Friday, 23 December 2011

Making things for christmas

Its been a busy few weeks leading up to Christmas. As with most people at this time of year my thoughts have turned to gifts and decorating. There's something that's still really exciting about all things Christmas, particularly the lights and decorations. Last year I cobbled together my own reindeer for the front garden out of an old bike frame, the lense off a rear dynamo light and a whole load of battery powered LED's from the pound shop.

After a little dusting off he's back in position and waiting for Christmas to happen. Many thanks to YukonRider for the original idea- it's a stroke of genius!

This year I decided to put together a couple of decorations for the tree. My favorite so far has been the bike spoke spirals, which nestled amongst the tree boughs and christmas lights look fab.

All it took was a couple of spokes, basic tools and a bit of time, why not have a go at making your own.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Figuring out my bike cam...

About six months ago I picked up a small (and very cheap) digital camcorder to use with my bike. There's definitely a growing trend for wearing these cameras, partly I think to generate videos for Youtube but I think they really prove their value in catching the occasional driver trying to drive you into the kerb. After 6 months of looking at the packet I finally decided to have a go at getting mine to work...

The first thing I noticed was how small these cameras are, no longer than the length of your thumb and probably the same width. Out of the box they come with a variety of mounts and attachments although not anything designed specifically for a helmet.

My first thought was to mount the camera directly onto the handlebars- this was really easy to do but meant that every single bump in the road was transfered to the camera and made the final video unwatchable...

So with a couple of cut up innertubes I managed to fix a camera mount onto the top of my helmet and after a couple of adjustments it was ready to go...check out the final result!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

How to lock your bike...if you don't like it....

Whenever I stop and leave my bike somewhere, I always hope that when I finally make it back my bike will still be there waiting to take me home again. There have been a couple of times when this hasn't been the case and I was devastated...not to mention irritated as I then had to make the journey home on foot. When I was out and about today I was by the university and decided to have a look at the different ways in which people had locked their bikes with a view to spotting those less well secured- this is what I found...

Firstly if you like your bike, make sure you've locked it to something. This bike was up on its stand with a little lock around the rear wheel. If the lock can't be pulled off- the bike will simply be picked up and carried away.

If you buy a lock and it costs you a £1, chances are it'll only give you a pounds worth of protection. Cheap locks (like the one here) not only have very weak mechanisms but more often than not the metal they are made of is as soft as cheese. If the bike is wheeled backwards and then yanked forward the lock will simply just fall off.

Always try to buy the best lock that you can afford, I tend to use a heavy motorcycle lock, but when I was short of money I used several old cycle chains inside an inner tube. You could also use one of the bike cage or bike storage facilities of which there are several in Coventry.

If you're going to lock your bike, don't attach it by anything that can be removed or cut easily...this bmx had been attached by its handlebars which are easily and quickly undone with an allen key- handlebars are easy for a bike thief to replace. More frequently i've seen bikes locked with a lock attached to a spoke- so easy to cut with nothing more than a set of pliers.

If the only thing you can find to lock your bike to is a small bollard, then take your bike with you. Bikes locked in this way are simply lifted up in order to release the lock.

This bike was seemingly well secured, except for the fact that an older 'D' lock had been used. Although difficult to cut through due to being hardened steel, the locking mechanism in these older 'D' locks is very vulnerable and can be unlocked with the end of a Bic Biro not only would your bike get stolen, but your lock would get stolen too!

This final bike illustrated a couple of things, firstly if you have a quick release seat post make sure you've locked it or taken it with you as they tend to get stolen. More importantly, if you have a nice bike with a good lock and when you come back to it the tyres are flat- take it home with you, don't be tempted to leave it overnight.

