Sunday, 31 July 2011

Pedal powered bike collecting...and a new bike!

Its been a really busy bike week this week, bikes going out and a few arriving. Made me reflect a bit on the trailers i've been using, a combination of recycled bed frames and hacked kiddy carriers. It took a good few months, a couple of close calls with pedestrians and a few bruises to figure out things like size and the strength of the hitch, but I think i've finally settled on two favorites now.

a small one for little collections....

.....and a bigger one for picking up a few bikes at a time. Predictably both put together on less than a shoestring budget, but work fantastically.

Since i've been picking up bikes on the trailers i've discovered that the only thing that enrages a motorist more than a cyclist, even more than a tandem with a child on trying to turn a bicycle pulling a trailer piled up with more bicycles- must be the concentration of bicycle pheromones. I don't think i'm an inconsiderate cyclist, I don't filter, I do things like waiting at red lights etc and i've read the highway code, but then I don't ride in the gutter (in all the potholes and glass) and don't dive out of the way to allow unmolested car travel either...all of this seems to provoke alot of engine revving and horn beeping- thank goodness for Ipods.

Had a very exciting additon to my own bike collection arrive today, purchased for the grand sum of £27.57, I made the short trip over to Solihull to pick up my very own retired Pashley Postmans bike

I can't believe how fantastic it is, outwardly it doesn't look that different to loads of 3 speed bikes i've had, but once you've ridden it and got used to the tray at the front not moving when you turn there's no comparison, its great!...So you'll soon see me zipping around the city on the new bike with my tools in the front and a homemade trailer on the back....probably with several unhappy car drivers following closely behind!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Hurray for the holidays!

I'm so very excited! Its the beginning of six weeks of explorations and adventures with the kiddies....although in all honesty they're all bigger than me now and probably not as excited as I am, I still can't wait to find out what this summer will bring.

We've already taken the tandem out to Coombe for the obligatory chips at the cafe and are already planning a couple of local cycle camps and a few days out.

Most of these will only be little jaunts but I love camping, even if its only in the back garden pitched up in my tiny tent on whats left of our lawn ( we dug most of it up last year for vegetables)

Next week we're hoping to cycle over to Stratford and will probably stay for the night in Bidford at the back of the aptly named 'Cottage of Content'. There's some lovely places to stay locally- in a tent its usually only around £10 for the night, an absolute bargain- you can find a few more places to stop here.

Later in the summer we'll be off to Dorset for the annual dip in the sea, i'm still trying to decide whether to cycle down this year, but if not i'll be taking something folding so that I can have a little explore of the coast road between beautiful Charmouth and Weymouth- more of that when it happens.

Monday, 18 July 2011

How to make a quick single speed (Part 2)

I'm not exactly a fair weather cyclist, but the weather yesterday scuppered my plans for a trip out- there's something about dark skies and driving rain that makes me want to lock myself away somewhere warm....and preferably dry.

Anyway, with a little time on my hands I thought I'd carry on the single speed MTB conversion- so if you've followed Part 1 you'll now have a bare frame, a pile of bits and will be ready to start converting your wheel.

For the next bit you'll need the following: A set of suitable wheels, a spare BMX style wheel, a adjustable spanner, a cassette removal tool, a centre punch and a hammer. Once again you can pick up the cassette tool from Halfords for around £5- there is no sensible or cheaper alternative. I'm sure there is a proper tool to remove the BMX freewheel, but for this project its unnecessary.

Okay first you need to remove the BMX freewheel. Firstly brace the wheel with the freewheel on the right. You will notice two small indentations on the hub- position one of these at about 11 O'Clock place the centre punch in and give it a tap with the hammer (anti-clockwise)- with very little effort you will feel it come free.

Continue to turn it anti-clockwise until it comes off.

On the larger wheel you'll need to remove the rear cassette to make room for your new freewheel so insert your cassette remover, once again brace the wheel and with the aid of your spanner turn the cassette removal tool anti-clockwise.

Sometimes this takes a bit of perspiration, but it will come free- once it does continue to turn the cassette anti clockwise until it comes off in your hand.

To make your MTB rear wheel single speed you'll now need to put the BMX freewheel onto your empty MTB wheel hub.

Be very careful to make sure the freewheel engages with the threads of the wheel hub- usually you will sense if its not going on right. If you're worried take it off, check the threads and start again.

Finally you'll be left with another pile of un-needed bits and pieces and a converted rear wheel.

