ as I’m sure I’ll change something at some point, but I’m rapidly running out of things that I would want to change. I suppose the seatpost is too modern, and if I could find a suitable Sakai Ringyo seatpost I might be tempted. The bar tape (a black cork type that’s reasonably inexpensive) is comfy enough by I don’t think it visually suits the bike – I might splash out on some Brooks tape or similar, it’s due for a change shortly anyway and I did make a bit of a hash of it when I fitted this set of tape. The cloth tape it came with originally (which I initially replaced like-for-like) is a little too thin and unsubstantial for my tastes. 

Other than that I might refit the original rear derailleur (a SunTour Vx) but that’s it, all the other components work just fine. The front derailleur I wouldn’t want to swap (except perhaps to replace with an identical unit), as it’s ‘high normal’ and so can be stored with the chain in the big ring with the cable at its lowest tension. I don’t quite understand why other front derailleurs work the opposite way, why set your levers to work in opposite directions? Yet another thing that dearly departed SunTour got right if you ask me…


This is Hardcore

We’ll I’ve had something of a busy weekend – the weather has been distinctly shitty but I’ve been riding anyway. In doing so Major Tom and myself have been getting very, very dirty…

On Saturday I didn’t have my usual morning appointment so after a very welcome lie-in I set to work giving a Major Tom a bit of TLC in the form of a bit of attention to the brakes as well as cleaning the rims and degreasing and re-oiling the drivetrain. You’ll note this was before I went out. 

I decided to try out the lane to a village called Salt, which is where you get to if you turn left rather than right on the road to Aston Marina. I was wearing the full regalia, Lycra everything and tracksuit bottoms to keep my legs warm – the temperature’s still single digits centigrade. The brakes had stopped squealing and the bike was working pretty well, but it wasn’t long before the rims were filthy again and starting to make that horrid grinding noise when I braked. At least it wasn’t actually raining – I was lucky to find a three-hour window where it held off.

It was nice to see the lane to Marston again, it was my first trip of the year that way. The surface hasn’t got any better though, and I did have to watch out for the odd pothole. Again the cars I encountered could be counted on one hand, which is what I really like about cycling that way. I got to the turning and went left, and the lane as far as Sandon Road is familiar to me. There’s lots of farms around so the roads are often covered in mud and dirt near the entrances, which gets carried to other parts of the road. I started reaching down to place my thumb on the seat-tube and the reach with my index finger to scoop the mud off the rear rim, alternating hands to clean each side, and this seemed to be quite effective, at least until I’d gone a mile or two further and the rims were dirty all over again…

I crossed over the Sandon Road and ventured out to Salt, where I found a nice old village church, next to a small triangle of grass with a bench. I sat on the bench and had a drink for a couple of minutes then set off again, back the way I’d come. At the turning I carried on straight towards Aston, but had to turn back after a couple of miles as the road was flooded. I thought it probably wasn’t deep enough to be a problem, but I felt I’d gone far enough and didn’t want to catch an invisible pothole. Back along the lanes I was regularly practising my rim-cleaning trick, and overall it was a pleasant ride despite all the mess. I watched a documentary about Amy Winehouse in the week so had my go-to karaoke song ‘Valerie’ stuck in my head for much of the ride.

As I headed back I calculated I was on for about 18 miles, so I tacked on a cheeky loop through Baswich which took me up to just over 22 miles. This is the furthest I’ve ridden without a significant break, so I was quite satisfied with that. I got home and washed the bike down, and also washed Crichton down while I was about it. Later on I went out for a big meal with my future in-laws, and I had quite an appetite!