Quite often when a bike is nice and well locked, bike thieves will deflate your tyres or steal a wheel in order that they can return later with more substantial equipment to remove your lock and steal your bike. If you'd like to find out a bit more about locking your bike have a look here

After writing this blog post I noticed an article in one of the local papers discussing the increase in cycle thefts in the city- particularly in and around the city centre- you can have a read of the article'll also find more good tips for securing your bike.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

(Copyright Ian Britton 2011)

A trip to London yesterday meant that I spent much of my day surrounded by the servicemen and women who had made the trip down to London to mark another remembrance sunday in the capitol. Even in the current climate where there is a growing conversation about the legitimacy of armed conflict, it was hard not to reflect on the life changing decisions that others had made in order that I can continue to live my life as freely as I do. Last summer, after spending some time talking with Alec Wagstaff, I did have a look at the role of the cyclist in the world wars- if you're interested you can follow the links to find out a little more information about the Army Cyclists Corp and the Bicycle Infantry.

Interestingly Meriden (which is only a shortish cycle ride from central Coventry) has at its centre the only memorial that I know of dedicated entirely to those that served as cyclists during both world wars- you can see a short (and old) film about it here

Thursday, 3 November 2011

How to buy a second hand bicycle...

Just recently I've had a couple of conversations about bikes that have been bought second hand, these were tales of woe about the things that have gone horribly wrong- usually on the journey home. Buying a bicycle second hand will (if done carefully) get you a bicycle which is cheaper, better quality and longer lasting than the temptingly cheap bikes seen in supermarkets and discount sports shops. I don't buy new bikes, partly because I like old bikes but also because i've rarely had enough money to buy a new bike of a good enough quality.

These are the things I'd check when buying a bike:

The very first thing I would do is check the bike overall, look at the frame and forks- is there any obvious damage, dents or rusty holes-does it look straight? If your instinct is that it all looks a bit wonky it probably is...

At the back of the bike i'd check that the wheel was attached, that it wasn't buckled beyond help, the tyre was inflated and not damaged or perished and all the spokes were present. I would check that the cables (gear and brake) were okay, the deraillieur moved and allowed the chain to pass through it. Finally I look to see that the brakes moved freely and that the brake pads still had sufficient rubber to stop the bike

In the middle I would check the saddle to made sure it was tight on the stem, that the stem was fixed into the frame (with the seat bolt). I would then check the front deraillieur and its cable to make sure that it moved properly, then check the crank to see that it didn't wobble, check the pedals to make sure they turn and aren't dangerously this point its probably worth checking the wear on the chainset

At the front I would check that the handlebars were attached to the bike and turned freely (no nasty grinding sounds), that brakes and gear levers were unbroken and working, that the cables were in a reasonable condition. I would check the brake pads etc for wear and for any damage to the rim including brake wear, dents, buckles and missing spokes...finally check that the wheel is properly attached and that the tyre is in a reasonable condition.

It sounds like alot to remember, but working from the back to the front of the bike it is logical and easy when you get started. If you try to do most of these things then you'll have a better chance of getting a reasonable bike- that said second hand bikes will invariably have some problems but as long as you know what they are-you can highlight them to the seller, hopefully get a reduced price and then figure out repair when you get home.

If you do decide to buy a new bike its probably still worth running through the list as unless you're buying from a reputable bike shop the putting together, checking and setting up of the bike can be a bit hit and miss. With cheap and second hand bikes, its not (in my opinion) worth buying something with suspension- on the road its not really necessary, it makes your bike heavy and has a tendency to seize.

If you fancy being a bit more thorough you can complete what's known as an 'M' check- you can have a look at my version below but i'm sure there are many others on the interweb- have a look at a few and pick one that works for you.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The twang of a broken spoke...

A trip out yesterday brought with it the unmistakable twang af one of my spokes snapping as I dropped down a pothole- I didn't have anything with me to fix it so wrapped it out of the way. To fix a spoke you only need a couple of basic tools, a screwdriver, an adjustable spanner, a cassette tool and a spoke tool- most people have a spanner and a screwdriver in their toolbox, you can pick up a cassette and spoke tool for around £10 from somewhere like Halfords, well worth buying as you're bound to need them again. If the same thing happens to you this is how to sort it out when you get home...

First strip off the tyre and inner tube and you'll be left with a bear rim. If the broken spoke is on the non-drive side you can simply remove the broken spoke and (with a bit of gentle bending) put in a new one- if its on the other side its a bit trickier as the rear cassette is in the way. Check the rim where the hole for the spoke is to ensure that there's no obvious damage or wear, check the rim tape for wear and damage- replace as necessary.