Once again i've ran out of time, but check for easy Part 3 where I (hopefully) put it all back together again.

Friday, 15 July 2011

How to make a quick single speed (Part 1)

Following the blog about my day out in the woods i've had a surprising amount of questions about the bike I was using on the day, or more specifically about its single speed-edness. As with most of the bikes I ride the most it's a remarkably good (but ugly) bike made out of a combination of lots of not very special bits, which have come together to fulfill a specific task really well.

I use the single speed for quick trips to the shop, bashing around the woods and for when I want to put a smile on my face. Whenever I use it it reminds me of how great it felt to ride my bmx when I was ten, when my knee's didn't bash off the handlebars and I wasn't too worried what might happen when I went down devil's dungeon (a local hole in the ground that doubled as a bike jump) . I'm sure there's a proper way to make a single speed and i'm also sure that there are lots of very compelling reasons why the way in which I made my bike will ultimately destroy it- but i've used this for a long time and its still I thought i'd show you how.

Now this is a final warning- if you value your bike or are likely to damage yourself with basic tools please don't try anything that follows.

Okay the first thing you're going to need is an old bike, the more broken it is the better as you'll be throwing most of the bits away. Ideally the wheels will be almost straight and they'll be nothing too nasty happening with the frame. I tend to keep away from anything with suspension, they are usually rubbish and weight a ton- two qualities you'll not want for your grown up bmx.

Next you'll need to start stipping all the bits off so disconnect all of the cables and start stripping it down

Use an allen key to loosen the handlebars, sometimes it gets a bit stuck so once you've undone the headset bolt until its sitting proud of the handlebar, give it a sharp tap with a hammer and that should free it up.

Next you'll need to take off the crank and gears. The trickiest bit here is removing the crank, especially if its been sitting for a while. Ideally you'll need a crank puller, which you can pick up from Halfords for around £5, but if you're not keen on spending money you can remove it with a hammer and chisel- I don't recommend this as you can end up with a mangled mess.

After you've unscrewed the front and rear derailleurs and taken off the chain you'll be left with a bare frame. If you want to paint your frame now is the time- make sure you give it a proper wash to get off all the muck and grease and sort out any rusty bits.

I've had to split this into several parts to fit in a barbecue, but i'll show you how to make your single speed rear wheel in Part 2

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A weekend spent in the woods

This weekend was spent exploring the woodland and cycle paths in and around the Binley Woods/ Brandon area. Only a short ride from the city centre are some fantastic rides through mixed woodland, some easy trails and uniquely a dirt track shared by a mixture of BMX-ers and off road bikers ( of the pedal powered variety). Its not as rugged as some further afield destinations and its shared usage, so not exclusively for the use of off road cyclists- but i've been exploring it for a couple of years now and still find something to enjoy. It has some tricky bits but this weekend I was on a homemade low geared, single speed MTB and (apart from my own aching knee's) it managed it without too many complaints.

Part of my ride around Brandon, Wolston and Brinklow took in what's known locally as the '12 o'clock ride' (its a googlable route), which is a bridleway which leads directly from Brandon to the gates of Coombe Abbey and Brinklow Rd. It forms a part of a 12 mile route which I quite often see people attempting at the weekends although I prefer a more meandering approach to my weekend rides.

If you're interested in popping down to have a look you can find a fantastic guide and pictures to what you can hope to see when you come on the walking blog 'To the hills'

I'm always amazed as what's available locally that most of us have never heard of- You can find a few more rides around warwickshire area here.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

5 quick things to make with an old inner tube

Quite often when I receive a bike its because its fallen out of use due to something simple like a puncture. When repairing a bicycle today I counted the repairs on an innertube I'd removed and found that it had 12 patches and was still going strong.

Sometimes though, because of how or where an inner tube is damaged, its beyond being safe to use in a wheel. Although cheap, rubber is a finite resource so I thought i'd share some of the quick things that I use old tubes for:

1) Puncture patch

Old tyres make adequate puncture patches. Puncture kits are cheap to buy but it makes better sense to use what you have if you can. Inner tube rubber is generally thicker than patch rubber except on racer innertubes which work the best.

To use a patch make sure you wash the chalk off before using it (or the glue won't stick) and roughen the side which you are going to glue (and the area that your glueing it to) with a bit of sandpaper

2) Plant/ cable ties

It doesn't get simpler than this. An old inner tube cut into thin strips ready to use as ties for any number of jobs. The other day I used the tube ties to fix the wheels onto the hazel rods to fix together the wheel fence

3) Bicycle chain cover

Just snip the valve off your inner tube and you have an instant, ready to use, no frills chain cover. Not only will it help prevent the elements from rusting it up, when attached to your bicycle the rubber outer will prevent the metal chain from scratching and chipping the paintwork of your treasured bicycle.

