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Musical Bells

Musical Bells

On our way home from last week’s group ride, Spencer started to complain about his handlebars. I stopped to investigate and, sure enough, they were a little loose. “Well,” I told him, “I don’t have any tools with me. We’re close to home, so just hold them carefully and I’ll fix it when we get there.” That worked for less than a block before he started to shout again. I told him to hold them up and that I would ride very slowly and gently.

When we finally got home, I was shocked at how loose the handlebars had become. It was particularly embarrassing, since I had just been leading a bicycle advocacy group ride. Thank goodness the problem didn’t develop until we were on our own and almost home! I was also very surprised; I’m pretty good at remembering to check that the connection to my bike is secure and that the pedals are screwed in tight, but I’d never had a problem with this connection before. However, if you look at the photo below, it was so loose that the handle bars could spin right around and slide from side to side.

Fortunately, a quick twist with a hex wrench tightened everything up. I may need to start carrying a bike-combo tool with me.That was finished quickly, so I decided to do the other job that I’d been meaning to get around to – musical bells! Spencer has now outgrown his 16″ wheeler, so we decided to move the bell to the trail-a-bike.



Ta da! Secure handlebars and a bell that lights up!

Next, I re-installed a Bell bell on Ye Olde Mountaine Byckke. I had tried to put the bell on my road bike, but it never fit well on the handlebars, so back it goes.

Finally, a shiny new bell was installed on Spencer’s new 20″ wheeler.Because a boy this proud of his new bike deserves a shiny new bell to go with it!

This is my “perform a maintenance task on your bike” entry for the LGRAB 2011 Summer Games.

Proofide and Upgrades for Eliza and Bert

Proofide and Upgrades for Eliza and Bert

Eliza Doolittle (the rod-brake ’78 Raleigh DL-1 that used to be Fiona’s) came to me with a Brooks B-66 saddle. Then I scored a ridiculous deal on a vintage B-66-S on eBay, which I installed on Eliza, and Bert inherited the B-66. So we now have two vintage Brooks saddles, one of them almost as old as I am, that are a bit dry and stiff, but seem to be in great shape (little surface cracking), despite their age and unknown maintenance history. I thought it would be best if I gave them some love.

Eliza’s new-to-her vintage B-66-S before treatment.
The 1978 B-66 that’s now on Bert. Poor thing probably hasn’t seen Proofide since the factory. 

I know there’s a perennial discussion going about alternatives to using Brooks’ Proofide product to condition and waterproof saddles. Everyone from Sheldon Brown to the guys at BikeForums.net have weighed in at some point on it. The neetsfoot oil used to soften baseball gloves is often suggested instead, particularly for reconditioning older leather that has dried out, but some think it can make the leather too soft and ruin the saddle. My feeling was, in this case, using something other than the saddle goop recommended by the original manufacturer might be false economy, so why overthink it, especially when I can easily buy it at my favourite LBS for less than twenty bucks? (However, vegetarians take note: if you’ve decided to use an existing leather saddle, you’ll want to research the alternative products that are available, since one of the main ingredients of Proofide is, um, beef tallow.)

This is how much Proofide I was told I should use. 
Like the old Brylcreem ad says, a little dab will do ya…

…unless your saddle is as ancient and neglected as mine were. Here is the B66S gooped up with about four times that amount, spread in a super thin layer all over. Immediately after spreading the goo (it feels just like hair wax, too) and taking this photo, I wiped off the excess with my rag.

Here’s what it looked like immediately after I wiped the excess off (still a bit shiny). If you look at the cloth on the rack, the slightly discoloured part was used to wipe. After taking this photo I went in with a corner of the rag to get the little globs on the edges of the holes. At the advice of the guys from redbike, I only did the top, not the underside (apparently the underside is only needed if you don’t have fenders.).

And here is Bert’s B66 gooped up with six times that fingertip amount – it was thirsty! After taking this photo, I wiped the excess off, then redid the driest bits with another two fingertips’ worth.

This is how much was used out of a 40 gram tin – the smaller 25 gram tin would have done me just fine. I think 40 grams might be a lifetime supply, if the stuff doesn’t go rancid.

Here is Bert’s saddle when I was all done.

Here’s a detail of one of the driest parts of the saddle after treatment – you can see that the surface of the leather had started to crack and flake a bit, and it’s rough enough that it was pulling tiny threads from my wiping rag – but feeling much smoother and looking better now.

The nose of the saddle was the other especially dry bit that got a second application of Proofide. I also noticed that the saddle looks like it may need retensioning, so I’ll get the guys at redbike to do that for me soon.

The chain on Bert was looking pretty cruddy and a bit rusty in spots, so I decided to apply some lube next. One generous drop per link, on the little roller in the middle (whatever it’s called), then wiping off the excess with an absorbent cloth.

The oil I used, bought at MEC, feels like veggie oil, because it pretty much is veggie oil. Since its purchase I’ve learnt that this stuff gets brutally sticky in our climate, and catches all kinds of road gunge, in addition to being best for the warmest temps – but since I’ll only be riding Bert with the trailer bike attached on the neighborhood sidewalks with my kids during the good weather, I might as well use it up.

