On a Wheelbuilding Roll

A nascent wheel.

A nascent wheel.

I don’t think there’s much reason for most cyclists to learn how to build a wheel. In general, new factory-made wheels are reasonably priced and not much (if any) money is saved in comparison if you have to buy a rim, hub and spokes for a build. In my case, I also have ready access to very affordable used wheels at Bikeworks, our local community bike shop, which gives me even less reason to build a wheel from scratch.

On the other hand, if you have an interest in bike maintenance, wheel building is a fun and satisfying skill in its own right. Also, if you are the frugal sort and have a stockpile of used rims, spokes and hubs salvaged from dead wheels, then building one can be quite economical. Finally, depending on what sort of bikes you find yourself riding there may not be suitable wheels readily available to purchase. For this, my 6th wheel build, all those factors were at play, most especially the last one – 16″ wheels with Sturmey Archer 3-speed hubs aren’t that common.

I had the rim and the hub. I didn’t have the right length of spoke for such a tiny wheel but I did have lots of salvaged straight gauge DT spokes. Since Bikeworks has a spoke threader, I thought I’d have a go at cutting the spokes to the right length and threading them myself.

Hozan Spoke Threader in action.

Hozan Spoke Threader in action.

I’ve never used this machine before, but online instructions made it seem simple enough. In practice it was a simple, though very tedious job. It was made more time consuming by the fact that the thread rolling heads seem to be somewhat worn. After cutting and threading the required 28 spokes, I was hoping that I had calculated the required length correctly, because if they turned out to be too short I might have have to sit down and have a good cry.

Almost a wheel!

Almost a wheel!

Happily, the wheel seems to have come together nicely. I still have to bring it back to the shop so I can dish and true it, but it looks like everything will work out.

Any readers who can correctly guess what sort of bike this wheel is going on will receive a real bicycle-related prize of dubious value, mailed in a more or less prompt fashion. You’ll need to identify at least the brand and also model or approximate era of the bike. People with a knowledge of the contents of my garage are prohibited from entering the contest. E-mail your answer to tuckamoredew at gmail dot com.

 

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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I’m the sort person that sometimes rides around with my commuting bike in much worse operating condition than I would recommend to anybody I was helping at Bikeworks to maintain their own machine. Maybe once a person has a certain familiarity with bike maintenance they know how to push components just to the edge of failure before replacing them. Or maybe my DNA would be a perfect source for scientists to finally identify the elusive procrastination gene. Either way, I have recently had a close call with a Just Riding Along sort of catastrophic bike failure. As in “Gosh, I don’t know what happened! I was just riding along when for no reason at all my rear wheel disintegrated into a twisted mass of spokes and rim fragments”.

A few weeks ago I had my winter bike in the stand for a little cleaning and lubrication, when I noticed that the rear wheel seemed to have a hairline crack running along a lengthy portion of the rim. If I noticed that with the bike of a patron at Bikeworks I would recommend that they replace the wheel at once, before riding it any further. In fact, I would be quite insistent. Of course, I did no such thing myself. Instead, I rode my bike to and from work over bumpy, rutted, icy winter roads while slowly getting around to building a new wheel (all the while conspicuously not keeping a close eye on how my old wheel was holding up).

When I finally completed and installed the new wheel, I took a close look at the now shudder-worthy failing wheel. There is a very good chance that even one more trip with the old wheel would have resulted in an “exciting” mechanical failure.

Some of it looked like this. . .

Some of it looked like this. . .

 

Cracked rim

And some of it looked like this.

 

So, don’t do that folks – it’s just stupid. Please replace your wheel promptly. Luckily, my story ended happily, with no accident, and a spiffy new rear wheel installed.

Replacement wheel contructed from ALL used components, built around a nice older Hope cartridge bearing hub (already getting dirty and earning its keep).

Replacement wheel constructed from all used components, built around a nice, older Hope cartridge bearing hub (already getting dirty and earning its keep).

 

Mystery antique bike tool – can you guess its purpose?

Mystery Bike Tool

Mystery Bike Tool

Hanging out at our local community run bike shop, Bikeworks North, has given me many opportunities to glimpse the diversity of bicycle technology new and old. While it’s neat to occasionally see somebody wander in with a skookum carbon fiber bike (that cost more than I could sell my internal organs for on the black market), what I enjoy most is getting to see some of the odd avenues that bicycle manufacturers have wandered down in the past.

