A battle to the death with the cotter pin from Hell

Well, you knew sooner or later one bike wasn’t going to be enough for me. It’s not so much that I want a bike for every condition, or every day of the week, or that I want to build a collection, it’s simply that I enjoy working on them, and now the last two bikes I’ve worked on are ready and working I wanted a new project. It’s so important for an engineer to keep his hands dirty in some way or another.

So here’s what I bought, for £51: a 1980 BSA Tour of Britain, serial NH0021309 (built in Nottingham, June 1980), 22 1/2″ frame, with 27 x 1 1/4″ wheels, ten speed derailleur gears, a whole load of rusty bits and the silliest mudguards I’ve ever seen.

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I can see the meeting now. Hey, let’s make an upmarket version of the BSA Tour de France. Let’s call it the Tour of Britain. How can we differentiate them? Tiny mudguards. Because, you know, it rains here, but if we make them too big it’ll remind everyone just how much it rains here and put them off. So yeah, mudguards, but tiny ones. Brilliant.

To be perfectly honest, I overpaid. It’s not in anything like rideable condition (not that I intended to ride it straight away, but that’s how it was described) with kinked rims on both wheels, bearings in the head tube (and probably elsewhere) in need of a full overhaul, a broken inner chainring and a snapped cable to the front derailleur. Also the tyres are mismatched and cracked, but I never keep old tyres on a bicycle anyway so that didn’t matter. I suppose if you look at it from the point of view that I bought the bike to give myself some work to do, then it represents excellent value for money!

I’m not sure what I’m ultimately going to do with this bike, but it won’t be just a restoration – more of a customisation, almost certainly with a three-speed hub. So far all I’ve done is strip it down to the frame, and I’m mulling over whether or not to repaint it. Having seen the condition of the frame I probably will as it’s pretty scratched in places, and I get to choose my own colour instead of that weird metallic beige, but I’m a little reluctant as painting’s never been a specialty of mine.

Most of the fittings came off the bike ok, but the nut on the rear brakes was rounded off, the kickstand was rusted tight on and the pedals wouldn’t budge. I got the brakes off eventually and managed (deliberately) to shear off the kickstand bolt. The pedals aren’t strictly legal and in any case the bearings aren’t great, so I tried removing them but couldn’t with them in the crank. I decided to take the crank off and see if the pedals could be persuaded in a vice, and that meant getting past the cotter pin from hell.

For those only familiar with modern cranks, cotter pins are little wedge-shaped pins that are bashed into a hole in the crank to hold it fast against the axle. Getting them out of old bicycles can be a notoriously Herculean task at times, and if you get a real bad one they can put up a hell of a fight. I quite like them as they are a good test of tenacity and stubbornness.

First of all, I got my hammer and gave it a good bash. Nothing. Then I got a punch, and gave it another bash. Nothing. Then I got a G-clamp and socket, tightened it as far as I could, and gave it a few strong blows with the hammer. Still nothing. So I went and removed the vice from my workbench, clamped the pin and socket in it and tightened as hard as I could. STILL nothing. And I mean nothing – not a single indication anything I was doing was making any difference.

I very, very nearly gave up, but what was I to do? The pin was starting to bend and the thread was so mashed I couldn’t get the nut back on, and I knew sooner or later I had to get the bottom bracket open anyway. 

My last chance (well, before drilling it out anyway) was to get an adjustable spanner and attach it to the vice screw so I could pull as well as push. This gave me three or four more turns on the vice. Then finally – after nearly an hour of struggle – there came an enormous bang, followed shortly after by an even louder “YEEEEAH!” from me. It was a pure, primal scream of total jubilation. I’d had to go to the nuclear option but in the end I got what I wanted: total unconditional surrender.

With the adrenalin of victory coursing through my veins, I addressed the other cotter pin, quoting from Quentin Tarrantino’s Inglorious Basterds: “about now I’d be shitting my pants if I was you”. Sure enough, with the vice on stand by it came out with just a couple of gentle taps from a hammer! If cotter pins are the Nazis, then I’m the Bear Jew.

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