Tuesday, July 27, 2021

There's no tool like an old tool

 This thing has been getting workout this summer:

The 70-year-old BSA was followed by a 50-year-old Raleigh Sprite. The owner of the Sprite said that he had bought it new and loved the bike, and had ridden it everywhere for years before it got hung up in a barn somewhere for many more years. When it came in, it was thickly coated with bird crap. The estimate to return it to rideable condition was several hundred dollars. The owner initially said that maybe it was time to say farewell, but called back later to tell us to go ahead. 

In the early 1970s, it was up to you to figure out how high to put your stem. 

No max height/minimum insertion line here.

The bike hadn't seen new grease in any of the bearings since the early 1970s. I may be wrong about that, but if it was ever overhauled it was probably no later than the late 1970s. The bearings are all designed to be serviced. But everything needed extensive cleaning. Hence the hefty estimate. And I told him at the outset that it would not be like new.

The bottom bracket was full of tiny seeds and a small acorn that rodents must have dropped in through the opening in the top of the straight steel seatpost. 

The bottom bracket axle had a little engraving on it. It looks like it might be a picture of a rider.

I was too busy to document the whole thing. Another three speed from about the 1960s waits in the queue.

Other jobs included fixing the control lever for a guy's dropper post on his Trek somethingorother. The special screw had fallen out, so the lever was all afloat.

The threading is easy. There are basically only two thread sizes for parts and accessories, and this was the smaller one. As a shorthand I call it "water bottle thread." We have lots of bolts in varying lengths for the many applications in which they're used. About a 12mm button head with a couple of washers would do, except for the difference in diameter between the shaft on which the lever mounts and the inside diameter of the hole on the lever itself. Because the unit is only available as a complete assembly, the Internet could not tell me what the regulation innards look like. I scrounged around until I found a donor for the bushing I envisioned.

Who remembers Cannondale's annoying Force 40 brake enhancing cam from the early 1990s? We have a bag of these lying around. I pressed the pivot bushing out of this one and cut it in half.

The improvised bushing fit perfectly. 

Another rider's weekend saved.

On to the next thing.

What the hell is lianium?

This stem was on a bike that a young guy was building for himself from items he'd ordered online. He could do most of it, but wanted us to cut the fork and check a couple of other things. Lianium? Maybe it was supposed to say titanium. Sort of like what happened to this knockoff of a Shimano freewheel:

Here's what they're ripping off:


Top-routed cables led to a variety of approaches to the direction of cable pull on front derailleurs. There are front derailleurs made for the cable to pull from above, as well as models with a cam arrangement that will accommodate cable routing from above or below. But when top route cables were a new concept, designers used a directional pulley at the bottom of the seat tube to run the cable around and up to the traditional bottom-pull derailleurs that everyone had to use. This method is still in use, along with all the others.

The directional pulley is supposed to rotate smoothly on that rust-encrusted, deeply pitted bushing, which was smooth and shiny before the bike was ridden in wet and wintry weather, and probably cleaned with a hose. Between parts that are not available because of the pandemic disrupting things, and parts that were never available as replacement bits, recovering crudded-up pieces like this has become routine.

Lots more has gone by without a picture or notes in the relentless flow of repair work, but some things merit a moment to immortalize. The owner of this bike balked at the complete estimate to make it even remotely safe, including replacing the broken fork.

She insisted that she only rides it very mildly with her kiddies, and has been doing it with the fork in this condition for years. Then when she picked the bike up she said she was taking it to Highlands mountain bike park, but she "would only go on the easy trails." Hopefully her kiddies won't have to learn to spell "quadriplegic" any time soon.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Century-hopping again

If it has pedals and still rolls, sooner or later we get asked to fix it. I'm waiting for someone to bring in a stone wheel with a wooden crankset mounted through the center of it. At the same time, we're expected to keep up enthusiastically with the ever more costly and less durable offerings of the bike industry to its hostages customers.

One day recently, the leap was directly from about 2011 to the late 1940s.