I freely admit that it doesn’t take much to impress me. As a 40-something year old whippersnapper who has really only been sucked into the cycling history vortex in the past couple of years, I have a lot to learn. The internet is, of course, a wealth of easily accessible information but you can’t beat the opportunity to actually to see something in person.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be in the shop when an older gentleman brought in the tool shown in the opening photo. This fellow is 85 years old and operated a bike shop decades ago. I didn’t catch when he shut down his business, but judging by the NOS parts he donated during an earlier visit, it was likely in the early 80’s. He commented that as a small shop he couldn’t compete with the volume discounts that the suppliers started offering to the big stores. It interesting to chat with him about the cycling shops that have come and gone in Edmonton long before I moved here.

On this day, he had brought in an old bike tool and he challenged the volunteers present to guess what it was used for. I was well out of my depth here. It was looked to be double-ratcheting, tightening something with both the up and downstrokes of the lever, which reminded me of a cider press I rented once. However, I couldn’t guess what would require that on a bicycle.

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Here is the other side of the tool.

He also brought in a child’s CCM bike dating from the late 40’s or early 50’s. This was nifty to look at all on its own. In the photos below, an observant reader might be able to spot a clue to the intended use of the tool.

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This use of the mystery tool dates back to the dawn of cycling and something of its sort was used with the iconic penny-farthings. I imagine it wasn’t much used by the 1940s but was still a requirement for working on children’s bicycles as well as for baby carriages. Still stumped? The next photos should clear things up.

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Pneumatic tires have been around since the late 1800’s but before that solid rubber tires were used and were tightened onto the rim by means of an internal wire. The mystery tool was used to tighten the wire. While the cushioning effect of the air-filled tires made them immediately popular, the durable and puncture proof solid tires remained in use for some applications. Even today you can still buy modern varieties of airless tires. The photo above shows a tire that wasn’t properly fit to the wheel.

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The tire material was sold in coils and you would simply cut off the length you needed for a particular wheel.

My wife doesn’t share my bike interests, but is tolerant when I pester her to look at something I find interesting. When I showed her the photos of the tire machine, I was surprised when she said she had seen one before. Her grandfather was a cobbler in Saskatchewan who also repaired bike wheels and she remembered seeing a tool like this in his shop. She had also seen the coils of tire material there. When I mentioned that these sorts of tires had been used on baby carriages she said that there were carriages handing from the rafters of his shop.

I snooped around the internet for a bit, and while I didn’t find an example of this particular type of machine being used, I did find some examples of different machines being used for the same job. Here is a video of one in use.

I doubt I’ll ever have occasion to use a device like this but it was fascinating to learn about this old style of tire. Maybe I need to add a penny-farthing to my small fleet.

 

 

Bikeworks North Update

As it’s been more than a year now since The Edmonton Bicycle Commuter’s Society opened a second location on Edmonton’s north side, I thought it overdue time for a quick update. Although EBC offers a variety of services, the two community, volunteers-run bike shops are at the heart of its mission to make cycling in Edmonton accessible to as many people as possible. I volunteer as a mechanic at the north location (conveniently located a few minute’s ride from my house).

This was a busy year for BWN. There were a lot of busy days with the shop crowded and volunteers bouncing back and forth pinball-like between the workstands, helping patrons. Lots, and lots of bikes were donated and many of these were quickly sold. In fact, we’ve been so busy that very little time has been available to tune up bikes or to strip parts off the junkers. The approaching seasonal winter slowdown will be a much appreciated chance to catch up on organizing to beat back the tide of bikes and parts.

I took this photo a few weeks ago. There are even more bike there now!

I took this photo a few weeks ago. There are even more bike there now!

 

Bikeworks North

Mostly the bikes in rougher shape are stored outside. Despite, the poor condition of these bikes there was an ongoing problem this with thieves cutting the fence. A project initiated to reinforce the fence with old wheels and frames was somewhat successful at reducing this issue.

The better bikes are stored indoors.

The better bikes are stored indoors.

So...many...bikes...

So…many…bikes…

Our greatly increased stock of used parts can be seen at the left side of this photo.

Our greatly increased stock of used parts can be seen at the left side of this photo.

A busy shop.

A busy shop.

Bikeworks North

New parts.

Mostly new parts.

Some of the nicer parts, both new and used, are kept in the glass cabinets.

Some of the nicer parts, both new and used, are kept in the glass cabinets.

We also produce a lot of scrap. We send a s much as possible for recycling. I think we're currently overdue to do this.

We also produce a lot of scrap. We send a s much as possible for recycling. I think we’re currently overdue to do this.

If you want to see what the shop looked like a year ago, check out my blog post from May, 2012.

