Monday, 28 March 2011

Longdendale Trail

At the weekend we took 3 bikes, 3 doggies, 2 little'uns and a little'uns trailer to the Longdendale Trail, which is a 6.6 mile long former railway line between Hadfield station and the Woodhead tunnels forming part of National cycle route 62. Among a card full of photos I did a little bit of filming too, probably boring, but I guess someone out there might type 'Longdendale Trail' into youtube one day :-)

Jeans, trainers & jumper....perfect cycling 'gear' for a day out. I took the Hopper & my first (rather dodgy) attempts at wheelbuilding stood the test of high speed cobbles and gravely bits really wheel ;-)

The trail runs alongside the reservoirs of Longdendale valley and is pretty damn pleasent along the entire route, certainly if you compare it to the A628 Woodhead road on the opposite side of the reservoirs (well known for its frequent holes in the walls due to overly ambitious driving).

The whole trail is surfaced with compacted gravel, but there is one particular section which rises up a steepish hill that has got lots of very loose gravel, meaning its extremely difficult to get up even in a low gear.

All the gates on the route are much more cycle, buggy, wheelchair, cargo bike etc friendly than on other abandoned railway route. they all look like the one in the photo above with a large wide gate or a choice of u-bend path or just nip through the gap if you fit. The bridleway gate is elsewhere.

We saw lots more cyclists and walkers, even an electric disability buggy. Some people you see coming back in the other direction as we did, others have carried on up and over the Woodhead.

This is a long distance photo across the reservoir looking at the A628 Woodhead.

The route doesn't actually go anywhere unless you intend on carrying on up and over the pennines, but makes for a great day out whether you are braving Mottram moor (we didn't) to get there, getting the train to Hadfield or driving.

When you get to the end of the railway line you find the 3 Woodhead tunnels, all disused by railway traffic, but now owned  by the National Grid who run cables through the North tunnel, but are in the middle of laying new cables through the newer and larger Woodhead 3 tunnel. You can't get near enough to it at the moment, but before they started laying new cables you could stand right at the tunnel entrance. Standing here was a very odd experience as the temperature was massively reduced in the space of a few feet by the draft from 3 odd miles of deep underground tunnel air.

It's a steady incline from Hadfield up to the Woodhead tunnels and a decent 10mph or so wind was in our faces for most of the way (not so much fun with a trailer to pull), but that just means it was plain sailing on the way back down. It's an excellent day out, whether you are just out for a leisurely ride or after a bit of hard work and fancy riding the whole way there and beyond. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The first rule of cycle club is....

...don't go up the lefthandside of skip lorries.

The second rule of cycle club is - Don't go up the lefthandside of skip lorries.

This morning I watched two people, a bloke and a girl, both sqeeze their bikes up the lefthand side of this bumper sized skip lorry - whilst it was moving - and whilst it was indicating left....sigh.

I'll freely admit to going up the leftside of the occasional big vehicle, but only when I know it really is safe to do so (99% of the time it's less hassle to simply hold back or filter down the right). This thing moving at 10mph AND indicating is definately not in that category. Besides, most of the time getting ahead of this thing at the lights only means it will it will overtake you again further on unless you know for sure that you will be making enough progress to get away from it. Overtaking lorries are never nice, even when done competently, so why create an extra overtake?.

Thankfully the driver saw them and slowed right down, but I'd rather rely on my own wit than on someone else's who might be too busy listening to Radio 1 next time.

This one even comes with a cryptic warning label. Presumably this is there to aid the bloke whose job it is to extract you from the chassis.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Stowaway - Stripping the frame

I spent some time at the weekend stripping the paint off this frame. It's a fairly simple task and is nice and easy with noisy power tools. This cheap angle grinder makes a serious racket, so its handy to wear a set of ear protectors as well as goggles. Some kind of eye protection if a must with things like this. Especially when the brush starts getting to the end of its useful life. You'll know when this is because it will start chucking bits of wire off every few seconds and do this to your hands:
Of course only morons carry on going when bits of hot sharp wire are cutting your hands....

