They Go Boom

With much anticipation I picked up Major Tom’s new (old) wheels yesterday afternoon. I really did a good job with them, so much so the shop only charged half the normal trueing fee as they’d had so little to do!

So with the wheels back it was on with the tyres. The front was fine, but when I turned to the rear the fun began. First the inner tube that’s been sat in my saddle bag for two years waiting to be used in the event of a puncture had in fact developed a puncture all on its own, manifesting as a large hiss when I tried to pump it up.

Off came that tube and I reluctantly replaced it with one of the old tubes from Tom’s old wheels. The beads are pretty tight so it’s quite a faff to get them on, but as it turns out they’re not THAT tight. As I was sat back admiring my handiwork I turned my back for a moment and heard the tell-tale rifle-shot sound of a tube blowing itself off the rim and exploding. It was that big a bang a cricket bat fell off a nearby shelf, and I had a ringing in my ears for a couple of minutes. These rims aren’t hooked so won’t take the same level of pressure, I’d pumped them up to 110psi but I think I’ll adopt 90 as the limit from now on. This means dropping the front to 75psi which isn’t ideal (beware the pinch-flat), but will at least be nice and comfortable. Anyway, third time lucky the tube went on with no problems.

The Brooks Flyer saddle is a temporary addition to Major Tom, it actually belongs to my custom 5-speed, Flash Harry. It’s on there because I need to break it in and Tom’s Selle Italia Turbo is currently on the Peugeot. In time I think Tom will get a Brooks Swift, he looks so handsome with a leather saddle.

The tyres were an easy choice. They need to “look right”, which limits me to a few vintage-inspired tyres such as the Michelin Dynamic Classics I’ve got on the Peugeot, and they need to work well. The Continental Grand Prix Classic (which Major Tom previously ran on) is my favourite tyre, not that I’ve tried that many. It’s identical in most respects to the standard Grand Prix but with a look and tread pattern inspired by the tyres they were producing in 1982 (ideal for a 1982 bike!). They’re very pliable and grippy, my only gripe being that the sidewalls are quite delicate. They fold so I can carry a spare.

Just to fully get everything period correct, I took the 14-26 sprockets off my late 1980s SunTour freewheel and put them on an identical 1981 freewheel core, identical at least apart from the SunTour logo. Details…

I went for a little test ride, there was still the odd clang of spokes settling in, but not as much as previously. Also interesting was the noise of the front brakes, which now have a sort of “buzz” to them due to the dimples in the sides of the rim. It sounds a bit like an underground train coming into a station. Apart from that I think Tom needs a bit of fine tuning, there’s the odd little clunk here and there that I need to identify and solve. Overall though it rides very nicely.

Later on last night I took the newly-mudguarded Peugeot out for 4 miles or so. I love riding later after the sun’s gone down, there’s so little on the road and as long as you’ve previously checked the roads for potholes etc it’s a much purer experience than daytime riding through town, where there’s always cars and pedestrians to worry about. I’ve heard tell that cheap Peugeots ride unusually well, and I have to say Rosebud seems to confirm this. The mudguards were very fiddly to fit, but now they’re on they’re trouble-free and do the job without weighing a ton.

Here’s a moody, post-ride shot of the Peugeot, backlit by the light out of the kitchen window:

So my bike stable’s pretty well-stocked now: a fair-weather road bike, a winter road bike, a sturdy 3-speed for utility trips, a fancy 5-speed for leisurely exploration, and a folding bike to stick in the car boot when I need it. All I need to do now, is get back to actually riding them…


I got an A+!

It’s so funny when I take a set of wheels into the bike shop, I always feel like I’m getting my homework marked. Today I took my wheels in and explained I needed the protruding spokes on the rear ground off, there’s at most about 3mm or runout from true. He looked them over and (not much of a surprise) confirmed they were properly laced. Then he got his dishing stick in (a tool I don’t have) and checked how central the rims were between the locknuts. There was maybe 1mm in it – easy enough on a front wheel, but I’m really pleased with the rear. I think he was suitably impressed!

