Miles to go before I sleep

Since it’s Easter, and my birthday was on Tuesday, I’ve taken the week off. Obviously, it’s the perfect opportunity to do all that wedding planning that I’ve not had time for until now (invites are on their way, rings were sorted today) but it’s also a time to get some serious riding done. So I’ve set myself a little challenge: 20 miles a day, every day for a week.

Sunday was day one. I went out at about 10am so I wouldn’t miss the Grand Prix in the afternoon, and headed out down my old favourite lane, turning right towards the village of Salt. I was feeling pretty fresh, and I carried on through until I got to Weston Bank, just opposite Weston Hall restaurant. I turned round and stopped in Salt for a drink and a breather. I stopped here last week and met a nice old cyclist who seemed very interested in my bike, but I think he’s a fairly recent convert since he didn’t seem to know much about old bikes. I came back well in time for the race, having seen more cats than cars on the lanes. I timed it well as I knew there was a shower on the way, and it arrived just as I was half a mile from home.

Later on I rode my folding bike over to my fiancée’s with my track pump on the back so that I could pump up the tyres on her bike and ride that one back, while she brought my folder back in her car. On the way my folder turned into a two-speed, as I couldn’t engage the middle gear. I’ve opened up the hub since and nothing’s broken, so I don’t know what happened there. Riding her bike back I was trying to find things that might need fixing, but it was just absolutely bulletproof! The chain probably needs changing but apart from that I always say it’s the best bike in terms of condition out of all the ones I’ve bought. The one thing I have changed is I’ve pinched the rear rack for my own 3-speed, as I do actually have a need for it.

On Monday my fiancée and I FINALLY went for a bike ride, in my neck of the woods this time as I think it’s easier to go for a ride when you don’t live at the top of a hill. I offered her some gloves as we set off as it was a bit fresh, but she refused. Less than half a mile later she was very glad I’d brought them with me as her hands were freezing! We went down to the bottom of Tixall Road, across Two Waters Way and then along the canal, before heading towards the shopping centre on Lichfield Road for tea at Costa. My fiancée is always more suggestible when there’s tea…

She’s still a very slow, timid rider, which is a bit of a nightmare when I have to keep looking over my shoulder to keep an eye on her. I was regularly having to slow down to let her catch up, and when I say slow, I mean so slow my computer was struggling to display a speed! It’s not a problem I ever had, I was always going above 10mph on the flat, but it has the advantage that she can cover quite a large distance for a beginner. It’s got to be said, she does look very lovely riding that old bicycle. Sadly she’s not getting on well with the saddle, it doesn’t seem to fit her right, so I’ll need to sort that out if we’re going to do this more regularly. I’ll try her on my Brooks B66 and if that goes down well I’ll find a ladies version for her.

Later on I went out through Doxey on a road I’ve been meaning to ride for some time. I’d just got out of Stafford when I was engulfed by a peloton of riders from Stafford Road Club, which is the local cycling club. They all said a cheery hello as they passed me, and I figured I’d follow them for a bit as I didn’t know the road and would be a bit safer with regards to oncoming cars. It was a fairly gentle ride they were on so I was able to keep up with them, while keeping a polite distance back. I managed to maintain a pretty consistent 17mph for several miles behind them and felt I could have kept that up indefinitely, which might in part be down to slipstreaming, but also because my cruising speed has been increasing of late. 

Eventually I peeled off for a drink and they pressed on down the lanes, leaving me by the side of the road apparently in the middle of nowhere. Joining a club had crossed my mind but I thought about it a bit more having learned I could keep up. One thing I was curious about was that while I was riding behind them I was very conscious that I kept freewheeling, but they never did – or never seemed to. I know modern freehubs are much quieter (mine makes quite a racket!) but they did seem to be pedalling consistently. Is this a standard technique thing? Or is it to do with a naturally different way of riding different types of bike? I rode back home without much fuss, having done about 16 miles there and back. The weather was just how I like it, slightly overcast but dry, with just a slight breeze. 

