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Rebuilding the Ugly Bike has stalled a bit while Elder Son decided what he was going to do having graduated from high school. Elder Son  had had quite enough sitting in a classroom for a few years, so the wanted to find a vocational qualification. This is complicated in Germany, mainly because there are so many options with literally thousands of 2-3 year vocational courses to choose from, most of which are not only free, but start paying a small wage from the first day.

Fortunately part of my job is helping to get people apprenticeship places, so I dug out the Big Book of apprenticeships at work, where it was being used as a door stop, & we made a list of possibilities and Elder Son started applying. After a few weeks working in a Hotel and then as a vets assistant, Elder Son landed himself a place as a bike mechanic, making me both proud and frankly rather envious.

I told him it would only be three months before he started telling me how to fix things.

I was wrong, it took three weeks.

Time to dig the Ugly Bike out of the cellar methinks…

This post is brought to you by a combination of poor planning and procrastination. For some time I knew the chain and cassette on my commuter bike were getting pretty worn: I’m not sure I changed them when I bought the bike about six years ago and they’ve done a fair bit of distance since, but they were still just about working so I decided to leave them until winter when I’d put a new chain on and put on the winter wheel with an equally new cassette. Of course, I’d actually said this about a year ago, but hey, the problem wasn’t urgent so I kept forgetting.

Fortunately the chain and cassette wear together, so I could get away with ignoring the problem as long as I didn’t change any components. So of course when I swapped my winter and summer wheels without thinking, the smallest (ie top) gear began to slip. I ignored it for a bit until the next one started to do the same and I realised I’d have to do something.

Most modern(ish) cassettes are held on with a locking ring that has ridges on it to stop it rattling loose, so the one thing you don’t want to do is make it very tight. Unfortunately whoever had put this lock ring on had not been told this as I discovered when I failed completely to move the ring at all.

The usual way of dealing with an over tightened ring is to clamp everything down firmly, and use a piece of tube on the cassette removing tool to gain more leverage. This in theory results in a clicking noise and a loosened cassette.

In my case it resulted in a loud snap and a broken removing tool.

Situations like this are why we have Bakfietsen. Off we went to the bike shop in the next town, where the mechanic applied a professional removing tool to the wheel. This didn’t work, so he called a colleague over to help. Eventually it took both of them and a length of what looked like scaffolding before the lock ring gave up. Now we have the new cassette on, new chain on, and I’ve got a commuter bike again…

Now, will I learn from this experience and get to grips with maintenance before it all goes to pot again?

I’ve been generally lazy about maintenance over winter, and for several weeks (probably months, but never mind) the back gears on the Xtracycle have been playing up, in particular the middle gears seemed to think clicking the lever was a suggestion, to be given some consideration and possibly followed. Eventually. It was one of those gradual problems that you get used to over time, which was why I’d not bothered about it much.

Then came several weeks when I almost exclusively used the commuter bike. For all its faults this has gears which change when I want them to, and the shock when I went back to the Xtracycle was enough that I finally got around to doing something about it.

That something was to remove the rear mech that came with the original Raleigh bike back in 1997, and which has survived all my mistreatment over the last 20 years, but which I was pretty sure had finally given up. Being me, I’d hoarded several replacements, including one from a ‘scrap’ bike a customer brought into our local bike shop many years ago. It took ten minutes to change it, plus about three days faffing about and putting it off.

This made very little difference, so I did what I should have done at first and cleaned out the outer tubing and replaced the brake cable. This got a result. The gears are still a bit iffy, but they usually change when told. Or within a couple of seconds, at least.

I’m wondering if the main issue is the over enthusiastic use of cable ties on the cable, but naturally now the bike is ridable again I’m ignoring the problem.

One of these years I really am going to get my act together and fix all the little problems on the bikes before winter, as well as greasing the bolts on important places so they don’t seize up in the salt spray. Places like the bolt holding the kickstand on the commuter bike, for example, so when it goes all wobbly I can just tighten it up without the hex key socket turning to mush and leaving me with a wobbly stand for the winter.

One of these years, but not last year. Hence the rather drastic maintenance seen above.

for the last few months I’d avoided using the stand by leaning the bike against handy walls, railings and conveniently placed motor vehicles, and jamming bike tubes under the frame, but the stand was starting to move towards the wheel while riding which could have interesting consequences, so this week I visited the City Farm I sued to work at, and attacked the bit of aluminium holding stand to frame with hammers, chisels and the Very Big Drill untill it finally gave way under the onslaught of blunt objects and foul language.

