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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.

Bike of the Week: 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

WARNING: This post contains tedious, bike nerd content. My feelings won’t be at all hurt if you skip the text and just look at the pictures.

Introducing the 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

Introducing the 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

This winter I retired my old winter  ride, a 2007 Iron Horse Commuter. This bike served me well as my only bike for a couple of years before it was demoted to only winter service for two more years. By this time I was looking for something a little nicer for my winter ride. Preferably an older, good quality rigid mountain bike. What I ended up using was a slightly scruffy Rocky Mountain Fusion frameset  that had been kicking around, neglected, at Bikeworks North for several months.

About the Fusion Model:

The Fusion was first introduced in 1988. This bike’s frame was made overseas and then assembled in Canada. There was nothing unusual about this for the company, however, as in the previous year  six out of nine of the Rocky Mountain models were imported. By 1990, the year my bike was made, only the Fusion was not made in Canada. The 1989 model was made in Taiwan and I’m guessing that my 1990 bike was as well.  In the following year all the bikes including the Fusion were made in Canada. Ironically, I’m pretty sure that the pendulum has swung back and most if not all of Rocky Mountain’s bikes are made in Taiwan now. During these early years, the Fusion sat close to and sometimes at the bottom of the Rocky Mountain lineup. Even so, at  $760 in 1993 this was not an inexpensive bike.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

It has Ishiwata triple butted chromoly tubing. Triple butted was a marketing term from the period and functionally it’s no different from double butted. The tubing mostly has a circular cross-section, except where the seat tube joins the bottom bracket. At this point it is shaped to an oval cross section, purportedly offering better stiffness under pedaling torque.  Looking at the bike you can see the hint of a sloping top tube, something Rocky Mountain was making a big deal about at the time. It’s nothing by today’s standards, of course.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

It has sturdy rear rack bosses, eyelets for rack and fender in the rear, and for just a fender in the front. There is also nice attention to detail in the form of threaded holes for accessory mounting in the chainstay bridge, the seatstay bridge, and the fork crown

There are a few details that definitely place the era  the bike was made in. Firstly, the stem is the short lived 1 1/8″ theaded size. This size was briefly used in the early nineties but was quickly swept aside by the now familiar  threadless system. This isn’t  a big deal, but it will make sourcing replacements parts a bit more inconvenient. Secondly, while it has cantilever brakes in the front, it has a seatstay mounted U-brake in the rear. U-brakes were a fad in the late 90s, initially appearing on the chainstays, but later migrating to the seat stays before disappearing from bikes in the early 90s. There will be about that stupid U-brake later in this post.

Building the Bike:

Building this bike was the first time I’d ever started from mostly just a frameset. The only original parts are the frame, fork, headset, and probably the stem. All of the other components I either transferred from the Iron Horse or scrounged from my parts bin or the ones at BWN.

Starting off, the non-driveside crank threads were stripped. As we don’t have a puller at BWN, I cut the crank off with a hacksaw. The bottom bracket parts were worn out and I discarded them. Next, checking the frame with the alignment gauge showed that the rear triangle was bent to one side. Although this was my first time using the frame bending tools, the internet helpfully instructed me and I was able to realign the tubes, dropouts and derailleur hanger.

1990 Rock Mountain Fusion

I mounted XT levers with the shifters removed. These are great short-pull levers with good braking force and modulation. I used Suntour ratcheting friction shifters. Friction shifting is much less fussy than indexed in winter conditions, when your bike is coated in sand,salt and ice. These Suntour thumbies are as good as it gets. Levers and shifters are mounted on a Zoom 170 butted aluminum handlebar.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

I used a set of older LX cantis on the front. A little finicky to set up but with good braking power.

Biopace triple crankset. Some people loved the biopace chainrings, some hated them. I'm indifferent. The front derailleur is a nice,earlier Deore. Te rear derailleur is a nothing-special Alivio. Winter is tough on the drivetrain. No  sense in using anything too nice.

Biopace triple crankset. Some people loved the biopace chainrings, some hated them. I’m indifferent. The front derailleur is an earlier Deore. The rear derailleur is a nothing-special Alivio. Winter is tough on the drivetrain. No sense in using anything too nice.