Tuesday was my birthday, and I popped into town for a coffee, nosed around a couple of shops and came home, then later I rode out to Aston Marina again. I was still feeling pretty fresh considering this was Day 3, and I’d arranged to go out for pizza later so I had that thought urging me on. I stopped at the Marina and noticed something I’d not seen before, a little box for people to leave and borrow books from. Maybe when I next pop down I’ll leave a book in there, it’s a nice little community-spirited thing. I absolutely demolished the pizza when I got back…

Yesterday I first of all cycled round to my fiancée’s to meet the woman who was selling us our wedding rings. That’s now a 20 minute ride but still gets me every time. I’m not good at taking it easy on a bicycle, I’m always going as quick as I reasonably can! After we’d looked through all her samples and picked our rings (and handed over a serious chunk of money…) we decided to go to a cafe to ‘celebrate’. I rode through the Rowley Road estate, which is a private road though still passable by bicycle. I got a bit lost and ended up at Rowley Hall hospital, which I hadn’t seen since I was 7 and having my tonsils out. It looked much the same. I remember all I was allowed to eat was vanilla ice cream, and I still have a slight aversion to it. After that I found the right road, went up Rowley Bank and along the path by the railway line to the same Costa we went to on Monday. 

Later on I rode out through Doxey again, down the same road I’d seen the cycle club, but turned off to Derrington. I cycled past my Grandad’s old house, and then stopped for a drink by the church where his funeral was held. It’s a nice little church, I haven’t seen it in 18 years.

Today I tidied up my car, which was long overdue. Several months of commuting had left it full of junk. I packed my folding bike into the back, dropped it off for a service and rode back. Later on I’ll be back in town catching up with an old friend and taking him to see former England cricketer (and professional Yorkshireman) Geoffrey Boycott at the theatre. So I’m just off to fit in another few miles before that. This ride will take me over 100 miles for the week, and it’s only Thursday!


That’s a wrap

Eroica’s approaching fast now, just two months away. Everything I do on Major Tom at the moment is done with that ride firmly in mind, and today I replaced the bar tape. I had some foam tape on that felt nice and cushy but I didn’t make the best job of putting it on and it just didn’t look right. When I got the bike originally it had some rather faded cloth tape fitted, which I imagine must have been original. So I’ve swapped back to that.

With the rather limited facilities at my disposal this is the sort of job that can become rather fiddly, and my previous bar wraps have been hit-and-miss affairs. This time I decided to try it with the bars removed from the bike, and it was a much easier task. Having stripped the tape off the bars I lined the brake levers up, marked the position of the bracket with a whiteboard marker, took the levers fully off the bars and fastened the brackets in place. Then wrap, and put the levers back on:

Obviously, the next step is to put it back on the bike, and reinstall the brake cables.

You’ll note the bar ends aren’t anything fancy, just bits of cork. They actually started out as Brooks branded bar ends but the wooden outer bits fell off and they still worked fine, so I just left them on. Cork is nice and light – weight weenies take note! I’ve got a champagne cork with a nice logo at the bottom which would work if I chopped the top off, I just need to drink a second bottle of champagne so I’ve got a matching pair…

The feel of the bars is quite different now the cork tape’s gone. They’re much slimmer and with less padding, but the grip’s perfectly good so you don’t actually grip the bars as tightly and in terms of shock absorption I haven’t discerned any noticeable difference in hand comfort. Even if I had, I’d still have had to put up with it for the look!

Lord of the rings

A brief one today. My new chainrings arrived, and thank heavens, they were the right BCD for the crank. Curiously when I got them out I was somewhat dismayed that they appeared to be aluminium, and therefore more prone to wear. I got my magnet out and yes, they are aluminium… but so are the original chainrings! I’d assumed those were steel as there’s very little sign of wear on them. Perhaps this means my bike hasn’t actually gone that far prior to my ownership? Or perhaps they’re hardier than I give them credit for. There’s a slight weight saving over the originals but I think that’s just the lack of a chainguard.

