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The Xtracycle had an accident this week and broke one of the clips on the luggage panniers. It wasn’t the Xtracycle’s fault: I had to go to something the boys were involved with, locked it to a railing and the wind blew it down some steps while I was inside.

I duly emailed the shop who sold us the Xtracycle, and they promised to send me a paypal invoice sharpish and a replacement part as soon as the money hit their account.

That was several days ago and I’ve heard nothing since. I’m still waiting for a part I ordered under guarantee two years ago, so I’m not holding my breath.

As Xtracycles are made in sunny California I imagine parts are a bit easier to come by in the US. Are there any US based readers who could order me a spare clip, and send it on to me here if I pay the postage? It’s a pain to do things this way but I really need the Xtracycle to be back in operation. Any offers of help would be gratefully received.

Update: Thanks to Nigel’s comment, I was able to get some replacement clips from Rob at Really Useful Bikes, and have a great chat with a kindred spirit about Xtraycles and Bakfietsen and things cycling into the bargain.

Remarkably, despite my usual skills with the soldering iron which meant I ended up using three metres of wire and about fifteen metres of solder flux, the front light is still working, although it has shown a tendency for the bulb to fall out every so often.

Such is life.

Having got used to having the hub dynamo, not thinking about batteries or having a clip on light cluttering the handlebars I wonder how I managed without this for the best part of fifteen years. Mind you, the real test will be winter and all that cycling on unlit cycleways. First impressions are that it’s built for letting others see me rather than riding through fields in the dark, but we shall see…

Disgruntled has advanced the theory that the ideal number of bikes is N+1, where N is the number of bikes you currently own. I like that idea.

Especially as I bought this a while ago.

Honestly, there are reasons apart from ‘Ooo, shiny new bike’. Partly as it wasn’t: it’s quite an old bike with cantilever brakes, 21 gears and a chromoloy steel frame which is why the previous owner traded it in for an aluminium bike.

So why have I bought it?

I’ve been looking for a bike for some time to use as a spare: the Xtracycle is in use every day so any ‘down time’ is a major problem at the moment, and the last brake adjustment was made while siting next to a lamppost in Stuttgart. Okay, we have the Bakfiets, but that’s a bit of a tank and a real beast if I need to climb any real hills. Bike N+1 is for emergencies so I have a backup if I have an appointment somewhere and the Xracycle isn’t working so well. On top of this it’s tatty old bike so I’ve noithing to lose by trying stuff out on it…

 I can’t take the Xtracycle to the UK in August because British train operating companies grasp any excuse to avoid carrying bikes and the extra length will probably be taken as a sign of the coming apocalypse by some railway official who will refuse to countenance taking the thing on his nice clean train. I can’t afford a folding bike, so a normal sized bike will attract less attention.

I work with young people a lot, and many of them like to come cycling, sometimes on longer tours. Not all have serviceable bikes and it would be great to be able to invite someone who doesn’t own a bike and say “Don’t wory about a bike, you can use mine”.

It gives us a breather when Eldest Son outgrows his current bike, and it means that I have at least one chromoloy frame in reserve*, so in the absolute worst case scenario, if the Raleigh frame on the Xtracycle gives out, we won’t have to prune the money tree too drastically for a replacement.

If you read those fast enough, it almost sounds reasonable. All the bike needs is a clean and it’ll work something lovely. Well, when it’s got new tyres. And a shorter headset; a V-brakes; and that saddle needs replacing, and so do the handlebar grips, and…

*Just after I bought this, someone gave me an elderly Giant with a Chromoly frame for free, but there we go…

As this post still manages to be one of the most popular on the blog, it’s only fair to say my Brooks Flyer is now, finally, comfortable. It took about 1000 km to achieve this and I’m still not sure which of us was actually broken in, but I can at least stop carrying a spare saddle around with me.

The foliage in the springs isn’t a permanent feature, I had an appointment in our local ‘sustainable town‘ and whilst cars had a large underground garage, the only parking space for the Xtracycle  was in a bush. Probably the planners would argue that having to lock your bike to a tree is the ultimate sustainable parking solution…

This is our local bike shop in Japan. There is a door in there somewhere. We managed to get about a metre inside but we couldn’t get the bikes in because it was even more messy inside. (click the picture for a bigger version)

This is how the shop has looked for the last ten years I’ve known it. I suspect some of the bikes were there all the time. It’s still open and selling and repairing bicycles so they must be doing something right. I suspect it’s to do with relationships in their community.

It may also be good service: they made a full checkup on two bikes and replaced two inner tubes and one tyre in a couple of hours. I guess this is normal when people use bikes for transport: it’s only places where most of the population use them for fun that we can get away with taking a day or three to make repairs.

I muttered last week about the project to make the Xtracycle’s hub dynamo actually produce some light for the extra weight it provided. Unfortunately this would involve working with electric circuits, which are populated by gremlins, which hate me.

When the front light worked first time it was, therefore, rather a surprise.

After soldering the switch on and making a complete rat’s nest of wires in the deluxe switch housing unit, I spun the wheel, and the headlight worked again. Much euphoria. I wired the rear LED light to the system directly to test it.

The back light worked too.

I wound the wire through the Xtracycle frame and connected the rear light again.

Nothing.

The back light was dead, and now the front was sulking too.

This was electronics as I remembered it. I poked at wires, checked what was connected to what, and put them back again exactly as they were before.

