Bicycle Work Digest

It has been a while since my last post, mainly due to all of my free time being used up with doing bike-related things, leaving me without the time to write about them.

Brompton:

I noticed that in addition to the noise from my folding pedal (which I can live with based on the cost of a replacement), There was some noise coming from the bottom bracket. The Brompton uses a FAG-type cartridge bottom bracket, and the replacement part is relatively expensive. I decided to opt for a cheaper generic bottom bracket cartridge with Shimano-style splined cups.

The standard Brompton bottom bracket, with soft plastic cups

I initially expected that I’d be able to remove the old bottom bracket with a hammer and punch because I didn’t have to worry about damaging it. However, I discovered that the cups on the original bottom bracket are made of a fairly soft resin which simply splits when approached this way. I eventually bought the proper tool and the bottom bracket co-operated with the removal process after that. The bike is quieter now, but there is still a fair bit of noise from the (non user-serviceable) folding pedal.

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The new bottom bracket cartridge, sitting in the bike.

In other Brompton news, lovely girlfriend has managed to get hold of a 2000 model L5 (equivalent to an “M5L” in the modern nomenclature). This model comes with the Sturmey Archer 5 speed Sprinter hub, which offers a good gear range with a price, it requires particularly perfect indicator rod adjustment to get all of the gears to work at the same time. I believe that the right-hand cone needs adjusting slightly, as I am only able to consistently get gears 1,3,4,5 or gears 2,3,4,5 to work at the same time.

The L5 also needed a new front brake cable, indicator rod and rear mudflap, which have all since been fitted and the bike is currently working very well. The Marathon Plus tyres it has make the bike feel noticeably smoother and faster than my Brompton, and the wider gears range is pleasant too. Hopefully Brompton will see sense and start speccing the X-RF8 hub as an option in the near future. It also came with the special Brompton version of the Brooks B17 saddle, a luggage block and an older version of the Touring Pannier (now T-bag) from back when they were made by Carradice.

DL-1:

After fitting the anti-rotation washers to the back wheel last week, I rotated the reaction arm slightly to compensate for the re-positioning of the axle in the frame. In the process of doing this, I inadvertently over-tightened the left-hand cone making the ride feel “draggy.” Thankfully this was an easy fix once the wheel was out thanks to the two grooves on the “washer” which locks into the cone on the other side of the drum brake. This allowed me to adjust the brake position and re-tighten the locknut without it tightening the cone at the same time.

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Taken from the X-RD3 manual, the special washer (31) which sits between the cone (not shown) and locknut (29) is highlighted in red.

because this job was non-urgent, I put it off for quite a while. Now the bike is back to normal I really appreciate just how wonderful it is to ride.

Kona Africa Bike:

After giving this bike to lovely girlfriend, she never really felt safe in start-stop traffic because of the coaster brake preventing her being able to rotate the pedals into an ideal position to set off. In the end, we decided that replacing the 3 speed Nexus hub with a roller-brake version would be best. I disassembled the wheel and intended to use the old spokes with the new hub, only to find out the flange diameter of the new hub was slightly bigger and the old spokes were too long. After ordering some new spokes which were a few mm shorter, I built the wheel up without too much trouble (no severe dishing required as with derailleur gears).

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The new wheel, before the cable had been installed. Note the brake arm with the hold for the cable clamp to sit in.

The roller brake idea is particularly good, unlike Sturmey’s drum brakes, the roller brake is a completely separate module which sits on some splines on the left hand side of the hub. If the brake fails, or you want to fit a better version, it can simply be replaced without re-building the wheel. The brake slots onto the splines and is held in with a simple locknut. Other than that, the mechanism is similar to Sturmey Archer drum brakes, except they don’t need a special brake cable, the barrel adjuster and cable clamp come with the brake, all you need to use is a standard brake cable. Upon testing the bike, the roller brake provided an impressive amount of stopping power for a low-maintenance, non-performance-oriented component. This is one of the most basic model roller brake Shimano makes

Raleigh Twentys:

I recently acquired a pair of Raleigh Twentys which I am reconditioning on behalf of a few friends. One is a 1974 “Shopper,” the other is a 1980 model with a rear Dynohub. I tested the Dynohub with my Brompton lights and it was perfectly able to power the front and rear LED lights despite its lower official power rating than modern dynamo hubs.

