Bicycle is rolling again

I fell a bit behind  with the updates for the 3-speed hub restoration project! Long story short, the bike is back on it’s feet (wheels?) and it’s great to be riding again!

After I got the hub cleaned up, lubricated, and re-assembled, I purchased some new spokes. However, as I was re-building the wheel with the old rim… it did not go so smoothly. Even though I purchased the same length spokes, some now seemed too long? This was the first time I had ever attempted to build a wheel, so I wasn’t sure what was normal and what wasn’t. Back to Bikechain! Upon their advice, I purchased a new rim as well. The old rim was dented and bent, and had a little rust. New rim in hand, the whole “building a wheel for the first time” project went pretty well!

The new rim is great. Still looks good and not out-of-place on the old bike, since it is simple shiny metal. No fussy logos or anything. Bonus: modern aluminum rims do better in the rain than steel rims when it comes to braking. Of course, the real star of the show is that old 3-speed hub. It’s practically good as new.

As soon as it was ready, I couldn’t wait to start commuting to work by bike again. Since my transit commute involved multiple transfers (bus – subway – subway – bus – walk), biking is actually faster. Still a long commute though! About an hour each way. Through the joy of Google Maps, I found a lovely route to get from the Yonge and Eglinton neighborhood to the Birch Cliff area and back. About half of the trip is spent on park trails that cut diagonally across the city, following some of Toronto’s many rivers and streams.

Working on this hub and wheel build has certainly whet my appetite for bike building again! Now it’s just a matter of saving up the money to start the next project…

Hub Restoration Part II

The hub opened up!

In my previous post on this subject, I feared that my old Sturmey Archer hub would never open up again, and I would focus my attention on the second-hand one I procured from Bikechain.

Well, I am happy to report that I was mistaken!

When sitting down to tinker with the new (to me) old hub, I decided to give one last try at opening my original one. Just a spur of the moment decision. And after a few whacks with a hammer and improvised punch, I thought I detected some movement! Several whacks later, and the stuck piece was free!

The inside is pretty remarkable. All that looks like shiny slippery grease is actually hard and dry. The consistency ranges from very sticky and viscous to rock solid. It’s like it’s lubricated with tar. No wonder the pawls couldn’t freely move and engage!

While it is possible this hardened consistency is a result of heating the hub with a blowtorch the other day, I suspect it was already like this. I had discovered similarly fossilized deposits of ancient grease on other parts of the hub prior to heating it up.

Aside from the daunting amount of old residue to clean off, the innards look to be in pretty good shape!

For comparison, the other hub has no hardened residue. However, it does have a little bit of rust around the planetary gears.

Still, they are both pretty good, and I hope to have them both up and running eventually. One will be returned to the Raleigh Sports, and the other might go into a future bike project that I’m still working out in my mind.

All hail the Sturmey-Archer 3-Speed Hub

One of the most important and amazing pieces of bicycle technology is the internal-gear hub.

This goofy video explains how they function, but it can be a little hard to follow at points.

As you may recall, the Raleigh Sports given to me by Ron Richardson featured one of these excellent Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hubs.

These hubs are remarkably resilient, and last for decades and decades. However, they do benefit from occasional servicing.

Last summer, I noticed that my hub was having some problems. It would often not engage when I pedaled. I suspected that old gummy grease was keeping the pawls from moving freely. I added “overhaul the hub” to my long-term to-do list.

Well, I finally got around to it!

Cleaning the exterior was so satisfying. It had gotten pretty grimy!

Next I removed the cog so I could get access to the ball ring. The ball ring is the part that threads into the hub shell and keeps all the innards securely in place. In order to service those innards, you have to remove the ball ring. Instructional videos like this one recommend using a hammer and punch on the ball ring’s little notches to get it moving.

Sturmey archer also makes a special tool for the removal, but it is only compatible with later models, since the notches on the old ones are a different shape.

Alas… I was unable to get it to budge at home. Fortunately, I live in a city with well equipped DIY bike repair shops like Bikechain! Unfortunately, all the might and know-how of the shop were no match for this stuck ball ring.

We got the hub into a bench vice and used vice grips on the ring to try and move it. No luck. We used other pliers to close the vice grips even tighter when our hands couldn’t close them alone. Still no luck. We tried getting penetrating oil to seep into the threads. We even tried heating up the hub shell with a blowtorch to cause it to expand. Still no luck.

This hub may never open up.

The good news is that Bikechain has lots of used parts available by donation. So while I couldn’t open up my old hub, I walked out of there with another hub of the same vintage. It is in desperate need of some cleaning and lubrication, but at least it opens up!