If you are at home and you have the tools its easier just to take the cassette off- that way you'll be able to pass the new spoke through without bending it too much. Spokes can be bought in the right size quite cheaply from most cycle shops, idealy you should use new spokes- that said I tend to keep a few that i've recycled from other bike wheels.

With the cassette removed it should look a bit like this. Post your spoke through making sure that it goes through on the correct side and follows the pattern of the removed spoke- if you're unsure look to the spokes either side of the one you're replacing

With the spoke back in place re-insert the spoke nipple and take up the slack in the spoke- the more you turn the nipple the tighter the spoke becomes- don't over tighten as it'll strip the threads on the spoke and make your wheel wobble

Now that you have your new spoke back in your wheel you'll need to tighten the spoke. Unless you are very lucky you'll find that (without doing this) when you spin your wheel where the spoke was removed you'll have a slight wobble- if you've reconnected your brakes you'll probably find that it'll catch against one side as it turns. You can do this with it back in the bike with the bike either on a stand or turned upside down.

In order to address your wobble gradually tighten the spoke nipple whilst slowly turning the wheel and looking from behind- you can also use the brakes as a guide. As you tighten the spoke the wobble should gradually reduce and your wheel will once again become 'true' or straight.

This is only the most basic of guides- if you'd like to learn a bit more visit Sheldon Brown for a fuller explanation. Replacing spokes takes a little practice but is far easier than you would imagine- next time you hear the 'twang' have a go at fixing it yourself.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Boris Bikes

A recent trip to London finally gave me the chance to have a sit on one of the Boris bikes. The bike hire scheme in London seems to have been amazingly successful- everywhere you go in London now there's someone nipping past on one...I wasn't brave enough to take a trip out -I was a little too easily distracted by the bright lights and big city to be safe. I understand the scheme is open to visitors in much the same way as Oyster cards for the underground are- so if you're feeling brave you can find out more about hiring a bike here

Having had a good sit on one now i'm not sure i'd want to spend a long time cycling one, they weigh a fair bit...somewhere around 23kg which (although great for toning flabby legs) is two and a half times the weight of the bike I ride most days- despite this, one was recently ridden the 450 miles from Newcastle back to London. There's some great blogs out there dedicated to a growing community of Boris bikers- you can join in here

London is a fantastic city for cycling and cyclists, it seems that everywhere you look there's an old moulton, a vintage tourer or a fab fixie resting casually against a railing...I'm popping back in a week or two so will try and get a few more pictures of the best.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sharing the space?

Having to travel in and out of Coventry quite frequently has given me a varied experience of the new 'shared space' in the city centre. Even after having lots of practice I still feel like I'm taking my life in my hands each time I venture across...I think its knowing that i'm relying on the goodwill and awareness of others in order to make it to the other side safely.

The new junctions seem to work best if you are either a bus or you are travelling straight on, on several occasions recently I've had to get off the bike and move to the path in order to avoid a steady flow of buses coming up the hill from Gosford St who haven't yet heard about sharing the space.

Shared spaces aren't a new idea and are most associated with the dutch who seem to have successfully developed the idea over many years, but so far the way in which the concept has been implimented in Coventry has caused problems for many of those who had hoped to benefit from a new approach to road usage, particularly cyclists and pedestrians. Its early days yet though, lets hope with time and a bit of tweaking it all works out!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Finding my lost bicycle

Over a year and a half ago I lost my bicycle. For reasons that I still don't fully understand I managed to completely forget where I had left it, no matter how hard I tried to remember. Anyway, last week (and very much out of the blue) I suddenly remembered where I thought it might be,so onto a bike I jumped and away I went to see if it was still there....this is what i found

Amazingly still locked up to the bike rack where it had been left, a little worse for wear with flat tires, rusty wheels, leaves in the basket and cobwebs on the handlebars...but still there! It was such a relief to finally find it, it isn't an expensive bike or particularly pretty but it rides beautifully which is why I had used it every single day. The only slight problem I have now is that after 18 months I no longer seem to have to key to the D lock I secured it although I've pumped up the tyres, cleaned and oiled the moment its still locked to the same railing until I can either find the key or cut through the lock...any ideas much appreciated.