This beast has had maddeningly imprecise shifting since it was new. Its owner was told several years ago by another shop that the only chain it should ever have was a particular Shimano model that had just been discontinued. They didn't tell him it had been discontinued, only that our shop had put on "the wrong chain," and that he should only ever use the magical CN7900 or something. His bike had Dura Ace ten speed, from when ten speed was the top of the line. Now it's middle class. The magic chain has been gone for a long time, and his particular specimen is totally thrashed. The bike shifts sluggishly, severely handicapped by the internal cable routing and forced use of 4mm shift housing, due to the configuration of the cable stops. This bike was never going to shift well, and now it shifts worse. The customer told us to leave the worn out chain and cassette on there, because he is emotionally unready to let the talismans go, even though they clearly do not work anymore. Maybe he'll score some artifacts on eBay or someplace, to eke out a few more years of acceptable mediocrity. We'll install whatever he asks us to.

Immediately following this 21st Century marvel of engineering was this BSA Streamlight in pretty rough shape:

The customer wanted to restore it to rideable condition. It hardly seemed possible for less than several hundred dollars, but when she described her intended use I agreed to the most basic repairs as long as she understood that the bike would not be very safe for extended riding or steep hills. It's nice to bring it back from complete oblivion to limited use.

Bikes can be hard to date accurately because records are often lost or incomplete. This is true of even a seminal brand like BSA. It's "just a bicycle." Starting at the back of the bike, I saw the Sturmey Archer hub, blackened by a coat of greasy dirt, and wondered if the bike was a latter-day knockoff. They're still made in India. It seems like a strange bit of nostalgia for the British Empire. However, the obvious age of the bike overall favored its authenticity as an original. But did it predate the TI buyout in 1957? The Sturmey Archer hub would say no. But when I scraped away the grime I found a date code of 1979. That indicated that this was a replacement wheel. The trigger control on the handlebar was also much later than the rest of the bike, having a plastic lever. This rear wheel and control had been added later.

Everything forward of the rear hub moved back in time.

The fully enclosed chain case has access ports at the rear dropout and around the crank itself to provide sufficient access for routine work like fixing a flat tire or replacing a chain.

Rod brakes are weird. I guess they're a step forward from a spoon brake that presses on the tread face of the tire (tyre?), but it still seems like a heavy, cumbersome rig compared to cable-actuated brakes. The way they meet the rim is interesting, too. They're less affected by a wheel knocked out of true, but they're less powerful overall. Then again, compared to early caliper brakes on steel rims, the difference in braking power isn't that large. Brakes were something you used to slow yourself down before the inevitable impact with something solid, especially in wet weather.

The rear brake is in really rough shape, but it not only still worked, it was still adjustable. I would not have thought that penetrating oil would recover the rust-encased lumps that vaguely resembled threaded connections, but it not only did so, it did it quickly and easily.

The trim on this bike would have been very pretty when the chrome was new.

The dynamo hub really set the date range for the bike. 


This style appears to have been made from the late 1940s to about 1950. The lights are gone from the bike, but the hub came in handy for research.

You can even find brake pads for the rod brakes, though not from any of our usual suppliers. The sun truly never sets on the British Empire. Some, but not all, parts seem to be available for the linkages, too. Meanwhile, the pads that the bike has are adequate for the kind of short-hop, mild terrain riding the owner wants to do around the village and the campus of a private school.

The bike was actually much easier to work on than any modern marvels from the 21st Century. It was from back when people were so stupid that they built things to last, and to be maintained. I guess that's why the old companies either went out of business altogether or sold their names to modern managers who would milk the image of tradition and slap the label on modern dispos-a-bikes at all price levels. Durability does not help cash flow. Stuff that lasts and is repairable satisfies demand too thoroughly. 

Remember: the business model for modern consumer goods is cocaine. It's expensive, addictive, and creates a compulsion to replace it even when you know it is ultimately destroying you. That's true of just about anything sold in the last 40 years. Sometimes there's an evolutionary excuse for it, as when personal computers and mobile phones went through their early development. Even that technology has reached a point where it can't drive forward as aggressively, because too many users are lagging behind, and the industry can't afford to burn them off. But still it tries. In the bike world, a slowing effect accompanied the near stagnation that had settled over the general industry before COVID, while specialty areas catering to addicts continued to dangle enticing offerings before them. And smokeless mopeds have continued to grow based on the dreams and illusions of a large susceptible population.