Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Tweed Ride, A Personal View

The major and minor media having reported in, now it’s my turn. Sunday morning I was up very early to make sure the Roadster was ready. I adjusted the brakes, replaced the broken wire from the dynamo to the headlamp, and went for a test ride. A cacophony of noises rent the air. Roadsters are noisy anyway, but this was worse than before. The crank rubbed against the gear case. The gear case acted as a resonator to amplify every creak and chain rattle. I did what I could with the gear case and figured I would have to live with it. It would be like having loud pipes on a motorcycle. Most important, I found I could ride it with an acceptable level of elbow pain. This would be my first ride on an upright bicycle since the bike accident in June in which I had broken my elbow, and I was concerned about it. Given the condition of the bike and my arm, I chose to minimize the amount of riding to the event itself. I put the bike in my Volvo 240 wagon and drove it to a parking spot near a Metro station. That way, if the bike broke down or my arm started to hurt excessively, I could count on getting home. I have rarely taken bikes on Metro and finding the right elevators took some additional time. What with making sure the bike was ready and taking Metro on a Sunday, it was 12:30 when I reached the starting point for an event which had been scheduled to start at 11. Fortunately, I had seen a message from the organizer Eric that due to the large turnout, it would be run in groups over several hours. I arrived just as a group was leaving, registered, talked with people, took some pictures and had my picture taken, and was in what turned out to be the last group to go. Eric asked for leaders and I ended up as one of them, but I let my co-leader, who had done this sort of thing before, do most of the navigating. I found that the Roadster, which is not exactly a thing of blinding speed, was nevertheless so high-geared that even pedaling very slowly and coasting a lot, I kept getting out in front. At one point, not being used to riding in a group, I failed to notice I was crowding a lady behind me toward the curb, but did manage not to run her into it. Eventually I dropped back into the pack for a while. The ride was fun. The roadster’s loud bell received many compliments. The weather was really a bit warm for tweed, the best day we’d had in some time. We got a lot of attention and even some cheers from people along the way. At one point, a lady riding behind me commented on the noises my bike made. “When you changed gears, it sounded like your chain was falling off!” she said. I told her that the noises are what holds the bike together. I’ve gotten used to the many distinctive sounds that roadsters make. Actually I was pleased that the noise level was a lot less than it had been during my morning test ride. Inexplicably, the crank arm wasn’t rubbing on the gear case any more. I was having a great time and it was the perfect bike for the occasion. Roadsters are a hoot and a half. I can’t help grinning while I ride it. On arrival at Marvin, the venue for the post-ride party, we found that several hundred people had preceded us. The bike racks provided by WABA for the occasion were already full. Three of us locked our bikes together instead. I was so intrigued by the bikes parked outside that I did not get indoors where the party was for some time. The main party was on the upstairs deck. It was jam-packed. At the far end was some free food, if you could get there. Eventually I did. It was English muffins, eggs, grits, and English-style (meaning not cooked to a crisp) bacon—just the way I prefer it. The remainder of the day was spent in conversations, meeting new people, sampling Belgian ale and generally enjoying myself. I stayed longer than I thought I would have, and was glad I had made sure I had working lights for the return trip. I had also found that while my recumbent trike riding had maintained my stamina, I was no longer acclimated to a saddle after five months not riding an upright bike. This, however, did not become noticeable until the ride home. I enjoyed riding with a group (nearly all of my decades of cycling has been solo). I liked seeing the variety of bicycles and costumes. I especially enjoyed the feeling of camaraderie, that we were all in on something remarkable. I made some new friends and saw a few people I knew. Earlier in the day, one of the participants had been hit by a bus while riding to the start—fortunately she was not seriously injured and able to continue. At the end of the day, as I was getting ready to leave, I found out that a bike had been stolen from one of the participants. Because the racks were full, she had parked it separately from the main group, locked to a fence around the corner, where it was out of sight and easier to steal. It was perhaps inevitable that so large a food supply would attract predators and scavengers. Still, it was one of those things that takes a bit of the bloom off an otherwise perfect day. It’s a reminder that cyclists can never relax their vigilance for traffic hazards or theft. Those are the thorns on the rose. For some people, they are reasons not to ride. For others, they are occupational hazards that will not prevent them from enjoying the benefits. The rose smells sweet and looks pretty even with its thorns. Congratulations to Eric and his cohorts for a successful event, and I look forward to more great things from the Dandies and Quaintrelles.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Installing a Gear Case, or Is All This Work Really Necessary? A Pre-Tweed Ride Anticipation

