We started out in Cammeray just after 7:00. My gorgeous wife, chic in hot pink, and my little monster slightly cool in the early morning chill, before heading off to St Leonards park to meet friends who would ride with us.
Arriving at St Leonards Park, the first thing I saw was a very cool (and very heavy looking) lowrider/cruiser bike, with a very proud owner. He was waiting for his son, daughter in law and grandchildren to arrive, and they were all riding cruisers too.
Across the road was a group of riders, resplendent in Hawaii shirts. Aloha dudes!
I mentioned that “cruiser gramps” would be joined by his family, and they duly arrived. I think I may be slightly in love with the artwork on his son’s bike!
St Leonards Park was full of people preparing themselves and their bikes for the day ahead.
North Sydney had its regular hold ups for traffic. But hey, that just made the fun last longer, right?
Having two lanes just for bikes across one of the world’s great landmarks is a real treat. Cyclists of all ages, shapes and sizes were out in force.
I wouldn’t have this blog if I wasn’t crazy ’bout bikes, and seeing a city full of bikes is just a treat. Sure, I enjoy using my bike as a form of exercise, but just riding around, at relaxed pace, for the delight of a day out is at least as much fun.
A Cahill Expressway turned into a Bikehill Expressway. (I know, rotten pun.)
After the ride we had brekkie at a cafe in Pyrmont and watched bikes and people coming and going.
Stopping for a pic with Mini-Me at Barangaroo, with a very Sydney backdrop.
We rode the ferry back to North Sydney. After all, boats are almost as cool as bikes. Mini-Me had a bit of a meltdown at the amount of climbing we had to do from the water’s edge back to Miller Street.
We arrived back at our car about four hours after we had left it, which makes this the slowest ride that I do each year by a country mile.
But it’s also one of the most fun rides I do each year.
And now, I’ve got a new bike!
Going fast is all well and good, but stopping is really important. Standard brake cables are designed only to reach as far as a regular road caliper. So I would need suitable brake cables. I found a set of Avid Flak Jacket cables, which looked the part and, best of all, promised “silly smooth” operation. As a big fan of silliness, how could I not have them?
The brake calipers bolted on easily enough, but initially the BB7 road brakes weren’t very effective. They have a good reputation, so I figured the problem was more with me than the brakes. At that point I read the instructions, got the calipers properly set up and found that they worked just fine. Who’da thunk it?
With the brakes installed, I installed the cassette. It’s pretty easy. The design of the freehub means that each sprocket can only be installed one way, and there is an arrow on each sprocket, which lines up with the previous sprocket. Find the arrow on each sprocket, and it’s easy.
Next up, I installed the chain, making sure that there was sufficient chain to accommodate the largest sprocket and the big chain ring. Cross chaining is naughty, and should be avoided if possible, but it can always happen, so the drive train needs to be able to accommodate the “big-big” combination.
For years I’ve been a fan of removeable links as a way of removing the chain to clean it in kerosene. So this bike gets a Connex link too.
At this point cries of “It’s…ALIVE!” were heard, because the bike was now rideable. So I rode it, to make sure that I was happy with the handle bar height.
Cutting a metal steerer tube is easy as can be. Just use a plumber’s pipe cutter. I scratched a mark at the height of the stem, and then cut a few millimetres lower than that.
The star fangled nut that I was using had a “double star”, which helped keep everything nice and straight. I put a thin screw driver through the centre of the SFN and tapped it into place. Easy peasy.
Finally, bar tape went on, and then a saddle bag and a pump. The bike is now ready for anything. When I ride my roadie I have to stash a pump, a multi tool and a CO2 inflater before I can go anywhere. This bike carries its own pump and has a saddle bag big enough to take two tubes, tyre levers, multi tool and some glueless patches, just in case. So when I want to ride it, whether it’s to work or around the neighbourhood, it’s self-sufficient and ready for action.
That’s what goes round…wheels go round.
And I am delighted to be able to say that my wheels, my very own wheels, which is to say the wheels that I made do indeed go (and are indeed) round.
For the last several weeks I’ve been reading Roger Musson’s book on wheelbuilding and re-reading it until I felt I understood it all. And then this week my spokes and nipples arrived, so I had no choice really but to get on with it. And all in all, it turned out to be a fairly painless process. Lacing the hubs to the rims went smooth as.
