To the bike shop

In the last three days, I’ve been to the bike shop four times. And they were closed yesterday… 

Henry Burton’s is a proper, old-fashioned bike shop complete with two old boys who’ve obviously been working there for at least 20 years each. One of them, John, is the son of the eponymous founder, who started the shop in 1950. Other places in Stafford include Halfords, Wilkinsons (cheap cables a specialty), and the Specialized concept store, but when something needs some actual experience you have to go to Burton’s. Halfords are bloody useless for anything even slightly off the beaten track (“sorry we don’t stock those, why don’t you try the internet?”), but I have got some good lights from there. 

I got a call on Friday to say my rims had arrived, and I popped in on Saturday morning to pick up the rims and a set of spokes they’d put aside. I had summoned up the courage to build the wheels myself but was keen to get whatever tips I could from them. “Well I’m sure there are videos on YouTube” he said, and he’s quite right. The problem is these videos aren’t put together by experienced tyros like him, they mainly feature inexperienced amateurs like me, keen to show off what they supposedly know. I tend not to trust them too much, as they usually contain the kind of old wive’s tales one would do well to avoid. He did impress on me the need to arrange the spokes to allow easy access to the valve, and said there wasn’t much damage I could do that he couldn’t ultimately unpick if need be.

We got into a bit of a chat about he sort of bike it was for and as I told him about Eroica and the rules a bike needs to meet he invited me upstairs for a look at some of the bikes he had stored up there. He had one particular bike he was keen to show me, with Reynolds 453 tubing. I’m still not entirely sure what particular application 453 was designed for, but it looked a good bike for touring and randonneurs with its mudguards and so on. He pointed out the Weinmann safety levers and the SunTour power shifters, both features I quite admired, and the price was tempting, as was the very attractive headbadge…


I’m really not in the market for a new bike at the moment, but he did tantalisingly state that they had a couple of other rooms full of frames they’d never got round to building into full bikes. Who knows, maybe there’s a nice Reynolds 531 or 753 frame I could get them to make up. He was like a dealer trying to entice me to make the step from cannabis to cocaine.

Anyway, I mentioned I was wondering if they might have the right axle somewhere for me to turn my solid axle hubs into quick release, and a couple of hours later I got a call to say they’d found some unused Maillard quick release hubs, and would I be interested? Well, I was interested enough to pop back for a look, since I was in town anyway. Very nice they were too, but my hubs are 1982, the same as my bicycle, whereas these were 1987. He offered me a price of £35, which I’m sure is a fair price for new-old-stock, but I do need to control my bicycle spending a touch so I said I’d have a think about it.

So home I went to build up the wheels. The rims are quite narrow, 13mm as opposed to the 17mm they were replacing, double walled aluminium with eyelets that give them quite an attractive look. I’ve read and re-read Sheldon Brown’s article on wheelbuilding, and I’d had a fair bit of practise, so I sat down and got on with it. In no time at all the front wheel was done. Done wrong, as it turned out, as the valve was in precisely the wrong place. So I stripped it back and did it again. This time the valve was in a second, less awkward but more asymmetrical place, and that won’t do. Oh well, third time lucky!

The rear wheel only took two goes, and only because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. There was something I read somewhere about arranging the spokes so that they draw the spokes inward and away from the derailleur when under load, which I followed even though the chap in Burton’s said it didn’t matter as long as the spoke tension was where it should be. Curiously I could tell from the leftover indentations that whoever had built up a wheel on the rear hub before me had done each side opposite ways  – it’s hard to explain what I mean by this, but the inner spokes on each side pointed in opposite directions compared to each other – which makes building unnecessarily difficult. I followed the indentations on the non-freewheel side but ended up with a spoke pattern that was perfectly useable but not what I wanted. So back to square one it was.


Now it sounds like I had a frustrating afternoon – build a wheel, find a mistake, strip it down, start again – but that really wasn’t the case. It’s exactly the sort of activity I enjoy, and which I can do effortlessly quickly once I get going. Every Christmas my late grandfather used to get me the most impressive set of Lego Technic he could find, things like seaplanes and SUVs with hundreds and hundred of pieces, and without fail I’d have them assembled within an hour. Recently my fiancée bought me a make-it-yourself radio kit, expecting it to occupy me for some time, which I had working in about 25 minutes. I suppose I’ve just got the knack.

Anyway, I popped back in to drop the wheels off for trueing (since I don’t have the equipment to do this well, and I want these wheels perfect) and then wandered around town looking for Christmas presents. My fiancée rang to see if I was coming round, and reminded me that I’d promised to fix up her dad’s bike. I assembled what I hoped were the right tools for the job, and went round. The bike is not terribly special, a cheap mountain bike with the classic Shimano SIS thumb shifters and cantilever brakes. The problem concerned steering, and it didn’t take me long to find the problem – another set of caged bearings where the cage had disintegrated through corrosion.

So off to Halfords to get a new pair of bearing cages. The ones they had were slightly too big – “Why don’t you try the internet?” Because I want it fixed before the sun goes down in an hour’s time you wally! Another annoying thing about Halfords is how congested the roads in and out can be. Anyway, back to Burton’s, who also didn’t have the caged bearings, but sold me a packet of loose bearings for £2.25, and gave me some advice on installation. A somewhat fiddler job than I wanted, but that bike’s fixed now.

I should have been a bike mechanic…

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