The chain looked much better, and the rag looked much worse, when I was finished, and my hands were nicely moisturized from the veggie oil. …I guess the next job will be to clean all Bert’s little rust spots and carefully apply some wax or clearcoat.

Lookin’ pretty good, Bert.

Since I last griped about Bert, the correct Shimano shifter has been found and installed, the rear wheel has been pulled back so the chain isn’t too loose, and the Wald rack and a Crane bell have been installed, with the expert help of both Coreen and Keith at EBC. I’m still figuring out the little chainguard rub and trying to decide if the handling only feels squirrelly when the trailer bike is on it or if the headset needs attention or what. But all in all I feel pretty good that I’ve at least been in the room watching and taking mental notes and that I’ve gotten my hands good and dirty getting Bert to the point where he’s useable, even if my husband never ends up riding the darn thing. 

Eliza just came home this afternoon from a holiday at redbike with her new Steco rack with integrated kickstand (ordered online through the legendary David Hembrow‘s Dutch Bike Bits, because redbike couldn’t special order it through their suppliers), and the same kind of rear light that Pashleys have installed. They also tightened the tension bolt in the vintage Brooks B66S for me because they noticed the leather was practically touching the rails. Thanks guys!!

I also upgraded Eliza with my vintage chromed Miller bell, which used to be on Mary Poppins. (The little bell that came with Eliza got inherited by Audrey’s balance bike.)

A clear plastic shower cap will make a handy rain cover for the saddle until I can get something cuter.

Next I needed to install my antique quarter-sawn oak egg crate, to complete Eliza’s transformation into Super Grocery Bike. I carefully lined everything up so the crate is centred and the screws for the homemade clamp have lots of clearance. The back edge of the crate is just off the rack to give me the most possible butt clearance for riding comfort.


View of my home-made clamp from the top.

 

I tightened up the thumbscrews and voila! This is super sturdy and ready to carry a fairly heavy load.

 
The egg crate is now solidly clamped onto the rear rack.
Eliza is looking so useful and beautiful and timeless!
 
About a half hour after Proofide application, the saddle is looking much less shiny. 
I’ll still wait overnight before I take it for a spin.

As a finishing touch, I added fabric flowers to her front basket (I had these on the egg crate last year).
 
Eliza’s ready for her first grocery run!

PS: This post is part of our series for the LGRAB 2011 Summer Games! This is a “perform a maintenance task on your bike” post.
Bert Has Issues (LGRAB Summer Games post 2)

Bert Has Issues (LGRAB Summer Games post 2)

Today I’m blogging about performing a maintenance task as part of the Learning Experiences section of the LGRAB Summer Games.


