This month I want to continue where I left off last time. If you remember I had just finished assembling the worlds most garish wheel, a lovely little rear 48, laced 4 cross and interlaced under the third. But there is a lot more to wheel building than just putting the parts together in the right order. Wheels are very simple, they may look a bit complex, but like all the best ideas they have been with us so long because they are simple and work. Unlike the Government (which seems to think that it makes more sense to continue to pour money into a disastrous policy of smashing apart the very building blocks of the universe to get energy rather than make a small effort to pioneer profitable technology to harvest some of the freely available energy around us in the waves, wind and sun) we can make the most of this simple technology by putting in just a little more effort.
This month’s tech column is going to be about chain tension. But before I get on to that I should probably ramble on about something pretty much unrelated for a while. In this case I want to get you to take a minute to think just how awesome bicycles are. I was awestruck the other day watching the aftermath of the London tube and bus bombs. People were talking about their fear of getting back on the underground but saying they had no option… No option!?!? It’s the middle of summer the tube network only extends about 8 miles from the centre of London anyway and London is virtually flat. Why not get on a damn bike?! Do you know what the statistics for terrorists bombings of bicycles are? I had dreams of seeing the roads of London suddenly full of cyclists cruising down the empty bus lanes, saving their tube-fare and getting some much needed exercise… Sadly it never happened. But remember that that bike of yours can do more than just tricks.
Anyway back to chain tension. We have all experienced the dilemma pretty much every time you take off your back wheel and come to put it back on. Sure you can run a Halfords/Fly Cobra inner-tube, but sooner or later you will need to take your rear wheel off, and when you do you will have to set the position of your back wheel just right to get the chain tension you want. You will also need to be thinking about getting your tyre central in the stays of course. After some wrestling you get it set and then you have to check it by cranking the pedals round a few times, because the chain tension varies! Why is that? Why do we have to adjust and re-adjust the wheel position so that the “tight-spot” isn’t too tight and the “loose-spot” isn’t too loose? Why is there even a tight and loose spot in the first place?
When the very first bicycles were being developed, simplicity was king. We are talking about Scotsmen scooting about on wooden frames with wooden wheels and wooden forks. This soon developed into the first real bicycles, where rather than pushing along with your feet on the ground cranks were fitted directly to the wheel of the “ordinary” (or penny farthing).
People like Jeremy Clarkson often talk about torque. Unfortunately they either just quote a number or skirt right past it like it is this incredibly difficult concept to understand. The truth is that torque is very simple to understand. Time for another dumb simile… (hard to believe that that is really how you spell simile but I cant think of anything better so lets go with it)
Suppose you go down to the playground with your pet elephant and want to play on the see-saw together (happens all the time I know). Well, as long as you go to the elephant-specific playground you can stick “Trumpy” on one end of the see-saw which immediately puts the other end right up at the top. So you climb up on your side and nothing happens. Sure you can get Trumpy to kick off from the ground to get things going, but he will just drop down again super fast and bruise his bum while you get hefted into the air again. No fun for Trumpy. Being a rainy day there are no other people in the park for you to get on your end, so you shout to Trumpy to move up towards the pivot more. As Trumpy moves nearer the middle of the see-saw things improve, until finally you reach a point of balance. Now you can see-saw gently up and down to your hearts content before heading home for tea and buns…
Chances are that at some point some incredibly witty sort will have shouted this tired old phrase after you as you roll down the street. You may have noticed that they wait until you are a fair distance away before they shout it, and they don’t hang around to hear your equally witty rejoinder of a punch in the bollocks.
But what if they were right?
When the ancient Egyptians were laying out the great pyramid at Giza over four and a half thousand years ago they had little more than bits of wood and string to help them lay it out. And yet they got all four sides bang on the four compass points and the lengths of the sides accurate to better than 0.1%. Time has taken its toll on the outer skin but it is still dead square and straight…
However in all that time they never once tried to 360 a set of stairs on it either…
Click click click. Or if you are running certain cassette hubs; CLICK CLICK BASTARD CLICK CLICK CLICK, or even CKCKCKCKCKCKCKCKCK.
Some people seem to like a really loud click when they freewheel, some people hate it.
Personally I hate it, it’s the ultimate give-away to security guards and police. If you need to sneak about to get to a street spot then having some fucker’s cassette hub making super loud clicks that can be heard two streets away is kind of a bummer. On the other hand I really can understand how some riders find it a useful indication of their speed. “Click… click… click…”; too slow. “CKCKCKCKCK” too fast. “Clk, clk, clk,”; just right… But is there anything you can do about it either way?
“Supertherm or Ox platinum? T45 or Reynolds 853? Sanko or Tange? What’s it all about?”
Yep, several people have been foolish enough to ask me to write a tech column on all the “fancy” tubes that companies are increasingly using to make frames. Obviously this is unlikely to be an exciting story with dumb security guards and drunken antics but I will do my best to prevent it being completely unreadable.
First job though, go and put the kettle on. You will need it later and you don’t want to have to wait for it to boil. From here to the bit you need the kettle for should be just about right to let it boil, only boil as much water as you will need for a cup of tea. If everyone only ever boiled enough water for the job we could close two power-stations….
Handlebars, Bars, Steering wings. Call them what you like we all need them.
Personally I always find changing bars to be a bit of an ordeal. Not just because I have to wrestle the grips on and not because I have to switch the brake levers, and the cables are inevitably no longer the ideal length. Simply because it changes the feel of the bike so much and I find it hard to adjust. When I finally decided to cut my bars down to a more modern narrow width about 2 years ago it took me the longest time to get fully used to it.
Once again I find myself writing about bottom brackets. Bollocks. I really don’t want to get labelled as some kind of obsessive dude who only thinks about bottom brackets all day long, yet I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter either.
Equally, I imagine that you -the noble reader- is pretty bored reading about them, but you too have little choice but to think about it. If you are in the market for a new frame anytime soon then you will HAVE to choose a bottom bracket. Most frames still come with a USA BB if you just want something you know works (even if it is a bit of a pain to fit sometimes), but most also now come with the option of a euro, some frames only come with a euro and some of the new ones to be launched over the next 12 months will only come with a Spanish or other BB shell.