Today I had myself all set to venture out again, and was about to place my rain jacket in my pocket when I saw the weather – steady light rain. Immediately I decided to just put the jacket on and dispensed with my glasses, which would have been useless after the first quarter of a mile anyway. I set off towards Aston, and it was a fairly uneventful ride out apart from the horrid weather. I could definitely feel an improvement in my fitness, being able to keep pressing up slight inclines to keep my speed up – I was rarely at less than 15mph. I rode through the flood (it was only about six inches deep) and made it to Stone Hockey Club, which is a few miles short of Aston. I stopped for a couple of minutes for a drink and set off back. Today’s mental music track was ‘This is Hardcore’ by Pulp

I was really trying to maintain a good speed, and also to keep my cadence a bit higher than normal. I’m aware that most of the time my cadence is pretty low, say 60-70, which is probably to do with riding a three-speed so much where often power is more important than speed. I was helped by a glitch in my rear derailleur which prevented my getting into my highest gear, though all the other gears were working fine. As I came back down Beaconside there were a few joggers out, probably practising for the Stafford Half-Marathon. One guy in particular caused the major drama of the day…

I’d reached the straight, mainly flat stretch where I often build up a fair amount of steam, and could see this guy jogging along in the distance. The cycle lane was on my left, the path on my right. He, however, was running straight down the middle along the white line that separates the two. I rang my bell, but he didn’t react, so I rang it again until I made out some earphone leads. Hmm. I could either slow to a crawl, or else find a way down either side, so I chose the latter option. Just as I got past him all hell broke loose…

Suddenly, I was aware of getting a giant fishtail on (and I mean a good 20-30 degrees sideways) as I hit some mud on the side of the path, and I really don’t know how I avoided wiping out, but I managed to right myself somehow on pure instinct as I certainly didn’t have time to think about it. This though had steered me towards the verge, so suddenly I had another massive slide to correct, every bit as bad as the first. Again, somehow, I retrieved the situation, and I carried on down the path having lost a fair bit of speed, yelling foul oaths at the jogger as I went. I imagine I made quite an alarming sight for him!

Afterwards I was in two minds about it, both concerned at the potential consequences of such an accident, and at the same time pretty chuffed with my rather masterful bike control. My balance has never been great on its own but give me a vehicle and I’m pretty sharp – my first car accident happened because my reflexes were a little too fast. My second car accident (not my fault) I recall an instinctive flooring of the throttle momentarily to pull the car straight to avoid hitting a house, which in retrospect was quite a clever bit of quick thinking. It’s good that, clearly, such instinctive reflexes extend to the bike too, though I’d rather not call on them too often!

Anyway, I got home covered in all manner of gunk, and immediately hit the shower. I’d done about 15 miles, which was pretty good considering the weather was so nasty. I don’t want rain to put me off longer rides because, we’ll, it does rain quite often in Britain and there’s every chance it might rain for my big ride in June, so I need to just man up and get on with it. I’ve done very nearly 50 miles this weekend, which brings me over 150 miles for January and gives me a little buffer against my schedule. 

All downhill from here…

So this weekend I didn’t bail out and successfully rode to Milford via Walton-on-the-Hill and Brocton. From the point where I turned around last week to Brocton is was downhill the whole way, probably about 2 miles, and fairly steep. 

I like going downhill as much as the next cyclist, but I’m not able to fully enjoy it as I’m always thinking “yeah, but sooner or later I have to go back UP”. So since I didn’t quite feel it in my legs I switched my plan to go back the way I came and instead came back along the main road, which rises more gradually. It was probably a good move – it’s a road I’d been nervous about riding on as I still feel a little claustrophobic on A-roads, particularly unfamiliar ones. I managed it with no problems and the traffic was polite (it helps that there were plenty of other cyclists about).

Coming back through Baswich there was a group of old guys hanging around in hi-viz jackets, which got my attention. I noticed a sign saying “Community Speed Monitoring” or something, so I got in the drops nice and aero and rode past them at ‘maximum attack’, which made them chuckle. I don’t entirely like speed enforcement as a driver, but I appreciate their efforts so hopefully it brightened a dull day a little.

My brakes, particularly the front brakes, were squeaking a lot at low speeds. They’ve never squeaked before so I’m not sure why they’ve started now. Other than that Major Tom’s functioning fine, and has done the majority of my mileage in 2017 so far. The new freewheel makes gearchanges more clear-cut, but sadly the new wheels already need retrueing a little, particularly the rear. Luckily when they go back to the shop I already have a spare set – the originals!