Building the mostly symmetrical front wheel was well, easy. I used the bike frame as a wheel building jig, with cable ties for reference marks. Working standing up, with the bike in a work stand was simplicity itself. I did a few things that weren’t entirely by the book, For starters, Mr Musson explains how to make a nipple driver. I used a spoke wrench for hidden nipples to get things started. The by-the-book way to get the wheel dish correct is to use a dish gauge; I measured the gaps between the rim and the fork legs/seat stays as a proxy.
Using cable ties as references worked really well, not least because I could set up the end of the cable tie to scrape the wheel rim, and work by sound instead of sight. After my misdaventures in straightening a bike wheel after a crash when I was about 13 years old, this was simplicity itself.
Would I build my own wheels again? Heck yeah!
What would I do differently? The only thing I was slightly disappointed in was the fact that the red brass nipples lost some of their colour during the build. Anodised aluminium nipples might fare better but silvered brass nipples would not have fitted the colour scheme of my build, so no real regrets there.
I think that the use of an aero(ish) rim helped, as the profile of the rim will have added strength.
So, with the wheels built, I could add rim tape, tubes and tyres and suddenly my project started looking very much like a bike.
I added the braze on adapter band and front derailleur, but couldn’t get the band to avoid partially obscuring the Planet X logo, which was a pity.
Feeling rather pleased with myself, I added a set of pedals, just finger tight as there is no drive train yet, and took the bike for a coast down my road, just to try it out for size. The 12 feet or so of uncut steerer tube concentrates the mind, as does the absence of brakes. But on the basis of a 20 metre freewheel, the fit feels pretty good. I’ll double check when I have a proper drive train (and brakes) before I cut the steerer tube though, because it’s much easier to shorten it than it is to lengthen it.
Very small progress today. I seated the crown race using a special custom tool…ok, a piece of PVC plumbing tube and a hammer. Having bought a 14mm “in hex” socket tool – an Allen key that works with a socket drive – I was able to torque the crankset up to the requisite 40Nm.
Having torqued up the crankset, I noticed that there was a squeak when I spun the crank. Nothing that a drop of oil couldn’t solve.
A fully equipped tool kit contains exactly two items: a roll of duct tape and a can of WD40. If it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape. If it should move and it doesn’t, WD40.
I spent some time fitting new cables and housing to my roadie. I’ve had a set of Yokozuna cables waiting to be installed, and today was the day. They’re installed, ready for final adjustment – shifting and braking feel as smooth as I’d hoped.
Of course I wouldn’t be any sort of home wrencher if one thing didn’t lead to another. So new cables mean that I also need to add new bar wrap. And I discovered that one of the tyres had a pimple where the tube was doing its darnedest to escape from a nick in the sidewall of the tyre. I could have just reinforced the offending sidewall and reinflated the tyre.
Pfffft…as if! Oh no, it made more sense to re-install the cassette on another wheelset. No, really, it makes perfect sense, because that wheelset already has tyres you see.
Next up on the bike build is to cut the end off the steerer tube so I can get the star fangled nut out easily. I would have done this today, but the plumber’s bike cutter that I bought from the red and green hardware store that sounds cunning disintegrated when I tried to use it. To their credit, the store gave me a refund, which I used to buy a more expensive, and hopefully longer lasting pipe cutter. Hopefully the new pipe cutter can actually cut pipe.
That’d be good.
Today I made a productive start on assembly.
For the most part it was huge fun, and it now feels like I have a bike build in progress.
The first thing I did was to give the frame a polish with Meguiar’s Gold Class polish. It’s easy to use, shines up wonderfully and it even smells nice.
Then, with the frame all shiny, I carefully removed the paint from the BB shell, using fine wet-or-dry paper wrapped around a piece of timber.
The BB shell width was perfect, so the BB cups went on. First lesson of the day: English thread BB’s have a left hand thread on the right hand side. The Park Tool erm, tool, on the torque wrench needed a third hand to ensure that the tool stayed engaged with the grooves on the BB cups, but that was hardly a major deal.