Sometimes fixing a small problem makes you realize you have a larger one.
Remember this little issue with Bert, the 1976 Canadian-built Raleigh 3-speed?
Well, it turned out that what you see there is a Sturmey-Archer cable attachment that leads to the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed trigger shifter, and a Shimano bit (actually called a bell crank) that attaches to the 3-speed hub. Previously, I took Bert to my local bike kitchen (EBC’s Bikeworks) in search of answers, and with the help of Alex we figured out how to solve it, and Alex helpfully macgyvered a Shimano attachment onto the end of the Sturmey shifter cable. So far, so good, but we couldn’t adjust the 3-speed once attached because the bottom bracket was way too stiff. Come back another day and we’ll repack it, he said. It should only take 30 minutes. (Cue rueful chuckles.)
So yesterday we returned to EBC, and Coreen was a goddess of grace and good humour as she walked me through the 10-step process of repacking the bottom bracket:
1. Carefully remove the R nuts and washers from the cotter pins.
2. Use a press to remove the crank-side cotter pin: or in my case, bend it at a strange angle then snap the threaded end off. Then, use a chisel and a mallet to, instead of firmly and in a single stroke removing the broken cotter pin, flatten the end that used to have threads on it so that nobody will ever be able to remove it. Yes, it’s still there. Suggestions for fixing it will be welcomed in the comments. Lesson learned: cotter pins are definitely made of softer metal than steel, and the press absolutely must be aligned correctly at the start, or you’re boned.
3. Having utterly shattered your confidence, get the goddess of grace and good humour to remove the second cotter pin. Huzzah! It came out unscathed and can even be reused! Pull the pedal off, and marvel at how much grit is in the place where it attached. Clean with a rag and some Simple Green degreaser.
4. Carefully disassemble the next two parts, which are called the lockring and the cup. This part is complicated by the 16mm bottom bracket wrench being a fraction of a millimetre too big. Try not to drop all the ball bearings on the floor when the cup comes out of the bottom bracket. Pick up the ball bearings and count them. Wonder whether any of the ball bearings you picked up were there before you started work.
5. Take a look at the cup, and the bottom bracket. In my case, what I saw were matching rings of white. waxy, almost plastic, goop on both the cup and the bottom bracket – that must be what the original factory grease turns into after nearly 40 years without being cleaned or changed. I wish I had taken a photo of it. It chipped off easily using a combination of an old spoke, an old tootbrush, and my fingernail. There was also some brown debris (a mixture of rust flakes and dirt, I think) inside the bottom bracket, but there was surprisingly little of it.
6. Carefully clean out the cup and the bottom bracket. A rag, a toothbrush, a single spray of WD40, and some more Simple Green did the trick. Since we couldn’t remove the cup and bearings on the other side, we just did the best we could to flush it out then dry it off. Have your helpful god or goddess of maintenance work check to make sure that your cup isn’t too pitted to reuse.
7. Add new grease. Coreen handed me a tub of greenish goop from Park Tools, and I glommed it into the bottom bracket a fingerful at a time, then used an old spoke to push it to the other end in hopes that it would work its way into the bearings I couldn’t get at (thanks to the busted cotter pin from step 2). Once I was satisfied that I had filled the bottom bracket, I totally filled the cup with the green stuff, then carefully added new quarter-inch ball bearings in a circle around the edge. Only 11 fit. 11? Check with goddess that it’s not supposed to be 12 (the number picked up from the floor). OK, you’re good to go.
8. At this point, if you have been as generous as I was with the green stuff, your god or goddess of maintenance work will deftly swipe some out of the bottom bracket and some more out of the middle of the cup, set the cup in place, and hand you the wrench for reassembly.
9. Screw the cup back into place. Try not to strip it in the process since, as noted in step 4, the wrench doesn’t fit quite right. Do not, as I did, tighten it all the way, forcing the god or goddess of maintenance work to use a well-placed mallet strike to help with untightening. (If it’s tightened all the way the movement of the pedals will be too stiff, the ball bearings will get malformed, and you’ll have re-repack the bottom bracket.)
10. Next the lockring goes back on, then the pedal, then the cotter pin. Take care to make sure the pedals make a straight line. Oh, bugger, they don’t make a perfectly straight line; it’s off by a couple of degrees. Confer with Coreen before making the cotter pin permanent; decide that the broken cotter pin on the other side is to blame for the misalignment, and we can live with it for now. Use press to reinstall cotter pin, and cap with washer and R nut.
See the green stuff oozing out around the crank? That’s evidence of a job well done.
OK, so the bottom bracket is repacked, and as I turn the pedals the movement gets looser and faster. Yay! It worked! And it really wasn’t all that hard to do. Especially with expert help. I even think I could do it without help next time – or with just Sheldon Brown’s guidance.
Next we turn our attention to the chain, which seems a little loose. Well, is it too loose? Let’s install the chainguard I bought online and see if the chain rubs…

Oh, it rubs, alright. Furthermore, the notes from the seller indicate that this Z-bracket is supposed to attach to a braze-on that isn’t on this bike, so we’ll probably have to macgyver something for that so it doesn’t rattle or rub.
Well, Coreen suggests that maybe it rubs because the rear wheel is too far forward in the drop-outs. Let’s take it out of the drop-outs. Oh, isn’t this interesting! This wheel is too narrow for the dropouts! (Well, of course it is. It has a Shimano hub instead of the Sturmey it should have.) We need to find a couple of washers to add on either side of the axle to make it fit better.
Once correct washers have been found in the big-bin-of-miscellaneous-washers, and new nuts too to replace the ones that are rounded off,  reassemble the parts in the right order on the axle, then try it for size. It fits! Now have the god or goddess of maintenance work help you figure out how to put it on the correct way, with the chain attached – you might need that chain to make the bike move. 
Aaaand… the chain is still too long. And you’ve been at it for hours, and it’s time to go home and have supper. Sigh.
So here’s what’s still to do on my next visit to EBC:
Shorten the chain. On a previous visit to EBC, Molly taught me how to break a chain, so I should be able to do this without help.
Reattach and adjust the 3-speed, assuming the Sturmey shifter will play nice with the Shimano hub. In the likely event that they won’t cooperate with each other, replace either the stupid back wheel with the wrong hub in it (the proper restoration and probably what would actually fix all the fit issues) or the shifter (a less expensive option that may or may not work correctly).
– Drill a hole and wire the chainguard into place at the top; epoxy the Z-bracket onto the bottom; manhandle to get it to stop scraping against the chain. If this doesn’t work, give up and remove chainguard, and resume looking for suitable replacement chainguard.
– Remove nuts on front fork and attach stays to half-installed Wald front basket.
Lemon-and-aluminum treatment of all rusty spots, then wax or clearcoat them, plus the bottom of the bottom bracket where I noticed the paint has chipped off the steel when I was cleaning it.
– Oh, and do something about that cursed cotter pin.
So why is this old bike worth so much effort? Well, first of all, there’s having a bombproof bike at the end of the process that will serve me and my family well, and likely survive another 40 years or more. These old three-speed steel bikes were built to last with minimal maintenance. There’s also the satisfaction and self-confidence that comes with making or fixing something with your own hands, and the practical skills your learn in the process. However, I also have more philosophical reasons to fix up my bikes myself: knowing how my bike works will make me enjoy riding it even more, and I’m teaching my kids by example that it is better to repair and reuse things than replace them. That’s surely worth the trouble!