Then problem, it seems was that the bike doesn’t have a fitting on the frame for a stand, so it will eventually twist under use. I’m wondering if this is an excuse to get a two legged stand, but I know the real solution is getting myself organised enough to grease the bolts more often…

 

fixingabak

The Bakfiets had a puncture. This usually means Saturday will be spent fixing it, as the back wheel is quite tricky to get out of the bike, and more to the point, very fiddly to get back on again, or at least to put it on again so the bike moves in a straight line and the brakes work.

It was therefore very annoying that when I had wrestled the wheel of the bike, repaired the puncture, fought the wheel until it went back onto the bike, and then put the brakes and gears beck together so we could use it, the tyre went down again.

Twice.

I was planning to replace this tyre at some undefined point in the future as it was worn down from seven years of carrying children, shopping, party supplies, scrap, exam projects, luggage, and furniture, to the point that the tyre was so loose it didn’t even need tyre levers to take it off the wheel any more. I decided to take the drastic step of actually spending money, went online and ordered a puncture proof-ish tyre, a new inner tube and extra wide rim tape, in the hope of sorting out the problem permanently. Then it dawned on me that I also needed to replace the gear shifter, as the bikes eight gears were now down to seven on a good day, and those were not always predictable due to the twist grip shifters habit of shredding cables, so I also ordered a proper trigger shifter, on the basis that I may as well just fight this battle once and deal with both problems at the same time.

All this came to about fifty euros, which is probably the most I’ve spent on the Bakfiets in one go since I bought it.

I also managed to persuade the Elder Son that as he is now riding the bakfiets several times a week, he should learn how to fix it by helping me, and se surprised ourselves by managing the whole repair in an hour and a half. Elder Son says this is his influence.

Annoyingly, he’s is probably right.

Porteur_01

 

Well, it turns out there’s a lot to be said against using hardwoods for luggage racks. Sure, they’re nice and solid, but it made the bike turn like I’d cable tied a stack of bricks onto the front forks. As the route to college has a number of those ridiculous chicanes made to slow everyone* down when the cycleway crosses a road, it became a decision between taking up weight training just to get the bike around corners, or taking the whole contraption off. The rack also developed the interesting habit of sliding forwards and downwards, something I really should have expected if I’d been paying attention.

I think I could probably sort out most of the problems: I could make the rack lower, and about 8 cm shorter so it didn’t hang over the front of the bike as far, and add another fixing point to the forks so it doesn’t try to keep going whenever I brake, but at the moment what’s left of my brain is mostly engaged in trying to remember enough of my course to survive the first theory tests, so any bike related projects will have to wait for a couple of weeks until there’s spare capacity available.

*Excapt cars of course, because… er…

I had actually spent money on the commuter bike last week. I don’t generally do anything this rash but the route to college involves a drop of 207 metres (670  ft) in 1.7 kilometres (1 mile), so it seemed sensible to make sure the brakes would work, which meant replacing levers.

The brake levers and gear shifters are one big unit, so I had to replace these too. I cannot understand why you would combine two such complex items, but suspect it was to ensure customers have to spend far more money than really necessary.

In such ways do the powers that be maintain global capitalism.

Having fitted these expensive bits I mentioned to the local bike shop owner that my wrist was hurting when I ride. He suggested a new handlebar, but that was way beyond the budget for this month. On hearing this, he went and dug one out of his scrap pile and gave it me for nothing.

Now the wrist doesn’t hurt and the bike feels far more comfortable to ride.

Take that, Global Capitalists…

I’ve been neglecting the whirry clicky bits of the Xtracycle of late and now it is making its displeasure clear: the chain has been making a noise like a bag of cats for months, despite oiling it regularly, and last week the chain finally wore down to the stage that the wheels wouldn’t turn no matter how much I pedaled, so I started looking around for a replacement before my smug green glow began to fade.

Some time ago I upgraded to eight speed shifters, mostly because my seven speed shifters were considering gear changes to be a request rather than a command (anyone see a pattern here?). I’d not bothered to change the cassette at the time, reasoning that I could do that later in the year. This was in spring 2011.

So this week, I ordered a new rear wheel with an eight speed cassette, two chains and a chain removal tool. This proved cheaper than getting a new cassette and hub mounted on my old wheel, and leaves me with a wheel ready to fit a spike tyre onto for next winter. For once I have actually planned ahead instead of waiting for things to fall to bits.