If you want to strip some paint like this, then do not go to B&Q (the Halfrauds of diy)  because they charge £25 for the exact same cup brush that you can get on ebay for £2.50.
New set of spinny things

Here's the frame beforehand:

and a close up of the damaged headbadge and a bit of rust.

The Twenty and Stowaway do not have a standard style of headset. instead there is a large plastic bush at the top which allows the handlebar stem to be quick release adjustable. There is a wire inside of this attached to a bolt which prevents the stem from being pulled all the way out by accident. I didn't bother removing the bush, I was just careful not to ruin is when removing the paint in this area.
If you really wanted to go bonkers you can get the bare metal up to a brilliant shine, this is when you start wondering about a clear lacquer bike as used to be available from Brompton, but they seem to have stopped doing it for now.

The paint was already quite badly chipped and flaked. There was quite a contrast between the thickness of paint on this Raleigh frame and that on the Elswick Hopper Cosmopolitan. I'd guess that the Hopper's paint was at least twice as thick and as such took a bit more effort to remove than this paint did. When the paint is off you start to reveal some of the making of this bike, the odd splodge  & dribble of braze here and there. There was even a patch of braze on the top tube, presumably a slip up during manufacture that got filed back down flush (top left).

At the same time the various bits of chromework got a good cleanup and the pedals a service. I don't know if I'll keep the pedals, these old things weigh a ton, but theres no harm in servicing them anyway. Old pedals like this are pretty bullet proof. There isn't any bearings to wear out, they just have a solid axle straight through, so after a bit of a clean and a smear of grease they are back to their best.

After a couple of brew breaks to give your back a rest you end up with one complete Stowaway frame and mudgaurds minus horrible blue colour. I'm thinking of repainting it in solid black (black is cheap and I already have some) in the hope that it will come out looking something like this one.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Raleigh Winner Singlespeed Handlebars

The drop bars were not fun on this bike. When it comes to drop bars my current thinking is --Velodrome : Yes. Fancypants racing bike : Maybe (I have no real experience). but this bike : No. 

So the initial plan was to do what countless other builders of fixies and SS's have done and turn those drops upside down, chop the ends off and create a set of bullhorn bars with the original brake levers mounted on the end of the horns. It was all going swimmingly until my brother suggested I see what the set of bars from a Raleigh Stowaway would be like upside down in the style of a Pashley Guv'nor (but with slightly less elegance and a bit more bodginess)
Hmmmm, not a bad idea said I. 

I took a couple of photos of the drops upside down with the levers roughly mounted so that, in Bullseye fashion, I had a photo of what I could have had, then got started on fitting a moustache to this bike.

My thumb is at the point where I was thinking of doing the cut:
You can see here roughly what the outcome would have been. There are plenty of tutorials about doing this, such as this one.

The original Raleigh drop bars are aluminium with a 1 inch stem mount. Whereas for a 'Raleigh only knows why' reason the Twenty/Stowaways come with chromed steel bars that are slightly less than an inch in diameter at the mounting point. They overcame this by welding a shim into the stem on the Twenty and the Stowaway. So to fit them to the stem on this bike required a new homemade shim. This was made out of a piece of plate steel (actually a Corus rainscreen cladding sample).

This is the homemade shim just before the bars where slid fully in, once in you can't see it.

The brake levers are ones I bought on impulse as part of a larger order from SJS cycles a while ago. They cost a whopping £1.99 and purely by chance they match the bend of these bars perfectly.
Note the very short cable run this setup allows on the front brake. It also shortened the rear by about 6 inches too.

The red bar tape was recycled for grips and the chrome plastic end plugs modified with a pair of scissors to help them fit into the thinner gauge tubing of the steel bars. The final result is a bit Caff Racer.