I dunno, maybe one day I’ll put the hours in to get my wheels fully true without getting the shop involved. You don’t actually need a trueing stand (though I’m sure it’s easier) and I’m probably well capable of it. Two things seem to stop me: first, I’d miss showing my wheels off to probably the only person who can appreciate the care I put into them, and second I’d be worried about not having the reassurance of a second opinion. I do this a lot with my car: I’m a decent mechanic but every time I take a wheel off I’ll drive along after worried I haven’t done the wheelnuts tight enough. I always do tighten them, but I just can’t help but worry…

While I was in the shop I picked up some skinny SKS chromoplastic mudguards, to put on Rosebud so she’s ready for the winter. I had a brief dress rehearsal of how to fit them, and while they’re pretty fiddly they should do the job.

A tranquil weekend

So Major Tom’s new wheels are built, ready to go to the shop for a final true-up beyond the level I can get them to. Here’s the bits I started with:

I was quite happy with the lacing job, I did make a small mistake early on with the rear wheel, easily fixed. Yes, you can see the hub logo through the valve hole:

In trueing and tensioning the rear wheel I found it a bit of a struggle to get the gear side tight enough, it always seems to take much more tension than seems sensible. The spokes have started to push beyond the nipples so they’ll have to be ground flush.

I used this Sheldon Brown method to see how I was getting on:

When you’re doing the dishing you just fit the wheel the other way round to compare sides. I can get them to within about 2mm of true but beyond that I never seem to make any improvements.

Let’s not pretend these are lightweight, they’re ok by 1982 standards but heavier than the more modern rims of the wheels I built previously:

All in all a nice way to spend a Saturday, building wheels with Test Match Special on the radio. I’m looking forward to seeing them on the bike! I need to get some Conti Grand Prix Classics for them, then they’ll look the business.

Round like a circle in a spiral

So I may have a bit of a problem. On Wednesday morning I woke up and realised I’d been dreaming about building a bicycle wheel. Dreaming in considerable detail…

I’ve taken apart Major Tom’s original, presumably 37-year-old wheels. The hubs are going on the replacements with the new (old) rims. The wheels very rather manky, particularly behind the freewheel:

I noticed though, that the lacing of the wheel was unlike the way I’ve built wheels previously. It’s a little hard to explain but I’ll try my best. Look at the pokes that point the same way on each side of the flange:

Now I’m expecting One side to be the mirror of the other, with the trailing spokes going into the flange with the spoke heads towards the outside. Look at the photo above, and you’ll see that’s true for one side, but not the other. Compare, if you need to, with a wheel I built previously:

Having asked a wheelbuilding group on Facebook, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on whether the trailing spokes should be on the inside or the outside, and some have said this asymmetrical lacing (of the original wheel) doesn’t matter. I disagree…

It seems this wheel was built either by a machine, or by someone who was lazy. What’s funny is I looked at all my other wheels and without exception the wheels I’d made were symmetrical, and ALL the other wheels were asymmetrical.

Does it matter though? Of course it does! If I can tell 37 years on that a wheelbuilder was lazy, then I want my wheels to say in 37 years time that I was the BOSS at wheelbuilding. There are a few things I’m aiming to achieve:

1. Basic requirement: straight spokes at the valve hole so you can get to the valve to inflate the tyre.

2. A solid, symmetrical 3-cross pattern with spokes passing the first two and weaving round the third.

3. Trailing spokes go from the inside of the flange, such that under load the rear spokes get pulled in rather than pushed out. It doesn’t matter on the front wheel, but I’ll do it anyway.