4) Wheel rim liner

Quite often (especially with cheaper or old bikes) the liner inside the wheel which protects the inner tube from the spoke nuts has disintegrated- when this happens the top of the nuts (or if you're unlucky a bit of spoke) rubs on the tube. Usually you'll only discover this when you remove the wheel to look for a puncture.

Its well worth re-lining the wheel with a bit of old tube. Inner tubes stretch, so for a 26" wheel use a 20" inner tube- cut the right width and away you go.

5) Emergency firelighters

Quite a few years ago now I was given this firelighting kit by a good friend. Part of it is thin strips of scrap inner tube which help get your campfire going, particularly good in the wet. I always have this with me when off in the wilderness and its now part of my essential bike travel kit.

So if your off on your travels why not put something similar together and take it with you, you'll not regret it.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Electric Coventry

I think that I must have been travelling around Coventry city centre with my eyes closed for several months now, because taking a shortcut to somewhere else the other day I happened upon this electric car and charging station. I vaguely remember talk of charging bays being located in the city but had never noticed one until this very day....and it got me thinking

A decade ago when I was working for Royal Mail, they introduced little electric Peugeot 106's, which I think they used successfully for the rural routes. In recent years in Coventry (presumably because of its 'green' credentials) there has been a renewed interest in electric with various offerings from Liberty Electric, Tata and (laterly) Modec. These new-old forms of transport are seen as a pannacea for the looming fuel crisis, which still preserve the right of all to travel as they wish, when they wish and at an 'acceptable' level of comfort (something which until recently was supported in government). Despite the obvious lack of immediate emmisions I do question how environmentally friendly these cars are. I also question the final cost in terms of producing the vehicle and the economic and environmental cost of generating the electricity to charge the vehicle

The other day my daughter and I were talking about this, we stopped on the way to school and for 10 minutes counted the cars going past and the occupants within- the majority only carried one person which in any car, electric or not, does not make good environmental sense. Realistically in a modern age of out of town facilities, not all places are within easy walking distance and not everyone would agree (with me) that cycling is the way to get to most places as it can be tiring, takes longer and makes you a bit sweaty. As a family we do have a car (a battered diesel) and try to use it as little as possible, the school run is completed on the bike, most visits to the shop are either by foot or bike and trips into the city are on public transport- its a realistic compromise. Buying a Prius might temporarily ease my conscience but I don't think it will solve any environmental problems- particularly if you consider its carbon footprint.

I did wonder what the roads would be like if all those people in empty cars used an electric bike, obviously if it rains you still get wet and you don't get a stereo, but in the city something like this will do 30mph and will get you to work and back on a charge.

There is a growing range of well supported bikes, you can find the best reviewed here.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Festival fun?

The middle months always seem packed with things to do- last weekend I popped along to the Green Fayre then the Festival of Cycling and this weekend I spent a little time at the Godiva Festival- The best bits of each were the chance meetings

At the Cycle festival I was fortunate to meet with Alec Wagstaff, a coventrian cycling into his 90's. The first thing I noticed was his lovely bike a Tommy Godwin

He took the time to tell me about his life with bikes, cycling in the army during WW2 as as a part of the Buckshee wheelers and then returning and continuing to cycle on the bike that he had with him on the day.

The Godiva festival was a whole other experience, i'm not sure what i thought it was going to be like, but it was more overwhelming than I remember it being. There were certainly lots of people which I guess is a measure of success. Thankfully amoungst the swarm of determined teenage drinkers, there was a small oasis in the Greenspace tent. Oddly though this (along with the childrens tent and the life and times tent) was on the periphery of the main site on the main thoroughfare forming part of the bottleneck into the festival proper.

Here there was a small taster of the green ingenuity going on in Coventry. It was fantastic that we were able to watch as Pip the thatcher demonstrated how to thatch and the beekeepers showed off their bee's in their see-through hive and get the chance to speak with the guys from warwickshire wildlife trust.

I even spotted one of the guys from Gardening Together arriving with a tree and bits of his stall on his old Moulton

Obviously there is a balance between producing a commercially attractive event and including elements such as the green tent whilst maintaining (particularly during the day) a family friendly feel, i'm not sure it achieved it this year.