In other news, the north shop will be the ONLY EBC shop running this winter. After at least decade at its current location, the south shop has to find a new home as the landlords have decided to not to renew EBC’s lease of the property. There’ll be a farewell party held at the shop on Oct. 25th and the shop will be closed at the end of the month. Also, prior to the move, there is a sale at the south shop on bikes and parts running until Oct.24th. Go score a deal, Edmontonians!

Hopefully, by spring we will have a new location up and running on the south side. Until, then come and visit us at the north shop!

Bike of the Week: 2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0 (aka “The Ravine Bike”)

2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

What I know about mountain biking you could fit in a child sized CamelBak and still have room to spare for a week’s worth of back country bikepacking supplies. That is to say, though as an unhelmeted child I would ride my banana bike down the 45 degree slope of our local gravel pit ; and while as a teen I road my Supercycle 12-speed around the rocky, cliff-side paths of my coastal Newfoundland home; and as a young adult I pedaled my rigid framed MTB through my Dad’s rough and ready wood cutting tracks – I have very little knowledge of contemporary mountain bikes and the specialized technology developed for this type of riding. Still, I didn’t let that stop me from rehabilitating the Iron Horse bike I salvaged more than a year ago.

I refer to this bike as my Ravine Bike not because I ride it in the ravines (although I do) but because that’s where I found it: in Kennedale Ravine. I discovered the Sachem when I was volunteering at a ravine clean-up . It had been abandoned for some time and I had to tear it free of the vegetation that grown around it. It had been stripped of the wheels, front derailleur and shifter, and front brake lever and caliper. In the past I’ve found the remains of stolen bikes before and they have always been low-end pieces of junk. This one however seemed to show some promise.

Here I am carrying the bike home from the ravine,enjoying the irony of transporting a 2007 mountain bike with a 3-speed forty-two years its senior.

Here I am carrying the bike home from the ravine,enjoying the irony of transporting a 2007 mountain bike with a 3-speed forty-two years its senior.

When I got home I checked to see if it had been reported stolen. It had not. Or if it had been, enough time had passed that the record was no longer on file. At first I considered stripping it for parts as there were some decent components left on it. However, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to get it back in working order, and a decent mountain bike was one thing I didn’t yet have in my little fleet.

I did a little internet sleuthing and found that the Sachem 3.0 had been Iron Horse’s entry level all-mountain bike (something between a cross-country  and a down hill bike) and likely retailed for more than a $1000. Not a high-end bike, but not a department store piece of junk, either. You can see the original parts spec here and read a BikeRadar review here.    It seemed like as good a bike as my very mediocre skills warranted. The frame is quite stout and looked like it could take a lot of abuse, more than I’d likely ever dish out.

The first step in rebuilding it was acquiring the parts needed, not being the sort of components that I already had in my little stockpile. As I usually have a number of bike projects in the works, I didn’t rush this one. Over the course of the summer and early fall I kept an eye out  for components and accumulated them. I found parts at Bikeworks, on Kijjijj, and at the MEC gear swap. The only part that I had to buy new was the seatpost.

The wheels were the toughest to find as I am cheap and decent disc brake wheels don’t often show up at Bikeworks North, where I get most of my parts. I picked up the rear wheel (Mavic on Deore) from a Kijiji ad and the seller gave them to me for half his original asking price because he accidentally gave the wrong address and sent me on a half-hour wild goose chase looking for his house. For the front, I salvaged the Rhyno-lite rim from a     wheel with a dead hub, and the hub from another wheel with a tacoed rim. The dimensions worked out so nicely that I was able to do the trick where you tape the new rim to the old one and transfer the spokes one at a time. This is such an easy way to build a wheel that I was able to do it while sitting at home watching a movie with my family (The Adventures of Tintin).

Assembling the rest of the bike wasn’t difficult, although setting up the brakes caused some head scratching, as I’d never worked with disc brakes before. Happily, I eventually figured it all out and by late winter the bike was complete. I had the chance to ride it a few times before the snow finally retreated from our fair city (kicking and clinging on to the bitter end as it did this year) and though it was  fun to ride through the snow, I was looking forward to a proper trail riding test.

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2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

If you’ve read any of my bog posts in the past week, then you know that I’ve been really enjoying this bike. I’ve been discovering new trails in the river valley and have been riding some fairly technical singletrack with more confidence than I would normally have. Having a decent quality bike has really made difference to my riding experience. The geometry and handling are neutral enough that it seems to do everything adequately and forgive the flaws of a weak rider. I still want to upgrade a few components when I have the chance, and I have to fine-tune the shifting a little, but nevertheless I’ll be riding this one this summer.

2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

Blissful river valley riding.