This is now is much more to my liking. The effect on the steering is pretty profound as these bars place your hands a good few inches further apart that the drops allowed. And finally....this bike is veeery fast. It weighs bugger all and is so easy to get up to a high speed cruise. It's given me a new understanding on having only one gear, in a metaphysical la-di-da kind of way you don't have just one gear - you have a very short range of infinitely variable gears, because you are varying the gearing with your legs and not the mechanics of a deraileur or a hub. It's certainly not a practical everyday bike, but is now a great option for a sunny day and a fast ride.

As a Brucie bonus, the old single pivot brakes on this bike are now exceptionally good. Something I never thought possible. The combination of bmx levers, v-brake pads, super short cable run on the front & 4 hands instead of 2 when setting them up results in a fairly decent set of brakes.

The final result with mandatory Charge Spoon saddle fitted.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Raleigh Winner fixed/singlespeed

This is the bike that got me started. About 3 years ago, abondoned in a Halifax a Raleigh winner, 21 inch 1980's  racing bike was rescued from the big scrapheap in the sky. The wheels were knackered but nearly everything else was in reasonable condition. It was a simple 5 speed with a friction shifter mounted on the downtube. I've not got pictures of the original bike because this precedes the discovery of blogging, but I looked almost exactly like the photo below. Try to imagine it with bent, rusted wheels, no bar tape, threadbare cabling and a shreaded saddle.

This was about the time I was first attempting to commute on my Trek Navigator hybrid and moderately failing at it. The most noticeable thing back then was being overtaken by blokes on road bikes who zoomed off into the sunset, leaving me to wonder if a road bike was the way to go for tackling a 30mile daily round trip. In the middle of wondering this I diverged and got a Brompton which solved all my woes and meant the reason for rescuing this Raleigh became a bit null and void.

When thinking of what to do with it, I came across the FixedGearGallery and was hooked.....they are all so very clean and pretty. I could just create something sleek and simple as a project and forget about whether it would actually get used for anything or not. So I set about stripping the bike down into its constituant parts and attempting to prep the frame for repainting. (This is easier said than done when you haven't yet discovered angle grinders and cup brushes). The idea was very simple. Clean/refurbish almost every existing part and fit a brand new wheelset with a flip-flop hub. The wheelset was £75 off ebay, so including new tyres, tubes, brake pads and paint/laquer it cost roughly £120 to build over a period of a few weeks, but could easily have been done in a weekend with a bit of effort.
I did carefully remove and keep the headbadge.......then lost it somewhere.

£120, coincidentally is about how much this bike would have cost in the early 80's when it was new. The Winner was a lower end Raleigh race model, but low-end presumably had a slightly different meaning back then and even as early as 15 years ago when I got my low-end Raleigh MTB. Nowadays, buying the cheapest on the market will no doubt mean a horrific monstrosity weighing in at more than my Nexus (that takes some doing), with forks on backwards, & parts already rusting before it's loaded into the shipping container in China. But previously low end didn't mean crap, it just meant not as posh as the higher end stuff. The components where all still good quality kit and the frames were still hand crafted by the same blokes who, I suppose, might also lug together a bike costing 5 times the price.

Fixed gear however is hopelessy impractical for me and would be downright bloody dangerous at times around Manchester's drivers. So it has remained a pretty garage ornament for the most of its existence. I had been planning for quite a while to build a new rear wheel using a 3 speed hub for this bike, but last week I dusted it off and fitted a BMX 18 tooth freewheel orginally from the B'twin Vitamin. This increased it's useability massively, but I still didn't get on with the drop bars very well. Like the fixed cog, a very low thin set of drops just destroys my confidence on the road, knowing that unpredictable drivers are lurking behind every corner. So the next post will be about how I solved the handlebar issue on this bike and finally made it into something that gets a bit of use on sunny days.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Before & After

Before militant intervention
After militant intervention:

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Cable Lock Chop

I recently picked up a rusty old bike for yet another project, but it came with a cable lock around the back wheel that the seller had lost the key for. Now, for a while I've fancied having a go at chopping a cable lock to see just how easy it is but haven't wanted to ruin any of my own. So this was the perfect chance to give it a try. Hopefully this will show just how easy it is for a chav with a set of bolt cutters (quite easy to carry inside your coat) can have away with you pride and joy within seconds if it's only locked up with a cable.

