Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reader Project: Margaret's "Mystery English Bike"

Margaret from London writes that she has just picked up a circa-1920s English "mystery bike" that she plans to fix up and get working again. From Margaret's blog:

"This is a circa 1920s bike that I'm thinking of buying and fixing up. It's in fairly rag order, but the bits that are most important are still sound. The wheels (possibly including rims) and chain will definitely need replacing, but that is necessary in a lot newer bikes than this one! Look at the brake system, it's amazing! They are called rod brakes, and it's still possible to get brake blocks and everything for them. The bike is in Watford, which is around an hour out of London, but they claim that the wheels still turn, so i reckon I can get it back to the flat for some extensive surgery."

Anybody out there on the intertubes know what make/model this is? I'm guessing that careful perusal of some of the links in my "Information and Resources" section might yield some possibilities. Margaret promises more photos as she gets to work on her mystery machine, and maybe even a post or two on her process.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why This Blog Exists (It's not about bikes, really)

I've been stewing about something for a couple of weeks, precipitated by a couple of things. First, a good thing: I needed my front wheel trued a while back, and my neighbor recommended Thomas Bike Shop in South Park. I found their address online and a few good reviews on Yelp, so one afternoon, I took the wheel off my bike and walked it down there, expecting to leave it, as I have had to do in the past at a different local bike shop. It was a pleasant walk through a nice neighborhood, and I like to walk as much as I like to ride, so it was no big deal. Plus, it gave me the afternoon off from work.

There were two folks in the shop when I arrived, and they immediately put my wheel on the truing stand and told me it would be about ten minutes. Well, ten minutes turned into about half an hour as we talked about everything from spoke design to the history of the shop (with lots about old bikes in between). Thomas Bikes has been around for something like 100 years, and the current owner has photos of the original shop from just after the turn of the century. The last four digits of their phone number are the same as they were when the shop's original number was issued back in dickety-aught-whatever.

They're very down-to-earth there, and although you can buy a $1,500 race bike there, you can also by an old $80 Schwinn, plus all the parts and accessories you're likely to need for it. It's a small shop, run by good people who genuinely care about all bikes and riders, not just those willing to drop money on a high-end bikes. The owner asked me what kind of riding I did, and when I answered, "Well, I guess out of necessity," he answered, "Bikes for transportation, we love that, man." He also waxed about the virtues of steel vs. aluminum rims and spokes, concluding that he liked steel better. I agreed, although I don't really know anything about it. I walked away from the shop with my straightened wheel and the satisfying feeling that I had finally found my local bike shop.

The next thing that set me to thinking was the fact that I've gotten emails from several people offering to pay me to write posts about or link to their bike businesses. Well, I never intended to make any money off of this blog, and it doesn't cost me anything to run, so I don't really see why I should. What's more, the businesses that want me to do this don't really have anything to do with old bikes--bikes, yes, but not old ones.

So, here's the thing: this isn't really a blog about bikes. Really, it's about a form of what I call "durable technology," and it's about learning to maintain and repair that technology. We live in a culture that idealizes "new" and ultimately, transient, forms of technology. Since we're always after the new stuff, yesterday's new stuff quickly becomes tomorrow's junk. But bikes have pretty much been the same now for over 100 years, and they're not likely to change too much in the next 100. They're going to be around for a long time, and many of them already have. Learning how they work and how to keep them working isn't really about fetishizing the bikes themselves, it's about teaching yourself a set of skills that can be used to keep a form of durable technology working. Basically, these are the same skills that Mr. Thomas was practicing some 100 years ago when he opened his shop, and I think that's pretty cool.

So, no, I'm not going to take your money to write an article about your bike shop or post a link to your site. Or rather, if I am, it's going to be because I think you and me are simpatico on the subject of making durable technology useful again. There are all of these old bikes out there, still perfectly functional, that can be put to good use instead of going down to the local trendy bike store and dropping $1,500 on a new bike. The only things people need to get these bikes back on the road again are a few tools, some patience to learn a new set of skills, and a desire to make things work again. It's not about the bikes themselves. It's about self-sufficiency. It's about durable technology. It's about people taking back one of the most basic and revolutionary innovations of the last 150 years.

Oh, and I didn't post a link to Thomas Bike Shop because they don't have a website. Give 'em a call at (619) 232-0674 or stop by at 1635 Fern Street San Diego, CA 92101.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How to Change a Tire/Tube

Since I've been doing quite a lot of this lately--what with my front tube blowing out a few weeks ago and just recently discovering (after I got everything put back together again) that the rim was just a teeny bit out of true--I thought I would post a how-to on this very helpful skill. Problem is, that only occurred to me after I'd already done everything, so I didn't take any pictures of the tire/tube changing process. So, instead, I post an excerpt and link to a very helpful article at BikeWebsite:


Let all remaining air out of the bicycle's tire.

First, try removing the bicycle's tire without the use of tools. Set the bicycle wheel on the floor with the valve at the three o'clock or nine o'clock position. Grab the top of the tire in one hand, and try to pull it sideways, over the top of the rim. With fat tire bicycles this is generally quite easy. With thin tire bicycles, you may find it nearly impossible.

If you cannot remove the tire without tools, use a couple of tire levers if you have them, or the backs of some forks or spoons. Try to avoid using sharp screwdrivers. Start by inserting one tire lever anywhere between the tire and the edge of the rim. Insert the lever just far enough to pry the edge of the tire over the edge of the rim.

It is very easy to poke a hole into the bicycles inner tube.

After prying the edge of the tire over, insert one more tire lever about four inches (10 cm) from the first one and pry a little more tire over the edge of the rim. Take out this second lever and re-insert it another four inches away and pry over the edge of the tire again here. Soon the whole side of the tire will be loose enough to finish prying over by hand.

Pull the inner tube out of the way and finish by prying the other side of the tire off the rim.

Read the rest of the article here.