Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Banana Barrow

Don't you just hate it when you're struck in the spokes by a newspaper. In the Olden Days this didn't happen: thirteen-year-old oboists from the Saturday Morning Orchestra went about early in the morning with warm fur mittens and a blue bicycle with a white basket on the front and delivered newspapers into letterboxes faithfully by hand. Ye Newe Thingge called Ye Internette has however slain everyone who used to buy a newspaper. The few remaining subscribers are all in their nineties and in any case blue bicycles with wire baskets have been replaced by worried mothers in four-wheel-drives and the thirteen-year-old, where there is one, is seen flitting in and out of the car door at half-past three of an afternoon. But for the most part it's the couriers who deliver the papers, they having precious little else to deliver now that letters have been replaced by the ubiquity of email. And the couriers waste neither time nor courtesy, which is how it comes to pass that sometimes, usually opposite Birdhursts, I'm assailed by aerial newspapers. The editor of the Nelson Mail daily seals individual copies in plastic bags to be flung out of a car window vaguely at the pavement near - presumably - the house of a subscriber. A bagged, rolled newspaper makes a substantial missile. The clonk as it hits your front wheel is almost as unsettling as when that cat sprinted across the road imagining its speed sufficient to go through the spokes of your GN400.

Last Monday I was bowling merrily along and there was a splat in the road, followed by another splat. It wasn't newspapers. It was fruit. I had just found myself in the middle of an apple storm.
"Oh! - sorry" came a disembodied voice, and I saw that the farmer was throwing apples across the road to his sheep.

When your cycle rides are enlivened by an atmosphere variously containing fruit and publications rather than mere air molecules, you devote the weekend to building an altogether more staid vehicle. Another wheelbarrow.

I like wheelbarrows. Especially Chinese ones, where most of the load sits over the axle. A single wheel is easier to manoeuvre in the garden than two wheels, one of which is all too apt to traverse a row of carrots making the carrot-owner equally apt to pass adverse comment. A disadvantage of my weeding barrow is that the standard New Zealand paint bucket is made of a plastic that eventually goes brittle in the sunshine.  Edith uses the more sustainable Banana Box, and when it is too crumbly throws it on the compost heap. Another disadvantage of my weeding barrow is that two buckets astride a wheel are too wide. Even sideways banana boxes will go through a doorway easily. They are a standard size - 20" x 16", x 10" deep and lidded and strong. Popular among second-hand book dealers and butchers and quite a lot of other folk, the supermarket puts them out for the locals to collect. We try to get the organic ones now we know how United Fruit behave in central America, but it isn't always possible and we often have to settle for the evil Dole.

I took two, upended them, and fumbled around for pieces of otherwise useless bicycle frame to weld round the outside.

Rear triangles one has aplenty: dozens of the wretched things and nobody can ever suggest what to do with them. Snipping off the redundant excrescences of a dropout means you can bend the joints to fit, so there's no need to do any measuring at all.

Hold all four corners and you don't need much support from the sides.

No triangulation: that merely adds weight, and steel will gamely bend to reveal if it's needed in the future.

Originally I used a 20" BMX wheel, the ideal size for garden use, but I found the boxes a bit high and with any weight the barrow became unruly.

Welding spare drop-outs to the fork to fit a 16" wheel drops the body height four inches and leaving the original dropouts allows the option of changing my mind later.

Plenty of paint to hide the welds from Mr. English to stop "Hmm, MIG welds are never very pretty" remarks.

To be parked in an obscure outhouse unknown to Mr. Knight to avoid "Hmm, your usual standard of paintwork" remarks. Vehicle to be registered well before children return from university so they're too distracted by other domestic alterations to make "Oh. Another handsome garden artefact" remarks.

And this posting on Ye Newe Thingge called Ye Internette to see if my correspondent from Abroad makes pleasant Cardboard Box remarks. My correspondent from Lazzer Towers is unlikely to sing because he's on holiday.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Now, given the difficulties of keeping up with the vast proportion of the world's population who read this blog, I'd just like first to thank both of you for your kind enquiries during my recent bout of legbrokenness, and offer here a small update. The dashing young chirurgeon told me how long it would be till I'd be fine, and since 'tis zackly that time to the very day I thought I'd take him at his word and complete the ride I set off for on 3rd April.

I can therefore say that the quickest I have ridden Marahau Hill, door-to-door and via Kaiteri, is one hour and twelve minutes, and the slowest is four months. - Yes you're quite right, it is spelt Kaiteriteri but I don't know anyone who pronounces it that way other than hitch-hikers, and as often as not they struggle with it too but not half as much as they struggle with Marahau.

For the record then, it was trikes at first, then the Rain Bike at two months, and from a fortnight ago, a racing bike. And my daily walks to the sea and back - 2.4 miles total - improved from an hour and a half to the current forty minutes, gradually shedding crutches as we went.

Three days ago Sam popped in, armed with a bent trike kingpin for me to repair, and yesterday a retired soldier dropped in to see if a recumbent trike would better answer his cycling needs than his upright trike. These experiences have set me a-thinking, mostly reinforcing a long-cherished idea of spelling out what the best human-powered vehicle in the Whole Whorld might be. And I have to conclude that the Rain Bike is probably It.

The Rain Bike. 

The Rain Bike is a heavy Dutch lady's bicycle made of common steel (the bicycle, not the Dutch lady), having drum brakes, a fully enclosed chain, three hub gears, a side-stand, a dynamo and lights, and very good 700c tyres with rather thin sidewalls. The step-through frame is ideal for an imperfect leg, and really rather good for mounting when the back is laden with panniers. If three gears are inadequate you get off and push. A chaincase makes for liberal oiling and not having to worry unduly about road dust or - obv. -rain. A side-stand allows for propping up at the wayside to gather litter and a dynamo saves having to think about batteries on those rare occasions when night travel is called for. Good tyres make the biggest difference to any bicycle: rolling resistance is more important than we generally credit. Being Dutch in origin, it even has an integral lock, and since nobody else shares my values this is adequate unto the day.

The only thing the Rain Bike lacks is a decent saddle. Unf. decent saddles, esp. on an upright where so much of your weight goes through it, are hard to find since they must tailor themselves to the individual's behind.

Therefore I do solemnly declare that you don't need to spend a great deal of money to own a serviceable bicycle.

I make no such declaration, however, concerning the high school's microscopes, which have once more turned up for maintenance. It's a funny thing that the old, expensive instruments never need anything doing to them. Anything new, glimmery and grey can be guaranteed to be a piece of shit.

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