A New Project, Begun In Hope

Today was a beautiful, late-winter morning, as clear and still as any day in the past few weeks. This was in contrast to yesterday, a Sunday, which was stormy and intermittently wet. Yesterday’s gloom gave me and Mrs DWC the excuse to have a do-nothing day: she stayed on the bed, reading, with the cat and the dog competing for the cosier spots, and I, having given Hazel a short walk, sat at my computer, planning the renovation of an old bike.

The fruits of my labours are contained in the document below. In fact, a good part of the document is redundant already, as I decided this morning that I would pay a professional to do the headset, but it was a pleasant day’s research which led me to muse on my bike ownership and the fact that, after a decade and a half of using bikes as my main transport, doing up even such a simple bike as the TIE Fighter is a major challenge.

Bike-Restoration-project

This is the TIE Fighter. When I got it, I kept up the affectation of naming my bikes after spaceships from Star Wars, and she is the oldest of my bikes that, a) hasn’t been nicked and, b) is still in some sort of working order. I want to lay out my plans for this much-loved, but very tired, little beauty in this post, but, first, I’d like to return to point a) and indulge myself in reminiscence of all the bikes I’ve loved and lost, or neglected.

It is, as you can probably see, a Boardman hybrid, of the sort that really became popular at the turn of the millennium: a road bike with flat bars and aggressive gearing, designed for whizzing around towns rather than for long journeys. Surprisingly, though, it has always been a comfortable bike, and a powerful workhorse: for several years I used it with a trailer, and carried up to thirty kilos behind it, doing up to fifty miles a week in that state.

Its original owner hadn’t used it very much and it had the gloss of newness. Compare it with the picture at the top of this post and you can see the years etched upon it.

In many ways, like a well-read book, I prefer a slightly battered-looking bike. However, the TIE Fighter has got beyond battered-looking, to just battered. Since I got it, I have tended to commute on whatever mountain bike I had in the winter but revert to the TIE Fighter whenever the weather was reasonable, as it was simply easier. I still used my mountain bikes, but as leisure bikes, not on the roads.

However, around 2013 or so, after a succession of rough winters, the Island’s roads had got into such a state that using a road bike, particularly on my night-ride home after teaching evening classes, had become quite frightening. When the Millennium Falcon was stolen, in July of 2013, I used the A-wing for a couple of years, but that was overkill, and, in 2015, I bought a 29″ Voodoo Bizango; a Halfords mid-range bike which was absolutely perfect for long commutes with a laden trailer over pot-holed roads.

Alas, the East Cowes bike thief – may he (or she) suffer a thousand chronic saddle sores – struck again, in 2019. I’d forgotten to bring the bike into the back garden after cycling home one night and it was gone by the morning. In some ways, that was the more annoying theft, although I didn’t have the same affection for that bike that I had for the Falcon. I don’t have any pictures of it, for instance. It was, however, a superb tractor of a bike. I’ve since replaced it with a later model, and it is not nearly as good. For a start, the new version cannot pull my trailer, as it has stupid, smart-alec chainstays that mean you have no room for the extended quick release that secures the trailer’s bracket. The 2015 Bizango was a sturdy, capacious bike with a superb gear range that was both an enjoyable off-road ride and a useful and reasonably fast on-road commuter, able to cope with potholed roads.

At the time of this theft I hadn’t the funds to replace it and the A-wing, to my shame, was in an unusable state at the top of the garden, needing a lot of money to bring up to scratch, a situation that has only got worse in the intervening years. So much for leisure bikes. The TIE Fighter, on the other hand, needed some work, but it was within my means if I was careful for a month or two. So, I got it done up by a nice mechanic who works out of an industrial unit at the other side of Cowes. Understanding that I couldn’t afford to have everything that needed fixing replaced, he tightened the exhausted headset, managed to force a little more life out of the knackered hydraulic brakes and only replaced the cassette and chain, which were beyond repair.

It did the job. It felt a little sketchy with the trailer and it was odd to ride a bike with road wheels after several years of riding a 29″ wheeled mountain bike, but it was a bike and it got me to and from work. In the years since I’d bought the Voodoo, the Island’s roads had been resurfaced, so my reason for giving up on the TIE Fighter had been resolved. Nevertheless, I was saving for a new bike.

Then COVID happened. Suddenly, I didn’t need to drag folders and laptops around the Island and, in fact, I thought for a while that I would be out of work, so I volunteered to redeploy and was roped into two days a week of voluntary work at a retired people’s respite centre and short-term care home in Ryde. I bought a new Voodoo – a mistake, really, but I’ll discuss that at another time – and began to use that as my everyday bike and the TIE Fighter was consigned to the shed, and to an apparently permanent place on my rolling to-do list.

In this month’s Cycle Magazine, the excellent freebie sent out to members of CyclingUK, there is an article arguing that restoring an existing bike is a far better option than buying a new one. It sounds obvious, I know, but it inspired me. In particular, the following quote got me dreaming.

Cherish the bike you own. It’s easy to be distracted by the siren call of the shiny and new. Yet the fact that there’s a new bike that’s better than your old one doesn’t make your bike any worse than it was when you bought it…Recapturing that warm glow is partly mind games…I like a bike with what Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works calls ‘beausage’ – a portmanteau of ‘beauty’ and ‘usage’, which means the former comes from the latter. In other words, a well-used bike with some scuffs and scars looks better than a pristine, unridden bike. But if you prefer a polished bike, shine that frame! Want perfect paintwork? Get a respray…The more your bike meets your ideas of how a bike should look, the more you’ll like it.

Dan Joyce, Editor, Cycle Magazine

I have never been a competent mechanic. I have tried and, more than once, got myself into a real muddle. My chin bears the scars of an accident caused by my not being meticulous enough in re-tightening a wheel after having a disheartening go at sorting out some brakes. That was a decade ago, and now, though I can beat a deraillieur into submission, given an hour or so, I still quail at the idea of bleeding hydraulic brakes. I did, in a moment of inspiration, manage to teach myself how to change brake pads, a task that costs £50 for just one brake if you pay a bike shop, so that’s a win. All my working bikes use Shimano – or Shimano rip-off – brakes now, so the pads are cheap on ebay. However, I suspect that fitting new brakes on the TIE fighter will be beyond my powers. There are some seductive videos of the process online, that try to persude you that it’s easy, but the variables in mechanical processes are what catch me out. What’s easy for Rod of MTBWhizzo’s YouTube channel (“Don’t forget to like and subscribe!!!”), who spends his days tinkering with bikes for which he doesn’t have to pay, is an anxious, fiddly, potentially ruinous mystery for me, nine times out of ten.

Fortunately, I’m in no hurry. I have the starcruiser, a heavy, pannier-rack laden wonder that I spent far too much money buying in 2020, and which is relatively maintenance-free, thanks to its internal hub gearing and carbon belt drive. It is my main bike now, for work and for shopping. The new Voodoo, though a chore for getting around, is lovely off-road, but I don’t have much time for that, so it stays in the shed, mocking me. I’m also not crazy about the slightly questionable brand name, so am thinking about getting the frame resprayed at some point, but I digress. The purpose of the TIE Fighter is to be a quick hop-on when I only need a couple of things from the shops, or when I don’t need to carry too much to work. It’s reverting to its original purpose, of being a fast, zippy runaround.

For the death of hope, watch this space.

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