4. Spokes relieved of yield stress before trueing so they stay true for longer.

5. All rim and hub stampings to be legible (I.e. the right way up) when looked at from the drive side.

6. Cherry on the cake: a view of the hub logo through the valve hole. 35 times out of 36 this isn’t an accident…

So all this was the kind of things I was dreaming about, and counting to 2, 3, 4 and 9. My hubs have polished up nicely and are ready to get some clean spokes in them:

(See that round M logo on the right? That’s what I’m going to line up with the valve holes)

I do love wheelbuilding. Of all the things I’ve learned to do in my life it’s one of the best, because it plays into my number one strength: 3-dimensional visualisation. The sad thing is the better one gets at it, the less time one spends actually doing it, there’s just a blur of hands and hey presto, out pops a wheel. I used to build the same wheel 3 or more times to remove mistakes, but these days I never seem to need to. In some ways that’s a shame, but on the other hand it’s pretty awesome to nail it first time.

This is my bike shop. There are many like it but this one is mine.

Yesterday I had another ride out to Haughton on the old railway line, this time in constant rain. It was wet; gloriously, preposterously wet, and I got totally soaked. Not only that, I got covered in the sand, grit, and traces of god knows what that make up the gravel path. I got back to find the in-laws had popped by, and they had a good laugh at the state of me. I may not have looked too impressive, but I felt pretty heroic.

Anyway, it further confirmed the need for a new freewheel for the Pug, given I had to keep passing over the middle sprocket to stop it skipping. Rather than try to find a vintage replacement (remember, this bike is not intended to be period-correct) I decided to just get a fresh new one.

To Henry Burton’s then, my local pusher, to feed my bicycle component habit. They got the old Maillard freewheel off, and slapped a fresh Shimano 6-speed on the desk. I’d have rather not had Shimano, but the ratios were spot-on (14-16-18-21-24-28) and I’m not that fussed.

We got on to discussing my future wheelbuild, rebuilding Major Tom’s old wheels (one of which they’d taken the freewheel off, so it was their for reference) and after I’d asked if they had anything a little wider than the 13mm rims I’d had previously, they had a look and pulled out these:

Top is the old wheel, below some New-Old-Stock Weinmann rims that almost perfectly match the old ones. What a score! So obviously, I bought a pair, and will go back at the weekend to get another spoke-and-nipple fix…

I got home with my haul and swapped the axles over. I’ve got two sets of Maillard hubbed wheels, one set nutted and the other quick release. I managed to swap them round without any of the bearings falling out (result!) and fitted the thinner wheels with the 23mm tyres to Rosebud and adjusted the rear derailleur travel to accommodate the 6-speed freewheel. Then I gave Major Tom his old wheels back, at least until I’ve got time to disassemble them.


Here’s Rosebud, at a place I often stop on the trail out to Newport. This was my first half decent ride on Rosebud, a square 10.0 miles. I haven’t cycled seriously all that much, so one impression to get out the way is how relatively unfit I’ve become, but that should change over the next year I hope. The next impression is that the saddle is too low, but the rest of the fit is fine. It’s going to be a bit tricky to solve that, as the seatpost isn’t a common size. I will also need a new freewheel, as the middle gear is worn and skips under load. I’ll probably build some new wheels too, as these ones came off Major Tom and are 37 years old.

My chief takeaway, however, is the strangeness of the downtube friction shifters. These aren’t quite the same as Major Tom’s levers, and maybe I’ve been spoilt by those ‘power’ levers but it’s hard to go backwards.

Levers of this type have a series of washers on either side, all clamped together with a screw:

It’s easier to push them down than to pull them up, as the spring in the derailleur is constantly trying to pull them back down. To stop them moving when you don’t want them to, you have to screw them pretty tight, which makes moving them when you do want to change harder.

These power shifters have a clever added twist hidden inside:

Part 11 is a ratchet wheel, and part 6 is a little spring. This means you still get the assistance of the derailleur spring when pushing down, but when pulling up you only need the force required to move the spring over the ratchet, without having to overcome the clamping force on the washers. Very clever, and very effective.