I whacked them on the bike as soon as possible, and I had a little ride of only just over a mile to test them out, joining my fiancée and her maid of honour for dinner at Pizza Hut. The bike looks a little alien with the new rings, also lacking the chainguard that the old rings had fixed to them. I was expecting a bit of a jump in gearing starting out on the 53, but by the time I got there I’d practically forgotten about it. I was early so I rode around the housing estate nearby, it shifted fine from big to small (40) and I prefer the size of the jump now, that should work nicely when I suddenly encounter a steep hill. 

Changing back to the big ring I wondered wether it would take, but it picked the chain up ok and I was just about to congratulate myself on a decent change when the chain came completely off the ring! Thankfully I’d taken the precaution of not testing it in a situation where it was likely to cause a problem, and I stopped to refit the chain and resolved to adjust the limit screws when I got home. I think the chainguard has been spoiling me a bit. If all else fails I can put the 52 back on, as while so far I like the feel of the 53 I’m more interested in the climbing abilities of the 40. It just depends how reliably I can get the front derailleur to work.

God damn the pusher

I was reminded of the opening song of the film Easy Rider today, as yet again I left the bike shop with a bag full of stuff and a slightly lighter wallet. The song’s called ‘the Pusher’. My own particular pusher is the guy in the bike shop, and it’s becoming a bit of a problem. Here’s my latest “score”:

So we’ve got a set of ‘new old stock’ Weinmann brake pads for future use, some cable ends, a sprocket to lower the gearing on my fiancée’s three-speed, and bottom left are four of those little wedges to help you shove the tyre between the brake blocks when changing wheels. Nowadays they tend to be integrated into the pads themselves. Here they are on Major Tom’s rear brakes:

Obviously they’re designed principly to save vital time when you’re in the latter stages of a race such as Paris-Roubaix and get a puncture, and as such they are officially very pro. I’ve been looking for them online for quite a while without much success, but Henry Burton’s just had them hanging around and threw them in for free! (The rest cost £20) A happy side benefit is they also make it much easier to adjust the brake cable as you can more easily pinch the brakes tight.

What did I go in for? Old school cloth bar tape, which they didn’t have! God damn the pusher…

The chainring conundrum

Regular readers (hello to both of you) will be aware I’m going to ride my BSA Prima ‘Major Tom’ on the Eroica Britannia this year. The ride is 55 miles, and it’s advertised as being quite a challenge. By which I mean ‘hilly’. You know it’s going to be hilly when the rules specifically state “change of the gear ratios is allowed due to the difficulty of the ride.” This is making me think a little. My corner of Staffordshire isn’t really that hilly, and they don’t call the place where Eroica’s taking place the Peak District for nothing!

Both my rear derailleurs (a SunTour Cyclone MkII currently fitted, and the original SunTour Vx as shown above) are limited in the size of rear sprocket they will accept to a maximum of 26 (which is what I have), but has some capacity left over to accept a smaller chain ring than the 42 I’m running. The Vx has 24 tooth capacity, the Cyclone has 26. Currently the capacity used is 22, from 52/14 to 42/26, but to change the chain ring, one first has to know what size it is…

This is new to me, and I didn’t at first understand what BCD meant – Bolt Centre Diameter. As someone versed in engineering drawing I’d been looking for PCD – Pitched Circle Diameter. Same thing. Anyway, if you know geometry and trigonometry pretty well (and I’m one of those who actually does use trigonometry, Pythagoras etc fairly regularly) all you have to do is measure the distance between two holes, divide it by the sine of the angle between the bolts (72 degrees on a five arm crank, since 360 divided by five is 72) and you have your PCD. Sorry, BCD.

Well I measured it, it was almost exactly 8cm. This gave an answer of 136mm, which seemed pretty close to the established 135mm size. Just one problem. Sheldon said no.

Now if the subject is old bicycles and the late Sheldon Brown says it, it almost certainly is. He does not list 135mm as being a Sakae Ringyo size, and if it was, he would. It’s a Campagnolo size. So I trawled through some old Sakae catalogues I found, and just to muddy the waters some of their cranks are advertised as ‘interchangeable with Campagnolo chainrings’, but it wasn’t my particular model. These models are 144 mm BCD. So you think, well, look in the catalogue, find your model, find the BCD, Bob’s your uncle. Not so fast.

