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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bicycle maintenance

In October, 1967 I bought my first bicycle, for £5 at the cattle market in Cambridge. I had no idea what I was doing, and I couldn't even ride a bike. I learned to ride it on the way back to my digs, and not long after that, I started to discover the delights of bicycle maintenance. Fixing a puncture. Replacing the gear changer. Mending the brakes. Installing new cotter pins.

That bike was still going strong when I sold it on leaving Cambidge, for £5. By then I had a moped and a motorbike; a Mobylette (£17) and a BSA Bantam (£30). And I discovered the pleasures of motorbike maintenance.

Shortly after that, I bought my first car, a Morris Minor (£80) and started to learn about car maintenance.

The techniques are the same - understand what has gone wrong by understanding what it's supposed to do, working out why it doesn't do it, and fix the problem. With the car, it was clutch cable, brake pads, radiator leaks and carburettor issues. With the help of a socket set, assorted spanners and a Morris Minor mainenance manual, I could (and did) fix anything that went wrong, including one hairy incident in Wales when one of the wheels came off (it turned out to be a steering arm that had come apart), and in the middle of Wales, using only the tools I had with me, and a spare part swapped for a spare wheel at a nearby house, I was able to fix the car and get home.

Today, I don't think I can maintain a car. It's designed so that I can't. You have to get software from Landrover, and they aren't going to let me loose with it (and I expect it costs a major bundle).

But I can still maintain a bike.

It's all changed since 45 years ago, of course. You don't replace the rubber brake pads (costing 10p), you replace the whole brake shoe (costing about £1, so not really much difference, after you allow for inflation). But you still have to adjust the cables afterwards.

I don't use a dynamo-powered front light any more, with the feeble glow that was just enough so that people could see you coming, but don't even think about lighting the road ahead enough for you to see anything. I now use a 3 watt LED headlamp that makes it bright as day in front of me. Cotter pins no longer exist; the pedal arms are keyed to the crankshaft. I haven't had a puncture since I fitted A) puncture resistant inner tubes and B) gel strip between the inner tube and tire, and that's even though I'm riding over bridleways and worse, with thorns everywhere. The three Sturmey Archer gears that I had (and I was lucky to have them, I had no idea about gears when I bought the bike at the cattle market) are now 21 derailleur gears, most of which are either too high or too low to be used, which is fine by me, because it means I have enough gearing. And, most of all, electric assist means that my 63 year old knees can cope with what my 17 year old knees handled easily.

But when I was out yesterday, I found that when going down a not-very-steep hill, my brakes weren't sufficient to stop me, and I had to drag my feet on the ground to stop, not a satisfactory solution. So yesterday, I spent a very happy hour replacing the totally-worn-down brake pads on the front brake.

I can still maintain a bike.

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