My sister came for the weekend and borrowed the folder to ride with me for coffee with my fiancée on Saturday morning, as we had to discuss invite graphics (my sister’s the arty one). It was interesting the way she, as a very experienced cyclist used to getting about in London, seemed to behave subtly differently on the road. Maybe it’s because I knew the roads better and she was on an unfamiliar and slightly tricky bicycle, but she seemed to be more ‘formal’, is the only way I can describe it. She’s more confident on roads than me, that’s for sure. The great thing is even though we’re not twins we’re EXACTLY the same height, so I didn’t have to move the saddle so much as a millimetre!

Anyway, the folder’s now with me in Leamington as I’m working only about a mile away for the next three days. It’s handy to be able to chuck it in the boot and have it ready to go. Handy also to know it’s going to be frosty tomorrow morning but not have to worry about the bother of defrosting a windscreen…

Bailing out

Twice this weekend I’ve planned out a ride and then bailed out in the middle. It sucks a bit, but I had my reasons. Weekends take on such an annoyingly formulaic pattern for me these days, and much of it seems to get in the way of me riding my bicycle.

All week I’d been looking at maps thinking up a route out to Milford, about 6 or 7 miles each way. I decided I was going to try it out on Saturday afternoon, but then things came along that meant I had to move this back a bit, and it wasn’t until 3 that I was ready to leave. This gave me maybe an hour and a half of good light, so it didn’t start too promisingly. I got over to Baswich without too much trouble, then got a tiny bit lost before I found the way through to Kingston Hill. I climbed up Old Croft Road and kept going to find Brockton lane, but it got extremely narrow. Three things started to play on my mind: 1) it was barely wide enough for one car, never mind a car passing a bicycle 2) it was downhill, so if I went the way I’d planned I’d be climbing slowly uphill just as the light was fading, on a narrow road 3) I had no idea of the surface quality and would rather not find out in poor light. So I bailed out, and decided I’d have to wait for another day.

Today I had a more familiar route planned, and again things conspired to waste all my daylight hours on things that did not include riding my bicycle. So I left the house at 5pm, it was dark and drizzling, and I went on my way. My glasses very quickly got covered in drizzle and I could hardly see what was ahead, and after about five miles of this I took my glasses off. I can see ok without as I’ve got one good eye, but somehow the fact the rain was now hitting my face more just crystallised in me that this ride was just wet and miserable and maybe I ought to call it. I heard of someone pulling out of an event describing their condition as NHF instead of DNF, and “not having fun” was definitely how I felt. Just the 6.21 miles today then. 

It’s so frustrating having the sun set so early, having things constantly fill up what daylight I do get, and have the weather today be so universally horrid. I suppose it’s also a bit of post-Christmas blues at not having the same amount of free time. 

A new set of wheels

No, I haven’t bought another bike, though when my fiancée was asking about what sort of Christmas tree we were going to get in out first house next year I said “you’re allowed 1 foot of tree for every bike I’m allowed to own”, which based on her aspirations would limit me to seven… 

Nope, I’ve just swapped out Major Tom’s original wheels for the ones I built up over Christmas. I had mixed feelings, as I did like looking at them all new and shiny, perfectly clean and with that smell of fresh rubber. But I didn’t build them for decoration, so I bit the bullet and popped them on. Between wheelsets I swapped out the brake pads for some new ones, and also took the opportunity to clean up and regrease the calipers. Before the new wheels went on I got my accurate scales and weighed them, then weighed the old ones that came off. It turns out I’ve shaved off a full 600g on the old ones! The new front weighs 1.32kg, and the rear 1.85kg including tyres and freewheel. Not bad, but I could have saved more with butted spokes.

Here’s the fresh front wheel with it’s lovely Continental Grand Prix Classic tyres. They look every bit as good as I’d hoped and I’m amazed at how supple they feel to the touch. I put them on just after Christmas and they went on a little easier than the Schwalbes I’m used to, I was able to do it thumbs-only, which is always a plus (well, it’s really the only correct way to do it, but with tight beads sometimes needs must). My thumbs were quite sore after though. One thing that made me chuckle was this photo on the back of the box the tyres came in. Have you ever seen a more German-looking pair in your life!