Dratted U-Brake.

Dratted U-Brake.

When I started building the bike I assumed that it was supposed to have rear cantis. Posts on the seatstays equals cantilevers, right? Wrong! It wasn’t until I tried mounting a set of V-brakes that I noticed that the posts didn’t have a hole for the brake springs. I also belatedly noticed that the posts were higher than cantilever posts, above the rim in fact. What the heck was going on? U-brakes, that’s what.

U-Brakes are a sort of caliper brake on steroids.They do have plenty of stopping power, but have a few peculiarities. When bike manufacturers started using U-Brakes they placed them on the chainstays. These tubes are stronger than the seatstays, resulting in less frame flex during braking. Unfortunately it also put the brakes down near the ground where they tended to get clogged with mud and dirt. Builders, didn’t quite give up on them yet, though, and for a few years they located the U-brakes up on the seat stays. However,in this location they didn’t really have any significant advantages over cantilevers.

The geometry of the U-Brake system causes the pads to contact the rim higher and higher   as the pads wear out. Eventually, they will start rubbing on the tires with unfortunate results. This is not an endearing feature. While riding my Fusion this winter I made a special point of monitoring the pad wear to ensure my skookum studded tires were not ruined. Also, these brakes didn’t make it easy to squeeze fat tires and fenders on the bike. If you look closely at the photo you will see that I had to grind slots in the fenders to fit them inside the brake calipers. Add, a rack to the bike and it’s a real pain to make adjustments. Enough about brakes.

The front wheel is a Mavic something-or-other rim with a DT Hugi hub. I’d rolled with this wheel for two winters on the Iron Horse before using it on the Fusion. It’s continues to be great. Winter riding is one application where sealed cartridge bearings are very useful. Next year I may do something similar for the rear wheel (currently Mavic on an 8-speed LX Hub).

I wasn’t able use my DIY studded tires with this bike as the front fork clearance is quite tight. However, I lucked into some great second hand Nokian Haka WXC300 carbide studded tires. These have fantastic traction (I was down riding on the frozen river one day this winter) but are a beast to roll when you’re on bare pavement. The narrow fork clearance meant that I couldn’t fit a fender with these tires, either. I also used a set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires for a while, too. These 26 X 1.75″ tires were narrow enough that I could use the front fender with them. They don’t have anywhere near the grip of the Nokians but they roll much better on pavement. I used them throughout the last part of winter when there was a lot of bare pavement but still a fair number of icy patches.


Riding through the winter months on the lighter weight Fusion was much more enjoyable than on the clunky old Iron Horse Commuter. It’s stable, fast, and nimble. I churned through deep powder, ground across pits of brown sugar, climbed hills of sheer ice, and pounded across rutted hardpack. All the while whistling a jaunty tune (or maybe not).

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

In the autumn, after building the bike and before the first snowfall,  I had the chance to take the Fusion for a test ride on the river valley singletrack. It flowed smoothly through the twisty trails, urging me to ride faster than my terrible off-road skills would normally permit. The difference between this bike and my previous imitation mountain bikes was noticeable. When I was racing down the the long, straight stretch leading to entrance to Kinnaird ravine I felt like I was outpacing the photons carrying  the visual information to my vibrating eyeballs. Good, clean fun.

It’s worth noting that the longish stem without much rise results in a very stretched out riding position.This aggressive stance felt great  on days when I was really digging in and pedaling hard.  However, on those commuting days when I was feeling less energetic,a more upright riding position would have been nice.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

The Fusion also did a fine job of hauling cargo. I’ve loaded up the bike with panniers full of groceries on a regular basis and have hauled a few large awkward packages with no problems. These older rigid mountain bikes really are great all-around bikes. As a bonus, you can still buy them for cheap as they tend to be undervalued. However, there has been a lot more internet buzz about them in recent years so that change soon. If you are the sort that absolutely MUST have drop-bars,check out this forum thread to see some  conversions. For the summer, I’m thinking of going the opposite way and temporarily transmogrifying the Fusion into an upright city bike style. Stay tuned for details.

Whichever configuration it ends up in, this bike is now one of my keepers.

