Sunday, 7 April 2013

When Bicycle Upgrades Go Bad

I blame York’s Hill for the annoying weekend I’ve just had. It has been a weekend where I’ve spent too much time getting angry at simple bicycle components in the garage and not enough time out on my bike. I should explain; when I rode York’s Hill back in February my normally efficient V brakes struggled in the cold, damp, muddy conditions. With a spare set of 29er mountain bike wheels in the garage and some disc brakes that I knew would work with the brake levers I already had on the bike I figured it would take no time at all to transport my Uncle John to modern, largely weather proof and powerful disc brake utopia. It is even something I did to my old Karate Monkey a little while ago and so far the brakes have worked just fine.

Of course thinking that everything will be easy to sort out is usually a sign of impending failure and, as a result, I’ve spent the best part of two days going in round in circles. The first problem arose when I tried to fit new 28mm tyres to a set of 29er rims. I can confirm that they do fit; your hands will be sore for days afterwards but with enough grunting to make a wrestling match look like a silent movie they will fit. Honest.

After reducing my hands to lumps of raw flesh it was time to get going on the disc brakes. The callipers are easy enough to mount and I even managed to get the wheels spinning without fouling the rotors at my first attempt. So far so good I thought, but then came the cabling up. I don’t think it has ever taken anybody nearly a whole day to get a set of cable operated disc brakes working. At least it hasn’t until now. I’ve set up Avid BB7s before and they are good quality brakes but despite using all of my bike maintenance know how I ended up with a front brake that worked but felt spongy and a back brake that didn’t work at all. Well, it did at first until I decided to adjust it at which point it stopped working and the cable clamp started fouling the main calliper body. Oh and I also managed to fray the cable to the point where I needed to drive to Halfords (which was the only place open on a Sunday) to buy a new one. With a new cable inserted I still couldn’t overcome the problem of the cable moving the clamping bolt sufficiently out of position that it kept hitting the main calliper body. I also frayed the replacement cable. Some swearing may have happened at this point. I'm quite sure drawing blood isn't meant to happen either.

This is what a bike maintenance crisis looks like
With the light fading and my chance of a bike ride disappearing fast I did the only thing I could think of; I took off the back disc brake and re-fitted the V brake, along with the old back wheel. I was beginning to think I had lost my mojo when it came to working on bikes but as the whole process to restore things to how they were only took me 20 minutes and ended up with a more powerful brake I must be doing something right. After a quick test ride confirmed that the front disc brake really is quite spongy I have taken the decision to swap the front wheel out and return to a V brake on the front as well.

I suppose some good has come out of the whole tiresome experience. My brakes now have nice new cables and I’ve fitted some sportier, grippier tyres to the bike. On the negative side I have lost most of a weekend and I have run out of time to trim the damn steerer tube to a more aesthetically pleasing length yet again. Looks like I’ll be offending the eyes of cycling purists for some time to come.

Coming Soon

In the near future I’ll be back in the Peak District to finish off the remaining climbs in the Midlands and to make a start on the North Western and Yorkshire climbs. I’d like to say I’m going into the next round of climbs fit and full of enthusiasm but the extended spell of cold weather has slowly sapped my will to get out on the bike and my training rides have started to get shorter as a result. That said I’m getting up the local hills pretty well and training on my fixed gear bike, when it isn’t terrifying me, has given me a bit more kick when it comes to short steep hills. I just wish going back down them again didn’t involve my legs spinning at what feels like 5000 rpm.

My next round of hill climbing fun will involve finally facing up to the fearsome climb that takes you up to Riber Castle. Last time I was in the Matlock area I decided to wait until a future date before I tackled it. My faithful Surly Cross check is a bit sluggish on the really steep stuff and I had just ridden up Bank Road and was feeling pretty empty legged. There will be no excuse this time around. My Uncle John is more responsive and lighter than my Surly and in theory I should be getting better at this hill climbing stuff. Mind you in theory I should have been able to fit new disc brakes… Watch this space for an update soon.

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