Any smug glow this may have created promptly vanished without trace when I decided -for reasons that are unclear- that the chain needed to be tensioned while on both the smallest cogs, instead of the largest as I had done the previous seven times, so the first time I tried to change gear I nearly pulled the rear derraileur off its mount. Fortunately the new chain gave way first.

Back to the Commuter Bike for a few more days, then. At least I’ve got plenty of bits for making bike chain chrismas tree ornaments in December.

 

For use in those parts of ‘civilization’ where the Xtracycle may prove just too tempting for thieves and vandals, I have a Commuter Bike, picked up as a very ugly looking mountain bike complete with yellow transfers bearing the name ‘Stampede’.

Wikipedia defines a ‘stampede’ as:

“…uncontrolled concerted running as an act of mass impulse among herd animals or a crowd of people in which the herd (or crowd) collectively begins running, often in an attempt to escape a perceived threat.”

Yes, that sounds just like a bicycle.

Anyway, I bought the bike back in 2012 and did the bare minimum to make it into a basic commuter bike that would present as unattractive a target as possible: I added some scrap mudguards, a stand, V-Brakes, a set of old tyres from the Xtracycle, some elderly lights and the cheapest dynamo I could find.

The bike then got on with its main purpose in life of not being nicked all day at the tram stop while I was at carpentry college. It managed this for two and a half years with no trouble at all, although the front light turned out to be pretty but useless so I changed it before I ran into something, or more likely before something ran into me.

At some point the awful foam handlebars turned back into whatever oil based slime they’d been made of, and needed a replacement quickly, so in desperation I fitted the only handlebar grips I had, which happened to be cork.

Then last week I took it out to see what I’d need to change for the new commute into Stuttgart, and noticed it isn’t looking that ugly anymore.

commuter_01

And now I’m getting attached to the thing and wondering if I could give it some nice bar ends, or maybe at least get rid of those transfers and upgrade the luggage rack to one that doesn’t rattle… but that would defeat the object of having the bike in the first place. It’s there to be  ugly, dammit, or at least boring, so it doesn’t get nicked when chained to a lamppost in Stuttgart. Next thing you know I’ll be giving it a name…

Still, if anyone has an idea how to remove garish yellow transfers, please let me know…

Having winter tires and then riding on ice with semi-slicks seems silly to the point of irresponsible, so last night I manned up and went down to the garage to fit them before my hands froze up. As with most of my endeavours, this did not go quite as planned.

The first problem was how to get at the wheels, the local bike shop being inexplicably closed at 9pm. Resting the bike on a Brooks saddle on a concrete floor simply isn’t done.  No worries, I thought: remove new tyres from box, use box to cover floor, put bike upside down on the box and change wheels.

All went well until I let go of the upturned bike, whereupon the heaviest unsupported part, the Xtracycle frame, went down and the front wheel flipped up. How did I not expect this to happen? I caught the bike mid pirouette and managed to wrestle the back wheel off it*.

Then came changing the back tyre. Puncture proof Schwalbe Marathon tyres are very convenient to ride on and a pain in the backside to change, but I managed with minimal swearing and a minor injury to one hand.

I took the front wheel off the bike. The bike tipped backwards again. I put the rear wheel in the front forks so the bike would stay still and got on with the front wheel. More swearing and a bruise later and the new tyre was on the front wheel. I braced the bike against my knee, lifted the rear wheel out of the front forks and swapped in the front before I fell over.

With the bike the right way up again, I took the bunged up gear cable out, noting the rust, and squirted lube down the tubes. A shower of water, ice, several chunks of the local forest and one very dead beetle came out of the other end, reducing the weight of the bike by about a third.

Fitted new gear cable. I’ve discovered  that I can -just- use a normal gear cable on an Xtracycle. Some people would suggest that the fact I think this is interesting means I am a Very Boring Person, but those people regularly spend hours discussing mobile phone contracts. I rest my case.

I put the bike back together and took it out for a test run. It worked well enough for me to be confident about riding on the packed ice and snow that is normal here from January to March. returned to apartment feeling smug. Just before going to bed I checked the weather report.

Next weeks forecast: warm, with sunshine.

 
*Of course this meant turning the bike over again because I’d forgotten to release the brake and it is almost impossible to reach when the Xtracycle is upside down, but we’ll skip over that detail.

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