It’s not too hard to find a catalogue with my model in. It’s a Sakae Custom, specifically CTC-5DRG2, manufactured around 1982. But the catalogue didn’t have the BCD in, it just said ‘interchangeable with Sakae AE-5RG’ which means nothing to me. Maybe I was a millimetre or two out with my ruler, maybe it’s 130? I should measure again and check. Only problem is the bike’s 65 miles away at the moment!

Well I posted my conundrum on Facebook, and I got quite a lot of low estimates around the 110mm mark. Then someone finally said it was probably a kooky Sakae proprietary size that was long dead. This was disappointing in terms of readily available spares, but at least it was progress. I looked up Sheldon again and he listed 118mm as a likely candidate.

And what of my 8cm measurement? Well it turns out I measured the right number but remembered it wrong! If you divide 70 by sin36 you get 119. Sure enough, I finally did find a catalogue listing the BCD for my exact model, which uses a size Sakae calls Apex, as 118. What an idiot…

Sakae specs2

Now that the BCD is established, it’s on to the tracking down of some chain rings that fit. Thankfully after a brief look around I found a mail order place in the Netherlands with a few new-old-stock Sakae chain rings for sale. They’re not dirt cheap but not prohibitively expensive either, so I bought a pair – 53 and 40 – as with postage it made more sense to by two for £40 than one for £30.

I picked the 40 as it’s the smallest they had, and the 53 because I know I don’t need a smaller big ring than the 52 – I’ve been spinning out occasionally downhill recently. My cadence has increased a bit lately, up to around 80RPM, whereas before when I was riding just the three-speed it was probably around 65-70. Also I wish I had more of a difference between changing between rear sprockets and between chain rings, so I get a bigger effect when I encounter a sudden incline.

Here’s what my speeds are for each gear at 80RPM currently: (as I mentioned in a post previously, my ten-speed basically offers six gears in one of three ways, the transition from red to green is when changing from big ring to small ring)


And here’s what it would look like with a 53-40 combination:


Now this time the step between big ring and small ring is about double the step between rear sprockets, which feels like what I want without actually being able to try it out. The rings should reach me in a week or two, then I’ll try out the 40 on some of the hillier streets round about, and we’ll see if the reality matches my rather clinical calculations.

As for BCD vs PCD, I’m sure it’s just that someone somewhere misheard the P as a B, figured B must stand for bolt, so it’s just become an established thing.

Just one more thing…

I spent Saturday in the best possible way: up to my elbows in grease. I started out just intending to replace Major Tom’s gear cables. The intitial problem, which I may have already mentioned on the blog, was with the front derailleur getting stuck. I wasn’t entirely sure how this problem came about but I knew it was something that got worse as the winter went on. Previously, I’d fully cleaned out the front mech (which had got very dirty) and put it back on, but I kept having the same problem. It would stick, and would need a large amount of force before it budged with a great bang. 

Anyway, I’ve got the answer – the cable outer was rusty. I can’t remember whether this is a cable I replaced or just what came with the bike, but it had the old-style outer cable that’s just a steel coil with an outer coating. I replaced it with newer cable with the plastic inner tube. I also got one of those rubber boots they put on v-brakes and put it on to provide a little more protection from the elements. The derailleur is a strange one because SunTour thought it was a good idea (and I agree) to have both levers work the same way, i.e. both move back for an easier gear etc. It didn’t catch on and there are practical reasons why, it’s just easier to make and fit a mech that works the other way.

Since I had the spare cable anyway, I thought why not change all the gear cables. Then the cleanliness of the rear derailleur bothered me, and the levers had never been fully refurbished, and then there’s the chain. I’m sure most cyclists are familiar with the gunge that begins to totally overwhelm a chain after a few rides in rainy conditions, a grey/black sort of paste that’s a mixture of soil (hence it varies from place to place) chain lube and small bits of metal worn away from the chain. Well, that’s how I came to fully refurbish my drivetrain.