Coming up: I will document the process of restoring this old hub.

Striving for the perfect blend of fun and practicality

The bicycle pictured in the header (at least at the time of writing) was the first bike I ever built up myself. As such, it has a special place in my heart. I put a lot of thought into the selection of different parts of the bike. As a result, it was very representative of what I valued in a bicycle at that time. My tastes have shifted slightly since then, but it’s a bike that I still value a lot.

Bicycle

There are a few conceptual “parents” for this bike. First is the Raleigh Sports that I’ve written about already. It’s mid 70s Raleigh with an internal gear hub, and the bike that I built is a mid 70s Raleigh retrofitted with a modern internal gear hub, so the lineage/inspiration is not hard to see.

Raleigh Sports

The other obvious “parent” is one of Sheldon Brown’s bikes that I read about on his website.  My own build very closely resembles his. I was already attracted to old Raleighs, and steel frames with pretty lugs. Seeing a modern IGH in Sheldon’s International is what sealed the deal. That was the design I wanted to follow.

Over a year or two, I collected the necessary parts for a functioning bike, and put them together using the workspace and tools at Bikechain. The bike continued to evolve as I rode it for the next few years, swapping out parts here and there. As the title of this post indicates, my choices were inspired by both practicality and fun. It was a fun bike to ride, but it was also an extraordinarily practical bike for commuting around town.

That broad front rack is not only stylish, but it is super convenient for carrying a grocery bag (or a box of donuts). The metallic fenders matched the other silvery accessories. But they were also super-long and effectively protected the bike and my clothes from getting splattered by dirt and grit from the road. And of course, the modern 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub is a perfect drive-train component for city commuting. It provides decent gear ratios for climbing up Toronto’s few hills. But it also allows you to downshift while stopped at intersections, unlike a derailleur. All the moving bits are sealed from the weather, so maintenance is a breeze.

rack

It got me to work and back in all weather conditions. It was a grocery getter. It zipped me over to friends’ houses. It was also great for longer, exploratory, recreational journeys like this one I took a while back:

nearly 43k bike trip

Even the Google Street View car bore witness to my enjoyment of this bike. Twice!

screenshot_02

screenshot_01

It was a lovely bike that I rode almost daily. Until…

I had a minor bike accident. A car up ahead pulled out of a parking spot without signalling, which prompted the car in front of me to slam on the breaks. I was following a bit too close as I came around a bend in the road, and I rear-ended the car. I was uninjured, but my lovely International frame was bent out of shape. It doesn’t look like much of a bend when viewed at a distance, but the tubing buckled in a couple of places.

I am sad at the loss, but I am comforted by the fact that I enjoyed it for many years and many miles. And I am fortunate enough to still have the lovely green Sports to get me where I need to go.

Of course, I am also excited about the opportunity to build a new bike in the future. Only the frame was severely damaged, so most of the other components can be reused – including the modern IGH.

Once I have the income to afford it, I will start the process of collecting components and building again. The bike that I am envisioning will be similar in many ways, but I am also excited to try out some new ideas and new technologies. And as always, I will be seeking that perfect blend of fun and practicality. Now that I have this blog up and running, I’ll be able to document the process as I go.

Bike by tree

Bike Links

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my Raleigh Sports and Bikechain were instrumental in shaping my appreciation for biking and bike commuting. But there are a number of websites that also influenced my particular tastes.

Sheldon Brown – The late great master of online bicycle information. He had a wealth of knowledge about bicycles, and generously shared it with the world. He was an early citizen of the web, and put his knowledge and point of view online long before most people did that sort of thing. One of his own custom bike builds was the inspiration for my first build.

Eco Velo – This blog is no longer updated, but the owners were kind enough to keep it live, at least for now. Sadly, this site seems to be down, probably for good. They covered beautiful bicycle commuting gear and technology, and have been a huge influence on my own personal tastes. They introduced me to things like belt drives – something that I have not personally used, but I’ve wanted to try out.

Rivendell Bicycles – Although I am not quite as enamored with lugs as I once was, I still appreciate the beauty of a quality lugged steel frame. This company sells several lovely examples of this style bicycle, along with equally lovely components and accessories. Several of my component choices for my first build were influenced by this site’s philosophy.

Off the Beaten Path – I had encountered this website once in a while in the past. But I only recently started reading it regularly it as I considered choices for an upcoming bike build I am imagining. They do some pretty thorough testing of different types of bicycle equipment.

Biking Toronto and Dandyhorse – these are my go-to sites for local Toronto biking news.