Friday, 7 October 2011

How much damage can a worn chain do?

Apart from feeding it some oil now and then (probably to stop the irritating squeek) I reckon the chain has to be one of the components given the least amount of thought. Unless it gets really really worn or you're particularly unfortunate it'll keep turning your wheels until you decide to get another bike...but if you're like me and have a bike that you love and would rather not spend pots of cash maintaining it then please read on!

The last few days have seen a couple of bikes arrive for repair with the same fault caused by the same easily remedied problem, they each had chains which were so very worn that they had started to wear away the rest of the drive chain ( the chainwheel and rear derailleur/ jockey wheels). Its easily preventable and if caught in time will only cost you the price of a new chain (£20) rather than the cost of a derailleur/ jockey wheels and chainrings (£50+....+ fitting)

Worn jockey wheels have pointed teeth (left) rather than nice square edged teeth like the one on the right.

A little further investigation will probably reveal a worn chainset, on this one you can see that the outer rings are far more worn than the inner probably as a result of far more use of those gears.

Eventually a combination of a worn chainset, a worn out chain and damaged jockey wheels will result in missing gears and a slipping chain...which can prove a little painful. The answer is very simple, periodically check the chain for wear- it doesn't require any special tools and only takes a minute or two. To check your chain all you are going to need is a chain and a 12"'s how...

Prop your bike so that it'll stand on its own, then rest your ruler along a length of chain. If your chain is in optimum condition it should measure 12" for 12 complete links- when measured from/ to the centre of the link. Unless new most chains when measured have stretched a little- if its anything more than 1/16th inch then you need to think about getting a new chain.

....Just in case you're not sure- this is one complete link, count twelve of those and then measure.

I'm not sure what the average life of a chain is, as with most things it depends on the quality of the chain, how well its been looked after and the punishment it's endured. I do check and oil mine but commute daily in all weathers- so tend to check it monthly and change it annually.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Autumnal foraging

Now that its a little colder outside its easy to look a few months forward to the fast approaching winter and forget entirely about the fruit filled hedgerows which are itching to be turned into jams, wines and preserves. Thanks to the wonders of freegle I was lucky enough to acquire a pile of brewing equipment which i'm hoping will produce a range of interesting (and cheap) christmas pressies this year to accompany the jam pots and knitted wares already on the way. With this in mind I popped out for a quick look around to see what i could find...

First to be found was a pile of crab apples, on the floor so ready to use, helped down from the tree by a freezing wind...not sure shorts were the right choice for today's forage! Crab apples alone or mixed with other fruits (elderberries, blackberries) are good for jellies

Next to be found was a tree filled with sloes, not quite ready yet- I think they need to be picked after the first proper frost. I saw lots of these, not too popular other than as an addition to gin because they are amazingly sour. Processed properly they can apparently be turned into amazing sloe cheese

Next up was a blackberry bush, I'm not sure its been a great year for blackberries this year but the few I found still tasted lovely.

A little further along was this fantastic plum tree, great for just eating although i've used the fallen plums from this tree to make the most beautiful jam for the last few years

Elderberries will grow just about anywhere that they are allowed to, usually seen on bits of scrubland, by the sides of roads and lining the canals- great in jams and good in wine. Its easy to spot when they are ready to pick because the weight of the fruit begins to pull the end of the branch back towards the ground

Rosehips are easy to spot and are good for turning into rosehip syrup- rosehips are rich in vitamin 'C', far richer than oranges apparently

Last up was a surprise find- wild hops, perfect for a little bit of home brewing!

There was more to be found but I had to head home, my bag filled with fruits. If you do decide to go out looking for useful fruits make sure you have a look in a good book first and/or take someone with you who knows what they are picking and definitely avoid anything low to the ground and near to the path, its bound to have been drenched by the local dogs

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Recycled tyres- Make your own grips

Being a little keen on recycling and alot poor has sometimes lead to some great solutions, particularly when fixing the bikes. I've found one of the trickiest bits to reuse has been the old cycle tyres which are nowhere near as versatile as the inner tubes they protect. Not so long ago I decided to try and make some grips for a bike that I had been given which other than the grips was perfect- very much to my amazement they turned out to be fantastic- have a look...