Saying that though, I locked my mountain bike up with just a cable for my entire time whilst at uni. I even once left it outside Morrisons for a whole weekend without trouble. The problem really is if someone does want to nick your bike then a cable is not much of a challenge if they've come with a set of cutters.

You can see that it's a pretty old crappy cable lock, but the metal cable inside of it is pretty much the same thickness as will be inside a new Kryptonite cable etc...

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Grosvenor Contraflow and Apollo roundabout alternative

There is quite a bit of cycle facilities work being done by Manchester city council at the moment. Mostly green and white paint, such as repainting on Wilmslow Rd using green blobs so thick that they create little cycle speed bumps along with new ASLs & square patches on Ashton Old Rd. Nothing particularly exciting. But on Grosvenor Street and Hyde Rd they are putting in a segregated contraflow and a dropped kerb roundabout bypass respectively. Neither are groundbreaking, but the Grosvenor street contraflow in particular is interesting because it reduces the space for motorised traffic a bit. I don't know the details of it as the consultation period passed me by and the pdfs have now been removed from the council website. But you can get an idea from the photos. It'll be a kerbed lane of somesort with Toucan crossings at the end to access the existing painted contraflow further on. 

Personally, the kerbs look too nicey nicey to me and the lane too thin, but since I haven't seen the plans I'll wait til its done to pass judgement.

The Alternative route from Hyde Rd to avoid the Ardwick Green roundabout is supposed to be still in consultation, but they appear to have started anyway. In my opinion the dropped kerbs are too short, but arguably this will mean bikes can't join the footway too fast, which is in the best interest of pedestrians. So it's swings and roundabouts really. You can have a look at the route for this still on the council website. Not great but a nice alternative for anyone not prepared to negotiate a big roundabout. 

On a side note - where the current cycle lane vanishes into a bus stop is a very dangerous spot (exactly where you see the girl on a bike in the photo). Because it guides you into a space that rapidly disappears, meaning you have to rejoin a fast moving lane of traffic. It's always been best to try and completely ignore this bit of lane and not get yourself stuck in the bus stop area.
one of three dropped kerbs put in already.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


I got a parcel from Chainreactioncycles a while ago and with it came a free gift. It's not something small & maybe a saddle cover or a trouser clip. Sadly, instead it's some tablets for creating your own Supermegaultrapowerjuice. Or to pen it's real name ' Zero Highs Advanced Fluid Replacement Sports Drink'.
The packet proudly announces that 'test subjects' (does that mean humans?, I'm not sure) burn 41% more fat during excercise. I'm sure that sounds great but I don't want to burn more fat, I do however, I quite fancy a bacon butty. So I'm afraid they haven't won me over on that one. And again the berry caffeine stimulant seems a little unrefined when I have a rather nice bag of Ethiopian roast coffee in the cupboard.
In the interests of public safety I decided to selflessly put my own health on the line and try this 'Low cal electrolyte sports drink with zero sugar'  - whatever that means. So with a pint of water at the ready I chucked in the citrus flavour tablet (the berry caffeine stimulant looked a bit hardcore for the first try) and watched it dissolve. The first taste was a little citrusey. The second sip was a bit citrusey with a slight chemically aftertaste. The truth came with the third taste which was somewhere inbetween windolene and what the Swampthing urinates out the morning after a night on the beer.
Conclusion - I'll be sticking to my favourite and thoroughly 'research proven' beverage - a cup of tea.