I rode Major Tom about 5 miles on Saturday on the old wheels, then yesterday did 11 miles on the new ones. It wasn’t the nicest conditions, damp and generally miserable, so I didn’t get much of an idea of grip, but I can definitely feel the missing weight. I know reducing rotating mass doesn’t have quite the effect a lot of people think but it certainly improves acceleration and that was immediately apparent. That and the tiny clangs of what sounded like a dozen fairies dropping their small spanners all at once as the spokes evened out their stresses. I also noticed the ‘new’ SunTour freewheel made an improvement to gear changes, having a much crisper transition between gears and no riding over the sprockets like the Maillard did.

It was a bit tough riding through mucky roads on brand new wheels. I was wincing constantly to think my perfect wheels were getting dirty. When I got home I surveyed the damage: the front rims were quite clean but the rear brakes were full of gunk, which I sort of struggled to understand to begin with. I thought about it more and imagined the stuff landing on the rims (thrown up by the front) and then gradually migrating across the brake channel to the outside of the wheel. Then I did the calculation and it turns out that even at only 20mph the rims experience 26g of centrifugal force, and at 30mph it’s nearly 60g. That’s a pretty hefty force. Interestingly the old Weinmann rims I took off have a little ridge on the corners next to the brake channel, so perhaps this helps to retain some of this mucky stuff?

Anyway, I’m very pleased with my new wheels. The bike felt better than ever. That’s one fun aspect of riding a vintage bike. A brand new bike starts off perfect and gets gradually less good, but a bike you refurbish starts off OKish (hopefully) and then gets better and better.

SunTour Power

This clever little thing is a SunTour Power Shifter, which I picked up on Ebay because it was going cheap. In the land before index shifting, this guy was king. I have the two-lever version on Major Tom and they work really nicely, pulling back with only the resistance of the springs inside the derailleur parallelogram, making a satisfying ratchet sound (Listen here) as the spring moves over the teeth. Push forward and they’re like any other friction shifter, except that it’s the ratchet wheel that’s being held by the screw rather than the lever. They’re less likely to come loose than standard friction shifters, and after a little while you can subconsciously count the ratchet clicks to know where a particular gear is. “Very trick”, as Guy Martin would say. Above all though, it’s just a lovely thing to hold in your hand.

Highlights from a year of cycling

January, February, March: The year started well enough, with lots of time on the bike doing relatively short rides as I built my fitness up. There was the drama of the flood that I rode into by accident, and in February the incredible tedium of five punctures in a very short space of time. In the whole of the rest of the year I’ve had one puncture… I also purchased my second bicycle, though to date this is still just a pile of components. I doubt I’ll ever complete it, though the spares have been handy.

April, May: I started to branch out a bit as spring arrived, and gradually edged further down the lane to Aston. I do remember reaching Aston Marina as being a significant achievement, and it gave me the confidence to enter the July sportive. The countryside looked really lovely at this time of year, and I was very much enjoying the novelty of exploring it.

June, July: June was a curious month, with no really big rides but very consistent activity. I bought and restored Major Tom, which was lots of fun, and managed to keep the spreadsheet ticking over. July was an incredible month, with over 250 miles ridden. There was a brief heatwave that made everything so hot, I was riding my bike all the time I could just to get some moving air to cool me down. The RideStaffs sportive was fun, and it gave me a good idea of what my level was. By the end of July I’d cracked 1,000 miles, which was a great feeling. There was also the Pokemon Go Scourge

August, September: these were pretty average months, and I didn’t post very much here. A lot of time was spent getting the hang of riding Major Tom, and a change to a shorter stem helped to give me a better fit. I acquired the little Raleigh Wisp that’s still midway through refurbishing, and also the larger Raleigh that my housemate still hasn’t started working on. Plenty of miles but most of them pretty unmemorable.

October, November, December: This period started promisingly with the Coffeeneuring challenge, part of which I performed on my newly acquired folding BSA. I found some really lovely cafes in Leamington, and drank some delicious coffee. October was a half-decent month but November was absolutely dreadful – I just felt too ill to ride for most of it, and my total of barely 30 miles was extremely frustrating. I’ve made up for it to some extent in December, and thankfully so far the weather has been OK to ride in. I also built some wheels for Major Tom and seem to have done quite a decent job.