There will be a caption here

The Raleigh 20 & The Society of Three Speeds

When I used to stop cycling during the winter I’d always keenly anticipate the first ride in spring. Getting back on the bike after the winter hiatus was always exhilarating.  Now that I cycle year round I miss having that first ride. On the other hand, I now get to look forward to the first ride of the year when I don’t have to use the winter bike. For the past few years my bike of choice for that ride was the 2008 Kona Jake CX bike, a happy blend of road bike and mountain bike. It’s a good choice for spring riding: zippy and rugged.

This year I had something else in mind for the first spring ride. Today I took my 70’s Raleigh 20 3-speed for a little trip to Bikeworks North to make a few changes to the ol’ folding bike. 3 speed bikes have been on my mind lately as I had recently received an enrollment in The Society of Three Speeds. Shawn Granton, the society’s self-appointed president for life, mailed me a membership package containing a number of buttons and stickers featuring his always great art. Receiving this bundle of goodies in the mail was a nice surprise that cheered me up on what had been a sort of lousy day (thanks Shawn!)

R20 &b the Society of Three Speeds

The three rules of the 3-speed society are:

  1. I will endeavor to promote three speeds as a viable means of transportation.
  2. I will not denigrate three speed bicycles and will not allow others to disparage these humble bicycles.
  3. I will ride my three speed bicycle with pride and immense enjoyment. If I have not yet procured a three speed bicycle, I will do my best to obtain one posthaste.

I can confidently state that I will uphold the rules of the society. I have two 3-speed bikes and have ridden many kilometers on them, both commuting and for the pure enjoyment of the ride. Readers of this blog may recall not only the Raleigh 20 already mentioned above, but also the 1965 CCM Continental. Both bikes are equipped with the Sturmey-Archer internally geared hubs that seem to tick along reliably doing their job for decades.

I picked up the R20 last year and spent some time in the early summer getting it road worthy and set up to my satisfaction. You can see my blog post showing its original condition here. Through the later part of the summer and early fall I put at least 500 km on the bike a lot of fun doing so.

The R20 had a number of peculiarities to consider when setting it up.

The bottom bracket is of unusual dimensions and requires heroic measures if you wish to set it up to accept a modern square taper crankset. Although  I have access to the tools to do this job I decided leave it unchanged as the original crankset was in perfect condition and featured a nifty heron design on the chainring. Unfortunately, this means having to deal with the crank cotters whenever I want to service the bottom bracket. Completing that chore for the first time was tough as one of the cotters was well seized in place and pretty mangled by the time I removed it.

The R20 has an unusual headset, a sort of combination of a threaded and threadless headset. It also lacks top ball bearings and instead has a plastic bushing. I had read that this results in stiffer steering,perhaps a deliberate choice of the designers who may have wanted to dampen the quick steering associated with many folding bikes. When I first tried the bike I found the steering to be unpleasantly stiff. There is modification that you can do to replace the original headset with a 1″ threadless headset, resulting in better steering. Before going to this extreme I tried simply greasing the bushing and lower ball bearings and correctly setting the compression. Afterwards,I found the steering to be much easier: quick and responsive. For my purposes, no headset modification was required.

The one major change I made was to replace the steel rims with alloy rims. This is a good upgrade for old bikes, resulting in a lighter wheelset and better braking. I ordered the replacement rims from ebay and laced them onto the original hubs. I used Sun CR18 presta rims and drilled out the valve hole to accept schraeder tubes. After buying the bike and paying for the rims I was feeling a little cheap so I reused the old spokes. This is generally considered a bad practice but in this case the old galvanized spokes seem to be holding up just fine so far. They were a bit too long for the new rim,but a few minutes with a die-grinder shortened them adequately.

I also made a number of smaller changes to the bike.

The original saddle was horrible, so last year I replaced it with a salvaged foamy “comfort” saddle. This was OK, but today I swapped that one for a Brooks B66S that I picked up back in December via a Kijiji ad. Much classier and quite comfortable so far.