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The Dynohub AWG on from the 1980 Twenty

A previous owner has attempted to fit road bike caliper brakes and drop bar brake levers to the 1980 Twenty, which will have to be swapped out for the appropriate brakes. The rear wheel had a broken spoke, but I happened to have some spokes of the right length already due to a mistake made when ordering spokes for a Twenty wheel last year. Other than that, both bikes only need a bit of de-rusting, new chains and new tyres and they will be ready for their new owners. So far I have only serviced the rear wheels of each bike.

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The 1974 AW hub, after disassembly, cleaning and re-assembly.

Universal Folding Bike:

This is another bike I am servicing for a friend, a Universal folding bike with a Shimano “333” 3-speed hub and 20 inch (406 mm) wheels. The riding position is quite comfortable and upright, making the bike an ideal runaround machine. The 333 hub is in good condition, although the cable has rusted seized. 333 hubs were a lot less popular than Sturmey Archer hubs, meaning a replacement cable was not forthcoming. Thankfully, I should be able to come up with a suitable bodge using a cable clamp nut/bolt and a Sturmey Archer gear cable. Other than that it just needs a bit of rust removal, new tyres and a new chain.

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The 333 hub shifts via a bell-crank and push-rod mechanism in a similar way to modern Nexus 3-speed hubs.

Ten bike parts & accessories due for a comeback

Progress is generally accepted as a good thing, but sometimes new trends, materials and components come along which don’t have all the advantages of the things they replace. This is especially true in the world of bicycles. I present here my top ten bicycle technologies and accessories which I feel are due for a comeback (some of which are already enjoying a bit of a resurgence).

Hub Gears

The innards of a Sturmey Archer AW hub I am currently working on. Even in this state, the hub is still working.
My first experience of hub gears was in Belgium, on a hire bike used for a bicycle tour of Brussels. The bike was equipped with a Nexus 8-speed hub which offered a similar range to my 24-speed derailleur-geared bike of the time. I instantly appreciated being able to shift gear when stationary, the possibilities for enclosing the chain and the increased durability from sealing away the gears inside the hub.
Two of the Three bikes I now own have hub gears.

Drum/Roller/Coaster Brakes

Image courtesy of Ecovelo
The same bike in Brussels had the most basic model Shimano Roller brakes. These were weaker than the disc brakes I was used to at the time, but once I had gotten used to the reversed brake levers (left-hand front, as is common in countries with right-hand traffic) I came to like the idea of trading a little stopping power over discs for a great deal more durability. Being sealed away in the hub means that their performance is independent of weather conditions, unlike rim brakes. For a bike you depend on to get around, drum brakes are a great option.
The Raleigh DL-1 has similar front and rear Sturmey Archer drum brakes.

Briefcase Clips

Briefcase clips were a common feature of rat-trap pannier racks here in the UK in the days of mass cycling. Naturally in The Netherlands and Denmark they are still relatively commonplace. A small loop protrudes from the side of the rack into which a briefcase handle is placed. The spring-loaded rat trap is then lowered, and a small protruding rod from it holds the briefcase in place.
Whilst briefcases are not as common as they were, I regularly use the clip on the DL-1 for plastic carrier bags when I have been a bit over-zealous with the grocery shopping, or for my U-lock when I have no space in my regular pannier.

Saddlebags

A Carradice saddlebag on a Raleigh Wayfarer. Image courtesy of Urban Adventure League
I am hoping to join the saddlebag club soon. Saddlebags were once commonplace, but declined in popularity with the decline in transportation cycling in the UK. Like panniers, they place the load on the bike rather than the rider, reducing the amount of effort required for carrying and preventing the risk of a sweaty back which comes with backpacks. They also offer advantages over panniers; the load is more central and less likely to affect balance and they do not require a rear rack, only a saddle with bag loops such as a Brooks.

Wool

Wool is great. I’m not a big fan of having special clothing just for cycling, I’d rather wear something which is practical both on and off the bike. In the colder months wool is ideal for this, it is warm, it breathes and it absorbs a decent amount of moisture without feeling wet and it doesn’t readily hold odours.

Chain Cases

A completely enclosed chain on a Pashley bicycle. Image courtesy of Let’s Go Ride A Bike
When dérailleur gears are no-longer used, the possibility of completely enclosing the chain is opened up. A chain guard has the advantage of protecting the rider from the chain, meaning no more trouser clips or rolling up your trouser leg. A chain case offers this advantage whilst also protecting the chain from road filth and rain, leading to a longer life and reduced maintenance.

