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!

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