When I heard about the Tweed Ride, I thought I might even find the time to swap the roadster's chainguard for a gear case I had acquired (from Yellow Jersey) but never installed. Gear cases, which completely enclose the chain (keeping it and the rider's clothes clean), were a normal feature of utility bicycles for many years. However, Raleigh often imported roadsters to the USA with a hockey-stick chainguard instead. According to Sheldon Brown, this was to avoid import duty on bicycles weighing more than 40 pounds! Supposedly that small difference in weight was just enough to put a roadster over the limit. Chainguards are also easier to install (especially if the bicycle was shipped partly assembled, as is usual) and easier to work around and keep clear of the chain. I've been debating whether to go to the bother of changing it since I got the bike in 2008. However, the Tweed Ride provided sufficient inspiration. I wanted to ride in nice clothes and keep them nice. This was exactly why bikes like this had gear cases. So on Saturday afternoon, I started to install it. My garage is so full at the moment that I usually work on bikes outside, so I needed good weather and daylight. It had rained all week until Saturday. It was now or never. I looked at the bike and considered that I could just as easily leave it as it was, and avoid the risk of having it not be ready for the ride. Then I started on it. I could always bail out and put the chainguard back on it if I had to. The first part was easy—remove the old chain guard. Next, remove the right side crank. This is an old-style steel cottered crank and normally something of a pain to take apart. Fortunately I had bought a crank cotter press from Bikesmith Design and Fabrication. This worked so well that I was able to reuse the same cotter instead of having to use a new one, as is usually the case—the cotter threads are usually destroyed in removing it. As new cotters that fit properly can be somewhat hard to get, I appreciated being able to save my spare ones. By the way, it’s a cotter, not a cotter pin. Cotter pins are those split pins used with a drilled bolt and castellated nut, to hold the nut in place, commonly used before the advent of nylon-insert locknuts. I considered taking the whole crank apart so I could check the bearings inside, but as everything seemed to work properly when I spun the crank axle, I left it alone. For many years, roadster bikes had an oil fitting on the bottom bracket, but mine, made in 1971, no longer had this. These bikes were made to be liberally oiled, and not much other maintenance was required. Mine does have the oil fitting on the front hub, thank goodness. “They like oil,” as the guy at Yellow Jersey told me. The next part was putting the main body of the case on. Raleigh provided mounting holes on the roadster frames for their gear cases. This one was a Chinese copy of a Raleigh case (after installation, I blacked over the name), pretty well made, but using two clamp-on brackets instead. Halfway through this part, I realized I would have to take the back wheel off for working room around the chain stay. This is something of a process, so I had avoided it. It took some trial fitting to get the case to clear the crank, and I had to bend the brackets a little. Too far right, and the chainwheel rubbed on the inside. Too far left, and the crank arm rubbed on the outside. Finally it was in place. Next, the chain has to go back on. The trick is to push it from the hub end, along the top of the gear case, until it catches on the chainwheel, and then turn the crank, pull the chain over and around until it can be pushed back toward the hub on the lower side of the case. At this point I had one end of the chain on the sprocket and the other just out of reach inside the gear case. I used a wire hook to reach in and pull the chain back and around the sprocket so I could put the connecting link in. I only dropped it twice. This description makes it sound easier than it was. I was already thinking that perhaps it had been a mistake not to leave the chainguard the way it was. By this time it had gotten dark and was getting colder. The temperature drops fast on these autumn evenings. I used my helmet light and pulled one of my clamp-on work lights out on a long cord. I just wanted to get the thing together enough to put everything back in the garage for the night. I could finish it in the morning. I got it to the point where I could ride it around the parking lot. The crank arm rubbed on the gear case and made a horrible noise. The gear case itself acted as a resonator, amplifying the sound. Well, I thought, it’ll warn the pedestrians. I wasn’t sure at all how well it would work on the ride, and I was rather embarrassed in advance thinking about riding something that sounded like that. But otherwise, I was rather pleased with the result. I could now ride without concern for my trouser cuffs, and I liked how it looked. It completed the bike, somehow. So about 9 pm I put things away and went indoors. The next morning at about 8, I was out again to see how it looked and finish up the adjustments. The case rubbed on the crank. I pushed and pounded on it until it mostly didn’t. I checked over all the adjustments. It seemed to be ready to ride, though the crank still rubbed on the case. So I changed into my ride clothes and set off. Oddly, the clearances seemed to improve by themselves and the crank no longer rubbed on the case. It reminded me of some of my antique cars of the same era of technology, in which the rule of thumb was to put everything together and let it work itself out. Overall, I’m pleased with it and glad I took the trouble. It will especially be useful when I use this bike in cold weather—it’s been my favorite bike for running local errands. I use it much as it was intended to be used, and it’s also a lot of fun to ride. I am, however, not at all looking forward to any occasion, such as a flat tire, in which I might have to remove the rear wheel!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yes Indeedy, Let's All Go Tweedy

Washington, DC gets its first Tweed Ride on November 15th. That's only 9 days from now. No time to waste to get the roadster ready and find which of my tweedy clothes still fit me. What's a Tweed Ride? It's a deliberately old-fashioned event in which the participants, dressed in tweeds and other non-lycra, pre-modern cycling attire, ride old bikes, preferably of the English roadster or sports 3-speed persuasion. Tweed rides are intended to be fun, relaxed, and recreate the spirit of cycling of an earlier generation. Over the past year or two I have noticed a number of activities based on the English upright bicycle and its relatives and descendants. Notable among these are the Lake Pepin Three-Speed Tour in Minnesota, and various tweed rides in Boston, New York and elsewhere. Many are included in the links in the right-hand column of this blog. One thing all of them had in common is that they were happening somewhere other than where I was. At last, we have one here in our nation's capital. Let's get a lot of riders out for this. I've put it on my calendar and I plan to be there, suitably attired and riding my Raleigh Roadster. I have not ridden an upright bike since my accident in June, other than to stand over one and confirm that my arm still wasn't up to it. However, my arm is improving rapidly. The recumbent trike seems to provide a very good therapy for my arm without overstraining it. Accurate steering requires some muscle (trikes tend to wander side to side), but I don't have to support any weight on my arms. I've been anticipating when I might try riding a bike again. The Roadster is probably the easiest one to start with; with its great stability and very low balance speed, it's probably the safest thing on two wheels. If my test ride shows I can do it, I'll bring it along. If not, at least my trike is from Britain, (Cornwall, to be exact). So far as I can tell, the tadpole trike was a British invention. Plus, it's easy to ride in whatever clothes you like.