North Road Handlebars

Most of the bikes on sale in the UK come with either riser or straight bars, as seen on mountain bikes, or drops (resembling ram’s horns), as seen on racing bikes. These bars offer a moderately aggressive (straight) or aggressive (drops) riding posture suited to sport cycling. For everyday transportation, they are not the best choice for everyone. North road handlebars (and similar variants) offer an upright riding position. The advantages of this include; comfort for the rider, increased head height (ideal when negotiating traffic) and rider weight is shifted back (reducing the possibility of going over the handlebar under heavy braking).

Steel

A lugged joint between a top-tube and head-tube on a steel frame. Image courtesy of Rivendell
Aluminium has become a very popular frame material in recent years, due to the pursuit of ever lighter bicycles. It is light and stiff, making it an appropriate material for frames. The different properties of aluminium mean that it is desirable to use oversized tubing, which makes the frame particularly light and stiff. Despite this, many feel that steel produces a better quality of ride, the reduced stiffness of the narrower tubing used in forks seems to allow more of the vibration from the road to be absorbed and dissipated before it reaches the rider. This perception is of course completely subjective, but is something worth considering. Other advantages of steel include the possibility of lugged construction, which I find to be aesthetically pleasing, and the relative ease with which a steel frame can be repaired in comparison to an aluminium one.

Relaxed Geometry

I read somewhere that most of the bikes which have ever been manufactured are of the same basic design as the English Roadster or the Dutch Bike. In the UK however, this design in geometry have fallen out of favour. Whilst the roadster is enjoying a bit of a resurgence due to the popularity various models of Pashley Cycles, the relaxed roadster geometry is mainly only seen on bikes marketed as “traditional” or “heritage” bikes. The geometry of these bikes makes them ideal for everyday transport for the average person’s needs. In addition to the models make by Pashley, I’d like to see some more designs based on this geometry available in UK bike shops.

Dynamo Lighting

A topic I have written about extensively, dynamo lights are a great option for an everyday transport bike, where an “always available” lighting solution is very desirable. Most people are put off by memories of cheap bottle dynamos driving terrible filament lamps, but modern hub and bottle dynamos are much better. Combine these with modern LED lighting technologies and you have the perfect dependable lighting solution for an everyday transport bike. No batteries, no fuss.
What bicycle components and accessories which have fallen out of favour would you like to see coming back?

London Bike Hire (Boris Bikes)

After my Waltham Forest odyssey, I took the opportunity to use the London Bike Hire with Alan P of, "A Grim North." Having heard ahead of time that the casual user system was fiddly and cumbersome, I decided to splash out the £3 to become a member. In the areas of the city served by the scheme, docking stations are readily available, although many of the ones I observed were somewhat lacking in bikes.

The bikes themselves are great; stable, robust and fairly comfortable. The gearing is quite low, but this is ideal for the stop and go traffic they are designed to be used in.

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Step-through frame can accommodate a wide range of rider heights

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The front carrier and elastic strap are provided as an alternative to baskets, which the designers felt would be used as bins. I discovered it can also be used as a makeshift aero bar to increase performance.

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The front carrier included integrated LED lighting, which flashes when the bike is in use (and continues for a few minutes afterwards)

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Rear lights are integrated into the frame at the bottom of each of the chainstays. The bike uses a 3-speed Shimano Nexus hub, and Shimano roller brakes (presumably due to the ease with which they can be replaced).

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A chain tensioner is used, presumably to avoid the problem of the chain coming off due to low tension if a wheel is not replaced perfectly by Serco.

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The front wheel has a Shimano dynamo hub and another roller brake

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Left: The bike has a rotary bell, as is common on bikes in The Netherlands. Right: The Bike uses the standard Nexus shifter (which rotates the other way compared to derailleur grip-shifters). The brake activated by each lever is specified on the handlebar, presumably to help tourists from nations which use the right hand side of the road for travel (bike brakes are commonly reversed relative to the UK in those countries).

Unlike the bikes, the system controlling the hiring of bikes is very poor. In the day out I managed to hire around six bikes successfully, out of around twenty I attempted to hire. Several were understandably out of service, but far more common was that the system appeared to time out whilst authorising the bike to be released, producing neither a positive green signal from the dock nor a negative red one. Another problem was the dock occasionally returning a red light, indicating that authorisation had failed, before turning to green in around the same time it would take for someone to turn around and start top walk away.

The bike hire is a good idea and the bikes are fit for their purpose. The scheme is let down immediately by the infrastructure controlling the authorisation of hiring, and on a wider scale by the lack of adequate infrastructure provision for cyclists in many of the areas in which the scheme operates.

Despite the problems encountered, I had a really good day on the Boris Bikes. They are one of the few bikes I can successfully wheelie, and hot-docking is always fun too Winking smile