Monday, November 3, 2014

Freeing a rusty brake cable

The global obesity epidemic about which our physicians wring their hands is going to be overcome not by some pharmaceutical expedient but rather by the imminent diminution of food supply, which everyone knows about but which we all prefer to ignore. During the 1870 siege there was starvation in Paris and in the midst of it was a woman who kept her family well-nourished by feeding them worms. I imagine she had access to dandelions because under every dandelion there lives a worm. I only found this out because dandelions are taking over the lawn and while I don't really care about the lawn my life is so uninteresting that I have declared war on them.

My dandelion-grubber had a pathetic short wooden handle that rotted away, and faced with the twin difficulties of leverage - a short grubber doesn't have any - and what to do with all the sawn-up bike frames that litter the shed, I welded various otherwise worthless chainstays together to make a Fabulous New Invention which I am going to patent, and I am going to call it the Digging Stick, and I am going to use the Trans-Pacific Partnership to retrospectively sue all the Neanderthals and ¡Koi! bushmen who already had digging sticks but hadn't the wit to patent them. (Do they really spell it ¡Koi!? - I only do so I can use that upside-down thingy and be pretentious.)

My grubber has twin prongs to get either side of the dandelion's tap root and half the time it plucks the top off so I was interested to see Edith's grubber which is an altogether more simple chunk of mild steel with a wooden handle. It is 1 ½ inches wide and a quarter of an inch thick and otherwise looks like a crude knife, and it gets the tap root out 100% of times. Immediately back to the drawing-board welder for Digging Stick Mark II.

This grubber is a trailer leaf-spring, one of those items one sees at the side of the road and pauses to pick up on the grounds that were one ever to need a trailer leaf spring, making it would take longer than the loss of bicycling time stopping to pick it up. - Thus junk accumulates. - The lever/foot pusher bit is, of course, two of those bottom bracket tubes from a wossname crank - Axolotl - Attrition Warfare - Alexander Technique - Ashtabula, that's the one - two Ashtabula bottom brackets welded side-by-side making it far too heavy, but if I didn't use them here I'd have to think what else to do with them and that would use one of the brain cells that I don't have. And Mark II turned out to be brilliant, lifting divots of earth so deep that a rash of earthquakes has been reported in Lancashire. So, the lawn is a bit lumpy now, but who cares about that?

Edith's digging-stick reflects her approach to industrial complication: she doesn't pay it much heed, and as a consequence I was tasked with the business of restoring her 33-year-old Raleigh so her Swiss sister has something to ride when she visits in the summer. Bicycles do actually benefit from Routine Maintenance but the definition of Routine Maintenance is something that you can do tomorrow and there were a good many tomorrows in the last 33 years. Indeed the sum total of Edith's bike's maintenance has been the replacement of one cotter pin with a piece of rusted jelly, and the application of No Oil Whatsoever.

Replacing a 26 x 1 3/8 Dunlop-valve inner tube (no pump available) with a 26 x 1.9 MTB inner tube with a Schrader valve didn't work at all. Just gave me pinch-punctures as I struggled to mount the tyre. (Those with lewd imaginations may derive much happiness from re-reading those last six words.) Other than that, lots of cleaning and re-greasing seemed to do the trick.

There was, however, one small aspect that required thought. The back brake cable was frozen solid with rust. Easiest solution would be to buy a new cable and housing, but there is satisfaction in doing a Kenyan, which is to say making the original cable work; and since I predict that one day cables and their housings are going to become scarce, this is how you manage it.

First, lashings of oil. You hold the housing upright and wick the lightest, thinnest oil you can find down the cable. This has no effect.

Next you apply brainpower and recognise that though rust makes a strong joint, it doesn't have much shear strength. So you go along the housing, inch by inch, bending it this way and that, and eventually the cable and the housing become two separate items.

However this doesn't undo the thick wedging action of the rust. The entire cable has to come right out of the housing, and to accomplish this you nip the cable nipple in the circular bolt recesses of the vice jaws, and using a piece of sawn-up bike frame with a cable stop as a handle, steadily draw the housing off.

And since this doesn't work either, you apply more brainpower and realise that the housing itself, made of helically wound wire, is not a fixed tube. It can be slightly unwound which increases its internal diameter. So donning leather gloves, inch by patient inch you twist the housing anticlockwise against itself, and eventually the cable comes out, heavily encrusted with rust. Then you find a length of gear cable (thinner than brake cable) wh. you insert into the housing and poke in-and-out a zillion times, the end acting as a sort of brush-cum-reamer.

When this goes all the way through, repeat with the original cable and lashings of oil.

It takes a good hour and in an Industrial Society it's much sensibler to chuck the cable and buy a new one but if we were all sensible we wouldn't climb Everest or make experimental proas and how much fun would that not be?

Unfortunately a Bowden cable and a sidepull brake doesn't work on a lady's bike, so I threw it away and installed a centrepull brake and a seat clamp pulley instead.  Still, Edith is a violinist, and until her bike is perfect she has my undivided attention. Then (I promise) it will be back to proa-building. Or dandelion-extraction.

Edith's 1981 Raleigh, now sans rust. The basket was given to me by Lenny at the bike shop for free because he knows her husband runs the Community Gardens for free. Does that make sense? Edith's husband's called Ron and he's a New Zealander so he's pronounced Ron, whereas Edith is pronounced Aid-it because she's Swiss. (I felt you needed to know.) Actually Edith's pronounced Edith because nobody can cope with Aid-it. Eugen's Swiss too so he's pronounced Oigen but nobody can cope with Oigen either so he's pronounced Eugene. - He isn't anything to do with Ron and Edith, only their friend and mine. I am still pronounced Ruptured, which I quite like. You have to guess how Lenny's pronounced. - How ever did we get onto this? - The 1978 Sturmey Archer three-speed now has a 23-tooth cog, replacing the 18-tooth which, with a 46 tooth chainring, made the gear uselessly high for a shopping bike in a hilly country.

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