Now I do have the perfect levers for the job, these are so late 1980s versions with the same internal mechanism:

At the moment though they won’t mount on my downtube bosses, so until I can get round to filing down the bosses to the right size, I’m stuck with the old ones.

The other weird thing is that my front derailleur (which works really well as it happens) is a conventional one, which means it works the opposite way around to Major Tom’s weird Compe-V. That’s a bit easier to live with, however.

“I remember when bikes WERE bikes”

While idly searching Facebook marketplace I found this for sale. The guy who sold it works in construction, or to be more accurate demolition, and he and his colleagues found a series of bikes in a garage they were demolishing, so they split them between themselves and he sold this one to me.

The reason this bike appealed to me, and probably the only reason this bike would appeal to anyone, is that as a nipper I had a 24″wheeled kids version with exactly this paint and branding. I think mine was the Elite model, but close enough. It’s very hard, at 37, to resist a trip down memory lane, so even though as original it’s an absolutely awful bike, I had to have it.

1989 Peugeot Le Tour Original equipment:

57cm “Carbolite+” plain-gauge internally-brazed frame, internal rear brake cable.

700x25c tyres on Van Schothorst 18×622 steel rims, unbranded nutted hubs

Maillard 6-speed freewheel: 14-15-17-19-21-24

Unbranded crankset, alloy cotterless arms with steel 52-42 chainrings

Unbranded 1″ 24tpi headset

Unbranded 24tpi cup and cone bottom bracket

CLB sidepull brake callipers, Weinmann levers with Dia-Compe dual-action levers

Sachs-Huret Eco rear derailleur

Sachs-Huret front derailleur

Sachs-Huret braze-on mounted friction shifters

Non-original stem and handlebars

Selle Royal saddle

All threadings and fittings seem to be British/BSA standard, apart from the 24mm seatpost

So here’s the bike, untouched, on my fantastic new bike stand. No that I’ve got a stand to work on I was down to the bare frame in no time:

You’ll have to make your own mind up about the white/metallic gunmetal paint scheme. It just looks like my bike to me, so I can’t be unbiased about it.

There’s the familiar old lion. By the time I got the old bike my father was onto his second Peugeot 505 car, a really fantastic 1987 V6 model which we toured Europe in. My grandad later bought a red automatic 309, and my mum a silver 309 Trio that became my first car. I hate modern Peugeot cars with a passion, but back then they were awesome. Don’t forget this was not long after the era of the Group B 205 rally cars.

Funny the things you remember, I remember mine having this sticker on it.

Horrid, rusty Sachs Huret Eco components. It does not get any more cheap and nasty than this. You can’t even fully remove one of the jockey wheels to clean them. My old bike only had the rear derailleur, but I have a feeling it was a Peugeot-branded Simplex.

These Dawes bars are clearly not original, and the stem is mine. These NOS Weinmann dual action levers look a little goofy, but firstly my bike had them 30 years ago, and secondly they’re very handy when manoeuvring around town – much easier to look over your shoulder when you’re sat up.

I remember the sloping fork crown, I think it’s quite elegant. I do NOT remember the seam running down the back of the fork blades. Even Noah’s Arc had seamless tubing!!!

What we have here is an interesting contrast with Major Tom. The BSA Prima wasn’t state of the art, nor terrifically desirable, but it was at least a serious machine with good performance. This Peugeot, however, is a lifestyle accessory, a non-serious bike designed to be sold cheap, ridden a bit, and then thrown away.

The rear derailleurs really tell the story: the SunTour Vx is cheap but light, clever and VERY durable. The Sachs-Huret Eco, especially in slightly modified ultracheap form, is just a waste of steel and plastic, shifts poorly, and is specifically designed to stop you taking care of it.

Anyway, the plan for this bike is to be a more winterised road and town bike, while Major Tom is released from lights, locks and bells to go back to being a hard-core speed machine.

…and if you’ve never watched Citizen Kane, you won’t understand why I’m calling it “Rosebud”.