Suddenly both lights worked: I had a working dynamo light system and I hadn’t blown anything up. Medals all around, celebratory lap of the village, waited for sunset so I could test the lights out. Lights visible from space, started to think about about fitting capacitor so front light has continual beam at stop signs.

I’ll keep the battery lights to hand in case the Gremlins decide to get stroppy later.

The all-new, or at least slightly less used, shifters. I’m realising the old ones were a lot more worn than I thought: the gear and brakes work far better than before, which is handy with our local geography.

Notice also that the shifter now matches the bell. These things are important.

About six months ago I fitted an elderly headlight onto the Xtracycle, to be connected in due course to the Dynamo I’d already built into the wheel and the new light fitted on the back. I only needed to add a switch, so it was an easy job.

I got the switch last week.

The problem -apart from a chronic lack of confidence- was where to put the switch. I’d been searching for most of the winter for a small box of some sort to fit the switch in, preferably with a removable, waterproof lid. It appears that this is an under-served area of the consumer market.

I could have bought a new front light of course, with everything in one casing and probably better optics, but come on.

Eventually I came across these tins for cough tablets. They’re a bit bigger than I wanted but they’re made of aluminium, and they have a lid so I can get at the internal gubbins easily when something goes wrong or in some wild moment I decide to install a capacitor for the front light.

Cutting the lid was easy enough with a normal craft knife, the hole is not quite as round as the screw thread, but it’s hidden by the switch and I trust you not to tell anyone. While working in the shop I drilled a hole in the base of the tin and fitted it to the back of the forks. Unfortunately the tin didn’t fit under the crossbar. The system worked fine as long as I only wanted to ride in a big circle.


More drilling and fitting the tin a bit lower down produced the deluxe version* above. I’ve been riding with it for a couple of days and it doesn’t get in the way although it does look a bit strange, so now it’s time for a trip to the paint shop.

To be continued…

*’Deluxe’ defined as ‘usable in a straight line’.

Oh dear, barely two weeks after my fulsome praise for the Xtracycle’s elderly gear shifters and the rear shifters decided to expire. It’d been threatening this for some time now, but I’d perfected the method of “press with thumb, change back into second and press again” which for some reason appeased its internal gremlins into letting it change into first gear. Now said Gremlins seem to have gone thoroughly grumpy and the lever is slipping from steadily higher gears. As our local geography means I need reliable use of the lowest gears on a fairly regular basis, this is a problem, so it looks like the 15 year old levers will have to be replaced and sharpish, not least because  youngest son brought some kind of bugs home from the Kindergarten and shared them around on a democratic basis so everyone bar your correspondent is snuffling and feeling groggy, so guess who ends up transporting everything.

All this ‘cycling keeping you healthy’ stuff has its drawbacks, it seems.

Fortunately I have a backup set of fairly new and actually slightly better shifters, hoarded several months ago when a customer brought in a bike to be disposed of.  I also have most of the tools I need, so naturally I’m now going to put off the job for as long as possible by using the Bakfiets for local rides and then change the shifters in a mad rush just before I have to go on a longer journey.

Meanwhile Youngest Son has managed to get a puncture on his Laufrad and Middle Son is beginning to clamour for me to finish repairing his brother’s old bike so he can use it.

Which twit said the advantage of bicycles is the empowerment from being able to fix your own?

Oh, yeah: me.

Still, it’s nice to be worrying about normal things and not wondering where Beautiful wife’s Japanese family are.

My Xtracycle is built onto a Raleigh bike, and not just any old Raleigh either. If you click on the picture you will see the  words ‘Nottingham, England’ in gold on a black background.

For some reason I’m irrationally proud of this, even though the gears are Japanese and made in Indonesia, the tyres are German and the Xtracycle frame was made in Taiwan.

The bike is an ‘M-Trax 80’ and was built in the last years before production in Nottingham ceased and frame building moved overseas. I bought it in 1997 from Shepherd’s cycles in Wellington, Somerset, UK, and the shop badge is on the main bar with their address and telephone number. It cost three hundred pounds*.

My previous bike had been a second hand not-quite-supermarket-special which had come with its own tribe of gremlins and gave me trouble pretty well all the time. I’m still convinced parts would work loose just sitting in the garage. The back brake was somewhere down near the bottom bracket, convenient for catching mud but useless for adjusting, and was made of plastic. The wheels, I seem to recall, were steel. If bikes were airline seats, changing from the old bike to the M-Trax was like upgrading from Ryanair to Singapore Business Premium.

For about a week after I got the M-Trax I was the worst customer imaginable and kept going into the shop because of some imagined rattle or something not quite as I wanted it to be. I was nineteen and three hundred pounds was the most I’d ever paid for any single object, but the fact remains that Mr. Shepherd was most patient when dealing with this arrogant teenager.

For all my complaining, some of those parts are still on the bike now. I replaced the saddle within a week on the basis I needed to walk straight at work, but the brake levers and shifters are the ones upgraded (free) by Mr. Shepherd all those years ago, and several other components are still doing well despite hitting the road frequently in the first month when I wasn’t used to commuter cages on my pedals and failed to put my feet down fast enough at traffic lights**. The frame is even still under guarantee until next year. In fact, considering it has since been used under a very heavy and often well loaded Xtracycle, in all weathers and with sometimes indifferent maintenance, the three hundred pound bike Mr. Shepherd advised me to buy is still doing very well fourteen years later.

Made in England, you see. Except the bits that aren’t.

*The bike, not the badge.
** I’m not saying this happened a lot, but I believe the newsagent in town was running a book.

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