Friday, May 27, 2011


I have been busy. Mr Schroder's cranks are 110mm long, and my pocket calculator tells me that if I use one of the 29er tyres which my wife doesn't know I retained from her perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle when fitting it with tubeless tyres, then these tiddly short cranks will give me the same pedal speed as a 44 inch gear. It's going to have a 406 back wheel so we're not going to call it a penny farthing. We're going to call it a one-and-six. - D'you remember pre-decimal coins? I have the last letter from the chap who designed the thruppenny bit. He signed it. The coin. - Though he signed the letter too, obv.. - He signed the twenty pence coin too. You'll need a magnifying glass but they all say WG on them. He designed all the Falkland Island coins too but I've never been there so I can't say if they have WG on them. He was called William Gardner and he died on almost the last day of the century and wrote to me a fortnight before. I shall not say why he was writing specifically to me though it happens to be true and there happens to be a reason. I like to intersperse my blog with a bit of mystery. -

The front wheel has a Campagnolo Lambda Strada aero rim and the thirty-six stainless spokes that came with it, nine of them slightly munted from an escaped chain, but now unmunted with a pair of pliers. - I said I was Mr Mean-Pants. - This is because

a) it was given to me
b) aero rims are stiff
c) the air flow will be better and I will be able to go at 8 mph instead of 7
d) the edge of the rim is gouged but this machine won't need rim brakes
e) it will annoy Mr Knight.

Mr Knight, in passing, likes all things Campagnolo and would eat his dinner off their plates if Campagnolo made plates. He owns a complete Campagnolo tool set. It is better than this tool set for making bikes but not as good for making pianos. I digress.

The back wheel has 48 spokes for no good reason other than that I found it somewhere. Can't remember where.

The penny trike had split bearing housings but when I clamped them up tight they turned the bearings into very slight ovals, so this machine has bits of tube welded to plates which screw onto welded extensions of the forks. These extensions were welded in after the wheel was built and mounted, lest the wheel ended up at a curious and vexing angle. Vexing angles often happen, I find, when I'm the welder.

Finally, the frame welded itself into existence, an exercise principally in using up odd bits of sawn-up bike frames that otherwise belitter the workshop. And then it got left outside the kitchen door where it was found, on his return from school, by someone who promptly took to riding it round and round the house, somewhat inexplicably singing there'd be blue skies over, the white cliffs of Dover.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rain bike

We return to our topick of front-driver cycles this week, though I don't know why I trouble myself to say "this week" since my blog entries are stunningly irregular and undisciplined, rather like their author.

I had to go to Richmond recently to a citizenship ceremony to watch some people pledge allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second (sic.) of New Zealand. I have been unable to find out who Queen Elizabeth the First of New Zealand was. 'A high standard of dress' was required. National costume of country of origin was encouraged. All the participants turned out to be English chavs and dressed accordingly, with a high standard of gelled spiked hair. They looked like they'd all escaped from the Shelthorpe Road housing estate in Loughborough where bus drivers are shot at with airguns.

However my wife then went off to the shops and I called on Jim Matthews at Village cycles and he let me have a go on his 36er penny farthing.

It was brill.

It has 36 very thick spokes, a cheap chromed steel hub and steel rim, poxy welding, a thin backbone (guess: 38mm OD) and longish cranks, perhaps 165s. The fork was a bit feeble, methought, but obviously adequate for a plaything. Plain straight chromed steel cheap handlebar. It has a partic'ly narsty sprung foam-cushioned plastic saddle and a back brake on a 12 inch wheel. The front tyre is industrial strength and looks like it'll never, ever need replacing. Think Honda 90 robustness.

While I was there I bought John a unicycle for his birthday. I thought in due course he can convert it. It too has 36 spokes. (As a matter of fact he's forever riding up and down the drive on it. It took him 2 days to learn, we having rigged a horizontal pole at waist height to hang onto. I decline to state whether I can ride it or not.)

Which brings us back to our topick of front-driver cycles because we've been having a lot of weather in April but then so has everybody, what with wildfires in the parish of Scotland and tornadoes in the parish of Auckland. In Motueka's case it meant a month of solid rain, if you can have solid rain. In fact it's all been a bit exciting. I used to keep a climate scientist (Cambridge, PhD, did sums in his office for me all day) at the Met Office and when grilled annually, he gen'rally reported that their best prediction as the planet warmed was of random wild weather events. So it's all most pleasing that the predictions are now coming true. Unfortunately, though, it means we're forced to think about bicycles that you can ride with impunity in the wet. My wife has been nicking the Official Rain Bike which is a Dutch roadster with enclosed chaincase 3 gears and hub brakes and reminds me of Heinz Stueke, so I have been devoting thought to No Chains or Brakes, which rust after a rainstorm. Unf. to make a 36er penny farthing I should need spokes and a rim and a tyre and an inner-tube, which would cost $305, and I am Mr Mean-Pants when it comes to $305.

So I had recourse to Mr Schroder's short cranks that he kindly drilled & tapped for me, and Mr English's 5/8 bearings that he kindly brought from the parish of America for me, and I was dismayed to find the bearings would not slip over a knackered old BB axle that I hauled out of a tin where I had been keeping it along with a lot of other junk. Now BB axles are case-hardened, and my lathe doesn't like case-hardening, so I took it to the bench grinder and with frequent checks with a Vernier, allowed it to spin against the grinding wheel and to my vast delight brought it to a tolerable sliding fit. And thence to a sawn-up hub for the flanges, and behold! with the help of a couple of spacers because the cones on t'axle weren't quite big enough to fit inside the flanges, and a little weldery, a penny farthing hub.

Meanwhile my attention has been drawn to this though it's probably best reserved for one of those chaps who insists on stopping for a small snack of something nutritious every five miles. Don't be silly, of course you've met one. There's one in every group. They ride with the contents of a hamper somehow distributed about their person and every twenty minutes they stop and erect a small roadside laboratory, test their blood sugar to keep it within a percentage point of the desired level, and consume a small and delicately formed sandwich and drink from an unexpected flask of coffee. Very methodical. You have to be careful talking to them or they launch into mortgage protection insurance discussions and the ride disintegrates as everyone keels over and actually dies of actual boredom. - That's why I'm still alive. I never do group rides. -