Lovely Bicycle – A well-written and interesting personal blog that covers a wide variety of bicycle topics.

Bikechain

Wow! The Scarborough film fest job has been crazy! It’s been a busy few weeks.

Anyway, here’s a bit I wrote about working on my bike a while back:

I was fortunate to be a student at U of T right when Bikechain was opening. It is a DIY bike repair shop at the university. The mechanics and volunteers there help you repair and maintain your bike yourself. I volunteered here for a couple of years while I was still a student.

Ron Richardson’s gift of the Raleigh Sports did a lot to spark my current enthusiasm for bicycling. But I also owe a lot to Bikechain. This is the place that got me interested in working on my bike, not just riding it. This is where I really learned all of the ins and outs of a bicycle. As I write this, I realize it is not all that dissimilar to the experience of building a model airplane that I described in a previous post. As you spend an extended amount of time handling the individual parts of a thing, your imagination gets to explore it from the inside out. Your relationship to the thing changes.

Although I now do most of my bicycle maintenance at home, I still go to Bikechain once in a while for bigger projects. And I consider myself lucky to live in a city with multiple other options for DIY bike maintenance like Bike Sauce and Bike Pirates.

New experiences on an old bike

Raleigh Sports

Bicycling has been a part of my life since I was a child. But, as is the case with many people, it was primarily recreational when I was young. I would ride with my friends and cousins on trails in the woods behind our homes. Some summer weekends we would ride to a church about a mile and a half away for some event or another. And during the Tree Peony Festival* we would bike ahead of visitor’s cars in order to lead them through the labyrinth of trails to the parking area. But that was about as utilitarian as it got.

My relationship to bikes changed because of an extraordinarily generous gift. Family friend and bicycle enthusiast Ron Richardson had a mid 70s Raleigh Sports that was a bit too tall for him. He offered to give the this lovely old English roadster to me to take back to Toronto, where I had recently begun my university studies.

Initially I thought that I would just use public transit while living in Toronto. But now that I had this city bike at my disposal, I decided to give bicycle commuting a try. I have not parted with the bike since then. I had always liked biking, but having this bike in Toronto is what made me love biking. It fulfilled something that I did not know I was missing. All the cliches about biking apply here. It’s fun. It’s good exercise. It’s a quick way to get around a city. It’s an affordable way to get around a city. It’s an environmentally friendly way of getting around. It feels like flying. The utilitarian aspect of bicycle commuting did not diminish the fun I associated with biking. Rather, I developed even more enjoyment than I had when it was purely a recreational activity.

This bike sparked an appreciation for bicycles on a few levels. I started noticing the aesthetics of different kinds of bikes more. This bike had neat little details in the lugs, fenders, and chainring. I saw how bikes could be beautiful and charming.

Raleigh Sports Detail

I also started learning more about the different mechanical aspects of bicycles because of this bike. It had an internal gear hub instead of derailers for switching gears. I had never even heard of this mechanism before, but I was immediately intrigued.

There is a lot about this bike that makes it excellent for city commuting. The fenders, the riding position, the durability, the wide tires. But I want to spend a little extra time praising the internal gear hub, or IGH.

Most modern bicycles (at least in North America) use a derailer to switch gears. That’s the mechanism that moves the chain from one sprocket to another. An IGH, on the other hand, contains all of its mechanisms inside the hub of the wheel. The chain never has to switch sprockets in order to change gear ratios. Even though IGH technology predates derailers, they are only recently regaining popularity.

IGHs require much less maintenance and care, since all of the mechanical bits are protected from the elements. Since the chain does not have to switch sprockets, it almost never pops off while riding. Also, IGHs are compatible with belt drives, which do not rust or distribute messy grease all over your clothes/bicycle. Unlike a derailer, you can switch gears while at a stop. This is very convenient for stop-and-go city traffic.

While repairing and overhauling an IGH can be more intimidating and time consuming than a derailer, this is offset by the fact that they so rarely require any maintenance in the first place. The old Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hubs like the one in this Raleigh Sports are famously bomb proof. While modern ones may be somewhat more finicky, they are still remarkably robust and reliable.

Below is the bike as I have it currently equipped. It’s a bit dirty, but it still gets me around town reliably and comfortably!

Raleigh Sports 2

*For those unfamiliar with this festival, some information can be found here. Linwood Gardens is a place, as well as a not-for-profit that is run and cared for by my extended family. I should really do a full fledged post on it someday. It’s an interesting place, and I had the tremendous privilege to grow up in and around it.