Thursday, October 20, 2011



A long time ago when I was young and famous and often had to go to London to Be Dead Important it occurred to me to buy a Brompton which I immediately did and which my wife immediately adopted (stole) to get from Leicester Station to the sexual health clinic, returning with all manner of startling stories from which it can be (was) deduced that the private lives of film stars are tame and staid when compared with those of the lower orders of Leicester. Aye, and the upper orders. There was a vicar - get this - and it was just a week before he was due to marry someone else and - yes, well we won't go into details. This is the Internet after all. (She never told me his name of course so he might be anybody now, you know, a university chaplain, a bishop, whatever.)

I experimented taking it (the Brompton, not the adventurously wayward clergyman) to Scotland and immediately didn't ever again. Twelve miles of Sutherland hills exceeded my Brompton-wimp quotient. A Brompton I concluded is strictly an on-and-off-the-train machine.

Accordingly I lent it to various people most of whom returned it unmaintained and went off and bought their own. One of these souls was my wife's brother.

When you lend a brother-in-law a Brompton, though you don't actually know it beforehand, the deal is this. He uses it for several months in the East End and returns it with tyres shredded with glass cuts, the pump missing, and deep rust on all the rear mudguard stays. Later he gives you a Brompton front bag that you never knew you needed and have never used since. He always was a little unpredictable. Once I lent him a Moulton and a few months later he surprised me by telling me he'd welded up the back suspension, though as he didn't give me the Moulton back it was an irrelevancy in my ordered life. -

When your student daughter conceives a need for a Brompton in London you dig it out and prepare to pack it up for shipping but recalling that her enthusiasm for bicycle maintenance doesn't greatly differ from her uncle's, you decide to attend to the rear mudguard stays yourself because you have a creeping suspicion that spares, necessarily specific to the machine, will not be cheap. - I wonder if Andrew Ritchie has moved on to stainless steel for mudguard stays? - Mine is an early Brompton.

Removing the mudguard tests your vocabulary and illustrates the tightness of all the clearances, no doubt to enhance its folding diminutiveness. Removing the stays from the mudguard involves sheering off the bolts because rust is a form of welding. Undercoating them reveals the shocking fact that I am just fantastick'ly stupid. You know, really, really stupid. Stupider than Dr Phillips's son at school who once took a large sheet of copper and bent it in half merely because the metalwork master wasn't in the room. You would have thought, wouldn't you, that I would know by now that wet paint is wet, and it's paint, and you don't touch it. But no. I am so stupid that I think I can pick freshly painted things up and not have to spend hours rubbing zylol and acetone all over my fingers afterwards. I am not monumentally stupid. I am globally stupid.

Reassembly reveals the reason why the entire population of London - what, ten million people - are employed at the Brompton factory. First, you discover - which you didn't realise when you pulled the thing apart - that each stay is a unique length, and since you didn't note which was which you have to start from First Principles and work out why and therefore which stay goes where. Then you need to hold the mudguard, and the middle stay, and the outer little thingy with two plain holes in it, and the first stainless steel replacement 5mm bolt, and the inner little thingy with two 5mm tapped holes in it. And a spanner. Which you have to turn using the sixth hand you grew for the purpose. Which won't like turning because the stainless steel bolt is now trying to get into a tapped hole freshly plugged with paint. - So that's either everybody in South Kensington in a job putting on the middle rear mudguard stay, or it's the reason why those Indian johnnies have that god with all those arms sticking out. And that, boys and girls, is why nobody who ever borrows your Brompton ever does any maintenance. And it's also why next time I'm not going to lend my brother-in-law my Brompton. I shall give him one instead. Then he can worry about rusting galvanised mudguard stays, and I need not suffer post-traumatic stress if it suddenly occurs to him to weld parts of the frame together.

Friday, October 14, 2011

26er Unicycle

Displacement activity is when you tidy your workshop instead of painting the house, and displacement activity is when you rebuild John's unicycle instead of Getting On With his high racer. But unicycles are quicker to build than high racers, and with four-inch cranks and a twenty-inch wheel, his unicycle has actually worn out his knees. Besides, what else am I to do with all those knackered 26 inch mountain bike rims?

Is there anything of interest to state about building a unicycle? - Discarded front fork, vice, large pipe to bend the fork legs straight, couple of lumps of mild steel sawn and filed and drilled and tapped 8mm metric to accept the original axle bearing mounts, slots in the fork ends with an angle grinder. Of course it came out dented and slightly wonky, but with the original wheel in place, wedged before tack-welding, everything ended up parallel and square and proper and nice and whatnot and besides nobody ever admires workmanship on a unicycle because there isn't anything to admire.

