Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Is there any end to fixing bicycles?

Because you have to start somewhere, and for the last week it seems like every day has had a spanner in it.

It all started simply enough when the right hand shifter broke. It's not as though I have any grounds for complaint. The shifter is as old as the rest of the bike, which has spent 13 years being left out in all weathers with no maintenance. One look told me that it had run its course - I thought it had held up pretty well when you counted in that four of its years had been spent in the salt laden humidity of Tel Aviv.

So down to my local bike shop, and dust off the backup machine, which is horrible, but younger and less rotted by salt water. Took the bike shop until the following Thursday to fix the problem, which was all down to the fact that in Dublin today no-one repairs anything; so no-one, not even an otherwise oldfashioned family run bike shop, stocks spare parts any more. It took a couple of days to get the parts and I had to weather some polite incredulity that I was willing to spend the money to buy them rather than forget about the idea - suddenly I started to see why every second lamp-post in Dublin seems to have a broken bike chained to it. Why bother? Leave it locked, walk away and buy a new one.

The new shifters were wonderful. Of course, I'd wound up having to replace both of them. The parts come in pairs. And index shifters are now all built into the brake levers. So I had new brake levers too. And the shop had retaped the handlebars.

Is it just that having something new on something old makes all the old bits seem so much older, or was it simply that having something that worked properly left me with no illusions about what didn't work? By the following morning it was worryingly clear that my brakes had all the stopping power of nicotine gum. A lunchtime job, I thought. I could nip out on my break and fine tune the blocks. In the clear light of day, I could lie to myself no longer - my brake blocks didn't need fine tuning, they needed junking. Down to the nearest bike shop after work and pay more money than seemed plausible for four new blocks. But the next bit would be easy, of course. How hard would it be to replace four brake blocks, even if it was after dark and starting to rain?

Executive summary; hard. The locking nut is on the back of the brake arm. The stamped steel spanners you get with a bike and keep because they're BIKE spanners won't fit into the space - or if one of them does, it will turn one seventh of a turn and now you can't line the stupid little stamped hole up with the new position of the nut.

I'm doing all this in the rain outside Neary's with Chris looming over me, looking concerned but irrelevant. Scissors are about the limit of Chris' ability with moving parts. It had all seemed fine when I planned it; if I'm meeting Chris for a pint at six, and I run out of the office at five fifteen, that's a whole forty five minutes to buy the blocks, get to Neary's and do the spanner work. Finally, after much swearing, it gets done. In the narrow sense that you can't really stop the job in the middle, but you can't get it done properly with the wrong tools in bad light.

All the way through the weekend I kept telling myself to revisit the fix and make sure that everything was placed right and working the way it should. But there's always something else that's going to be more fun than going out in the cold and getting your hands dirty.

So it got looked at again on Monday, which was when I discovered that the brake arm was seized. Couldn't free it, and I suppose it must have been like that for a long time. Back to the shop. Everything you need to know about my mechanical cluelessness - the guys asked me if the cable had snapped. In their minds, I'm essentially blonde. Of course, this could be based on the fact that I get them to fix my punctures. I got slightly more respect when I showed them the actual problem. And perhaps I'll get the bike back tomorrow morning - couldn't get through to them on the phone today.

And in the meantime, I'm back on the backup, which meant I started fretting about ITS brakes, and spent yesterday replacing all the blocks on it. With the right spanner, this time.

Presumably at some point I will have replaced everything on the bike and it will work perfectly. And I'll probably have spent more money keeping it going than it would have cost to buy a cheap bike with better specs. It just seems wrong to junk a bike when the frame's still sound.

What's next? Saving String?

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