I didn’t fully disassemble the rear derailleur, as it’s fairly well seal and was all lubed up inside at Christmas. I gave it a decent cosmetic clean and got the grime off the jockey wheels, and put it back. The shifter levers were taken apart though. There’s a vast array of washers in them, and each one was polished nice and clean before reassembling the whole thing. I’ll repeat that these levers work REALLY well, and their clever little design makes refurbishing them rather fun. Then I cleaned up the chainrings, just a straightforward degrease, and then the cranks came off too. Turns out the bottom bracket needed a little tightening. 

With all of this cleaned and back on the bike, all that was missing was the chain. However, it turns out things are so much easier to adjust with no chain. I had all my gears nicely set up, and then, inevitably, I decided the rear wheel needed cleaning, and this would be the easiest time to take it off. And then I decided to convert it to quick-release, and regrease the bearings, and readjust the cones… Truly I am the Columbo of bicycle maintenance.

Anyway, once I’d finished refurbishing virtually everything, all I had left to do was fit a new chain, which I hadn’t got. I raced across town on my 3-speed but sadly by this time Burton’s and Wilko’s were both shut, so I headed for Halford’s, which surprisingly was also shut. At least the ride allowed me to just squeak over my weekly mile target, but it was a bit rubbish having an unusable bike sat around all clean and ready to go. The following morning I went to Wilko’s but didn’t think much of their chains, just a little too cheap and nasty for me. I got a better chain from Halford’s, and a single-speed chain for when I fit Crichton’s chaincase. I fitted the chain in accordance with Sheldon Brown’s instructions, and had a little test run to Asda to buy some ciggies.

What can I say except… WOW! I was happy with how the bike was running before, save for a few problems with the front mech, but this was in a whole different league. Everything works perfectly now. The front derailleur works fine both ways, and the rear derailleur is just right, changing up or down before you can say ‘clunk’. The levers are even better than before because I’ve been able to dial in just enough friction without going too tight, and the actual force required to change gear now is barely measurable. The whole drivetrain has noticeably less friction in it, and overall the bike feels brand new!

Later on I took off down the lanes, in perfect weather with just a bit of a breeze about. What a difference it makes when the roads are bone-dry, though the patch that was flooded before is still a little flooded. I’ve lost a bit of my road bike fitness (which curiously seems to be slightly different to my 3-speed fitness) but I still managed to go at a fair old clip by my standards. I stopped by the entrance to Stone Hockey Club, had a bit of a drink then rode back, for a total of about 15 miles. The bike never skipped a beat.

Making friends with the “clown bike”

Discovering that the church in Warwick plays a different tune every day, added to the pressure to complete my allocated miles, has meant I’ve been riding the folder rather a lot these past couple of weeks. I’ve done 17 miles on it just since Monday, and I’m starting to get the hang of it. It helps that I’ve now got functioning brakes of course.

I suppose what’s put me off before are two things: the riding position and the steering. There’s not much I can do about position, as I’ve got the longest seatpost anyone makes (400mm) and the handlebars only go forward so far. It’s far from ideal but it works ok for little trips. The geometry of the frame is a lot less relaxed than my other two, which means it feels subtly different to what you’d expect from looking at it. The steering is particularly twitchy, and I’ve really only recently started to get used to it.

The positive quirks of the bike are the acceleration and the cornering. Because the wheels are smaller (much smaller!) there’s less rotational inertia, so in this sense at least it give the feel of fast acceleration. It’s also geared a little lower (easier) than my other three-speed. This is just as well in hills, as it’s quite a heavy bike. The lack of rotational intertia also means it feels like the bike runs out of steam earlier. The cornering is a curious one, I’m not sure if it actually handles well or if it’s a misleading sensation, but I’m a lot happier leaning the bike over in the corners. It just seems to roll into a turn really nicely.

It’s still a daft bike, and I still get funny looks, but it’s serving its purpose and helping me get out and about now the evenings are a little longer. My mileage quotas are really ramping up now (I’m on the steep part of the sine wave) so this little bike’s going to have to continue to make a contribution.