With the BB shells in place, I could mount the crankset. All very straightforward. Campagnolo’s instructions were pretty good, and I’d found a Campagnolo instruction video on Youtube, so there were no real surprises. The left crank arm had to be pulled into place (once I was sure the correct splines were properly engaged) using the attaching Allen headed screw. I didn’t have a 14mm Allen driver, so I made one using a bolt with a suitable sized head with two nuts locked against each other. Second lesson of the day: a mild steel bolt of 8mm or 5/16″ gets sheared off before 40Nm of torques are registered on the torque wrench.
Just because I could, I installed the seat post and clamp.
With the crankset in place, I set about installing the headset. Third lesson of the day, and largest one so far: there are several flavours of headset. I’d ordered a 1 1/8″ headset, but I didn’t realise that I needed an external headset. Once I’d worked that wrinkle out, off to the LBS for a headset.
I installed the headset using a press I’d made up of thick steel plate with a piece of 10mm threaded bar. To keep it more or less centred in the head tube, so as to pull the bearing shells in more-or-less straight, I dropped a pair of sockets into the head tube.
There are many ways of installing the star fangled nut in the steerer tube. The one that worked the best for me was to use a screwdriver through the SFN and just hammer it in. The SFN that I used had two stars, so it kept itself nice and straight in the steerer tube. And a good thing too, because what I should have done was to measure and cut the steerer tube first. To finish off, I attached the fork to the frame (loosely because I still need to seat the lower headset bearing race properly), and mounted the saddle…and took a last photo.
Creating a bike from bits of bike has one enormous advantage over buying a bike – you get to spec the minutest level of detail of the build. Sure, you could buy a bike from a store and then change it, and upgraditis is a well known phenomenon. But post-purchase upgrades are usually about better, lighter and faster. Style is seldom part of the equation.
And yet, style is a crucial part of cycling. Many of the greats of cycling are celebrated for their style as well their accomplishments on the bike. Hugo Koblet, winner of the Giro d’Italia in 1950 and the Tour de France in 1951 would comb his hair and apply cologne before finishing a stage, habits which earned him the nickname “The Pedaller of Charm”. More recently, Mario Cipollini earned a reputation for his love of fine clothes and immaculate grooming.
This evening I made a change to the crankset, replacing the polished aluminium chainring bolts with red anodised ones. Will it make the bike faster? Not a jot! Will it make the bike more beautiful? And how!
I’ve bought saddles before. Unlike every other piece of cycling componentry, there is no relationship between price and resulting happiness. Now I’m not such a snob as to think that Super Record will confer happiness, but that Veloce would lead to misery. But I do recognise that Super Record is better than Veloce. You pay more money, and you get more gruppo. Admittedly the increase in measurable benefit may not march in lockstep with the increased sticker price; some of the increased price buys rarity and, yes, snob value, and besides there are always diminishing marginal returns as one works one’s way up the hierarchy.
But one’s butt has no lofty ideas. The brain may find linkages from Tullio’s wizardry with materials and manufacturing to one’s own fingers. A handbuilt set of wheels, bearing the fingerprints of a wheelbuilding genius can persuade the rider to apply Rule 5 just a bit more. But butt’s aren’t so easily fooled. If a saddle is comfortable, it’s a good saddle. I’ve had saddles that have been all but universally acclaimed and hated them. I’ve had weight weenie saddles that I’ve wanted to love for their minimalism, but that stamped brackets upon my posterior, that naked I must have looked like this: (*)
And I’ve also had no-name brand saddles from the bargain bin at my LBS that have been sublimely comfortable.
The idea of a Brooks saddle is that one’s butt shapes the saddle to its own contours. I hope that practice matches theory, because today my Brooks B17 Narrow (in shimmery shiny black) arrived.
Already, just unpacking it, I love it! The marketing guys at Brooks have done a wonderful job. With lesser saddles, one buys well, a saddle. With a Brooks, one buys into a piece of cycling history. The large box, proudly bearing the very 19th century marketing slogan “Brooks England – Saddles, Bags, Etc” was packed with the saddle (naturally), the tensioning spanner, a care pamphlet, a Brooks catalogue and a copy of the “Brooks Bugle” newsletter. All of it frightfully restrained, polite and very, very English.
I only hope that my butt likes the saddle as much I do!