If you'd like to make your own this is what you have to do...

Cut yourself a piece of tyre roughly about the size of the grip you want to make-

Its easier if you hold it to the handlebar to get an approximate size. When measuring make sure you measure the width properly- too wide and it won't grip the bar, not wide enough and it'll have an irritating gap.

Mark out and drill/ poke small holes at roughly a finger width apart along both sides of your grip sized bit of tyre- its much easier if you drill the holes, but make sure you put something behind it and keep fingers out of the way

You will now have a bit of old tyre with several holes in it- should look a bit like this...

Using a piece of scrap inner tube 'lace' the piece of tyre as you would a shoe- joining the two long edges together- I used an old punch to aid with the poking

It should begin to look like this...

Once finished, tie the ends of the inner tube off and fit to the bike. I've found that the tyre grip grips the handlebar better if you first wrap it with a small piece of inner tube. If you have any to hand- pop a old cork in each of the bar ends to finish it off.

As always I'm assuming a reasonable level of tool competance and dexterity, if you feel you may injure yourself in attempting to make the grips please don't as I accept no responsibility for any injuries resulting.

Dorset adventures

Everyone has a perfect place and for me thats the coast of Dorset, in particular a small village a little way past Lyme Regis called Charmouth. It sits on what must be one of the most beautiful stretches of cycle routes in the UK following the Jurassic path (cycle route 2), you can also walk the South Coast path which will take you all the way from Lyme to Weymouth. I'd planned to do a little more cycling on this trip down but in the end spent most of my time....

looking for fossils

cooking on the beach and eating ice cream!

Next year i'll be cycling a large chunk of the route (probably!) but with views like this its hard not to get distracted, to spend some time sitting down and then spend the whole day taking in the view...

Roll on 2012!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

How to make a quick single speed (Part 3)

If you have all of your bits and pieces and plenty of time, putting a bike back together again should be the easy bit. If you've followed the single speed project ( Part 1, Part 2 ) you'll have a stripped down frame, a pair of wheels and a pile of bits leftover from when the bike was originally taken apart. At this stage its up to you to decide whether you're going to reuse some of these bits or whether your going to find some nicer, shinier bits for your new steed. I ended up using the same handlebars, but replaced the brake levers for some nice old school Leechi levers.

After stripping down the red frame I decided that the frame wasn't quite big enough for me, so I swapped it for this one which I had been using and had partially stripped down for repair.

The only difficulty using this frame presented was that the brake calipers I had didn't quite fit alongside the bosses for the V brakes that i'd removed- I therefore had to make a little adjustment by trimming the bosses down

For the next part you'll need for following tools which you'll have probably already used in the other parts. You'll need a chain splitter, a adjustable spanner, a socket ratchet and a 14mm socket.

You'll also need to source a single speed 3 piece crank and a 1/8" sized chain, which typically you'll find on an old 3 speed bike (you can pick both of these up used on ebay for a few pounds). Remember that if you intend to use the same axle that you'll need to get a cotterless crank.

Bmx's use a 1/8" chain, but although of a similar size for the purpose of making a bodged single speed the older chain seems to work better.

Now you'll need to loosely assemble your bike, I tend to put the wheels into the frame so that the bike is at standing height for me to work on- if you have a bike work stand you can stick the wheels on later. I also put on things like handlebars so that i can get the brake levers roughly in place and can begin to get a sense of what the bike is going to look like.

With this done you can stick the crank back on, make sure the nut is done up nice and tight.

Next, thread the chain onto the rear sprocket and over the new chainwheel and fix it back together again with your chaintool.

Finally, with your chain connected and your wheels loosely attached adjust the tension in the chain bike moving the wheel, when you are satisfied with the tension tighten the wheel nuts. Too tight and the chain will wear and snap, too loose and it'll just fall off.

All thats left to do now, is to fit the cables, properly attach and adjust the handlebars, brake levers, seat and post- you should now have a very basic but beautiful homemade single speed