I also replaced the tires today. The original tires were beyond use and the only replacements I could find at Bikeworks at first were a set of grey wheelchair tires.These were in pretty doubtful shape themselves,with the wire bead showing through the cracking rubber at several points. I rode these tires for hundreds of kilometers last year and though they let me get the bike on the road, I was always aware that they could fail at any time. The tires I put on today are NOS tires that I discussed in this blog post. They are in excellent condition and I like he looks of the black tires on the bike more than the grey ones.

I added a rack to the bike. I used an old Pletscher rack that I had on hand. A small modification was necessary as the rack was made for a larger wheeled bike and so I had to shorten the stays. I cut them to the correct length and pressed new flats on them using the hydraulic press at work. Then I drilled new holes and was it was ready to install. Pletscher racks aren’t suitable for carrying a lot of weight but I have used this one on successfully on numerous grocery runs so far.

Pletshcer rack modification

All in all, the bike has shaped up nicely. The brakes still need some attention as the stopping power is less than great. I almost ordered some Tektro dual pivot long reach calipers but decided that I will first try a few more basic measures first like replacing the cable housing and cables. Eventually. In the meantime, I’ll still keep racking up the kilometers on this trusty ol’ 3-speed folder..

Raleigh 20

Happy Spring Riding!

How not to break in a leather saddle.

No saddles were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

No saddles were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

There are a lot of opinions on the best way to break in a leather saddle. I’m no expert. I have 4 leather saddles that I bought used and all but one of them were already broken in. The one that wasn’t broken in was a decades old NOS Wright’s W3N. It was quite dried out, hard as a rock and completely unrideable. While I was trying figure out how to bring it back into usable condition I did a bit of online reading on the subject.

For new saddles, the consensus seems to be to not do anything drastic. Break the saddle in by riding. Don’t oversoak the saddle with oil because once the oil is in it’s there to stay. Don’t mess around with the tensioning bolt until the saddle starts to sag after many years of use. Overall, the more gently you treat the saddle initially, the more years of use you will get out of it.

A while back I picked up a number of old cycling books from a second hand store. One was from 1980, “The Bicycle Touring Book” by Tim & Glenda Wilhelm. It’s a pretty good book, and deals out thorough (if sometimes outdated) advice on bike touring. It also has the following peculiar advice on breaking in leather saddles. The bold text emphasis was added by me.

First, place the saddle either directly in the hot sun or near a 100-watt light bulb. Do not put it where your hand is not comfortable with the heat. Turn it over after about half an hour. When the leather is as warm and soft as it is going to get, tighten the nut under the front of the saddle…Tighten the nut to the point where the saddle is drum tight, but don’t overdo it and tear the saddle from the rivets.

Next, while the saddle is still warm, apply some sort of leather oil (neatsfoot, mink, Huebard’s shoe grease) to both sides of the saddle. Keep the saddle warm and apply oil until the leather won’t absorb any more. If the saddle loosen’s, tighten the saddle’s adjusting nut again to keep it taut.

Once the saddle is saturated, keep it in a warm place for 10 to 12 hours – in the sun or under a warm light. Now, find a comfortable place to sit and beat on the top of the saddle with a 12-ounce to 16-ounce ball peen hammer. Use the round ball end. If you don’t have a ball peen, use a rolling pin, section of pipe or any smooth rounded object. Beat on the entire surface but concentrate on the rear portion and along the top edge of the saddle where it folds over. Let the hammer do the work; you don’t have to pound hard, just continuously. How long? How soft do you want your saddle? The more you beat, the softer the saddle becomes.

If the saddle loosens up a lot, tighten the adjusting nut again. This process takes a few days to complete because your arm gets too tired. Do it while you watch TV or walk around the block – that will give the neighbors something to talk about…

Now test the saddle for flexibility. Most tourists like their saddles to flex a little; loosen the adjusting nut to accomplish this….You don’t want it drum tight either. Your saddle is now ready to ride.

It reads like a list of everything you are not supposed to do to a new saddle. Not to mention things nobody would consider necessary to warn against, such as hitting it with a hammer for two days. I think it might be useful if you need the saddle to be ready RIGHT NOW and aren’t concerned with having it wear out in short order. With these saddles typically costing at least $100.00 I’d like them to last as long as possible.

Has anybody out there tried this method? If so, I’d love to hear how it worked for you and how long the saddle lasted.