But on a serious note, A free sample like this is wasted on me and probably the vast majority of customers they've been sent to. Why not add a set of tick boxes to the checkout with a choice of free samples. If a chainreaction cycles saddle cover was there I'd happily tick that and use when it comes = free advertising for them and a dry saddle for me. Anyone going on a big sportive  who fancies trying out the chemical powder tablet can tick that box if they like. I shall tweet them the suggestion. Here's a behind the scenes of Chainreactions warehouse, looks like it might be easier to find things in the warehouse than it is on their website ;-)

Thursday, 3 March 2011

2011 Census: Help shape local transport

I noticed this poster up on Hyde road this week. Until I saw it, I had completely forgotten it would be the Census this year, so in what might be a first for the country, a Government advertisement scheme has actually had an effect on somebody.
I can't remember what any of the questions were like on the last Census, I just remember putting Jedi Knight down as religion. But if you believe the poster then your ticks in boxes will 'Help shape local transport'. A couple of minutes down the road I got the chance to take a photo of the current shape of local tranport. This is near showcase cinema in Bellevue. Imagine this level of nose to tail traffic for the next 2 miles or so til you get to Denton roundabout and you'll have some idea of what local transport in Greater Manchester looks like on most weekdays.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

I built this! - (Hopper Pt 8)

In my last post about the Hopper the bike was pretty much done and working, but I was having trouble with the back wheel. Not only did it destroy a pair of Sturmey lock washers it was also had a tendency to try and pull the back wheel over to one side and cause an unhappy marriage of tyre with chainstay. After a lot of trial and error me and my brother worked out a combination of:

  • Spreading the rear triangle a little
  • Dishing the wheel a bit more
  • Fitting SRAM lock washers
  • Using a ½ chain link
  • Removing the sprocket spacer on the hub so that the chain line was straighter.

I think this last point is the real deal breaker.  The Hopper’s Bottom bracket axle is quite short, whilst the new SAB steelite hub is a bit wider than a standard AW hub. This meant when the bike was rebuilt the chainline was way off. Even with all the changes it still isn’t track-bike-ishly straight, but its close enough to stop the wheel from wanting to cant off to one side when under a lot of torque. Which in turn led to having to overly tighten the axle nuts and end up crushing the lock washers. The half link in the chain allowed the wheel to sit further back in the dropouts and spreading the rear triangle a bit gave yet more room for error.

A little apprehensively, I rode it the 8 miles into work for the first time this morning and it all went smoothly. The X-FD & SAB brakes are fantastic – silent & powerful but very easy to modulate. The 46t-18t gearing on 20” bmx wheels is just right for cruising along at 12+mph in 3rd meaning the two lower gears are just right for setting off and going up the steep bits. I didn’t feel like I was spinning out on the down hills either – it’s a cruising bike not a racer. The rebuilt SAB hub ran smoothly and changed gear perfectly, so it’s new axle and a re-grease has done the job.

a round up of the components:
New: stem, saddle, X-FD hub, spokes, kickstand, cables, chain & tubes
Laying around the garage: handlebars, grips, pedals & sprocket
Secondhand off ebay: 90's SAB hub, BMX rims & tyres
Original: Frame + forks, chainring, cranks, mudgaurds, shifter & brake levers

Here’s a few shots of it finished (and more reliably working this time!). The Hammerite paint is looking good in a homemade kind of way. I've also bought a tin of gold enamel paint to do some pin-striping but cant make my mind up whether to do it or not yet.

The ride home was just as great, but the lumps and bumps of Manchester's roads will soon weedle out the weak areas. & I did subtitle this blog ' Making, Breaking and riding bikes in Manchester' so here's the bit that broke. The original mudgaurd hanger was probably the rustiest part on a very rusty bike, but also a fuss to replace. So I cleaned it up a little and painted it. However it got bent the other day and gave up on the way home. Luckily I had an emergency zip tie in my bag.