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.