You always thought you were the single worst wheel-builder in the world. You were wrong. First I laced it with a cross-over where the valve lay. Next I laced it so the right-hand rim holes pointed at the left-hand flange. After that I got it right but found that the spokes wouldn't tighten because of a dismal failure to consult WISIL's spoke length calculator. Then I found that the only spokes I had that would marry the large flanges of the original hub, necessitated a four-cross pattern. I laced eighteen spokes with a set of long nipples after getting the calculator measurements wrong, and replaced them all because I only have one matchbox of long nipples whereas I have a full coffee tin of or'nery ones. I used up quite a lot of vocabulary while doing these things.

When it was finished he found he could no longer hop on, and we learnt that there is a whole technique to mounting that you have to re-learn when the seat is three inches higher up and you can't start off with a foot flat on the floor. But after half an hour he managed it, and now, with those cranks and that rim, he reports it's like riding a seven-inch divided by four-inch crank times a twenty-six inch wheel, so that's about a 45 inch gear.

He now zooms. Previously only his knees zoomed.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Recumbent Invisibility

Mr Knight has been nagging me.

How is John's bike coming along? come on chop chop.


I had to tell him, with some reluctance, that John's high racer sits in a few partly-welded-up pieces on the workshop floor gen'rally getting in the way and annoying me. I have lots to do on it but have made no progress on account of house painting and broken lawn mowers (under guarantee, but I'm left mowing the lawn with the hand-push-mower, which is *much* harder work after three days' heavy rain and frenetic spring growth, but at least it saved me going for my bike ride yesterday to get my hour's hot and pungent exercise) and a desperate need to completely re-organise the workshop so I can put my drawing-board somewhere that I can actually see the pencil-marks.

And then Ron popped in with a couple of bikes for me to repair for him for free. I don't mind doing it for Ron. He's a dead nice bloke is Ron, always volunteering to do stuff for everyone else for free, and he's a Green, and he's a Transition Towns Movement person, and a Community Gardens person, and he's married to Edith a Swiss lady with a fantastic head of hair, all fuzzy and standing six inches up round her head like a halo, who has given up the violin in favour of gardening but who used to practice for 6 hours a day which immediately tells me she was of professional concert standard. Blimey! I didn't know that. - I thought when Herbert said 'a violinist' she would be as bad as me. - Ron rides a Healing Commuter, a 1968 mild steel affair with 27 and a quarter inch wheels, a Shimano 3-speed hub that was out of adjustment and a chain which, on measurement, was 12.5 inches long for 24 links. He needed an entire new drive train. His front fork is bent and among all my spares I don't have one that will fit, so I'm going to have to bend it straight for him. He rides his bike everywhere and hates using his car. Herbert once told me he used to be a Catholic priest, but I don't know if that's true. He's such a nice bloke I can't imagine him molesting children. Herbert was my source of all sorts of goss, some of it even true. Herbert trained world-class cyclists and pulled everyone's leg, but checking his stories was always easier before he died.

Herbert. This is him with Karen Holliday whom he coached. It was taken 20 years ago after she had just become New Zealand's first ever cycling world champion

Last week I nearly died myself, or so I was informed by the lady who almost effected my death. I was riding home at speed and a nondescript grey BMW ("The Ultimate Driving Machine") had stopped on the wrong side of the Motueka Valley Highway and a lady stood astride the road with arms out flagging me down. We then had an Invisible Recumbent conversation.

'Do you know you are almost invisible down there? I nearly didn't see you.'

With a helmet height of 48.5 inches, I discovered that among the misfortunes of middle age is the lack of desire to be brutally rude and point out to her that I sit higher than a child cyclist, am bigger than a sheep or a labrador or a traffic cone, and that if she really has trouble seeing me then perhaps now is the time to relinquish her driving licence. But of course there was no point. She meant well. I did however discuss the matter with a member of the Diaspora living in our colony of Oregon who chanced to be online, and he replied

Yeah, the 'I can't see you cos you are too low and not glowing like a radioactive fallout victim' does get a little irritating. Funny how drivers don't seem to have a problem seeing the lines painted on the road, at a height, of oh, about 0 inches..... Maybe we should hurry up and burn all the oil to get these people off the road?


Right, must go and mitre some tubes for the seat frame or Mr Knight will think I'm slacking.