My wife is this thing: a horrible barstard; and she is a horrible barstard because she just told me off for opening the cheese in the wrong way. How many ways can you open cheese? - No. You're wrong. There is only one way to open cheese and it is my wife's way and therefore my cheese-opening skills are faulty and require training.

We have just been for a ride to Ngatimoti where we had a long chat with a roadie whose wife fancies a tandem, and we like our tandem hugely because although she is a horrible barstard is my wife, it's fun whizzing along in a Bolt Upright position at the sorts of speed I used to manage on Herbert's bike. - Herbert gave me his old racing bike a few years ago, and it is a fine racing bike because Walter Haenni gave it to him after Walter Haenni won the Austrian road championship on it. Herbert was Herbert Franz and he was Walter's coach, and he was also Karen Holliday's coach when she became New Zealand's first cycling world champion. I expect you can Google all this if it excites you, but I don't suppose it will and anyway I only include it because I like name-dropping. It is my vice. Along with incorrect cheese opening.

It was a lovely sunny morning and we got to Ngatimoti and waved at an oncoming cyclist and stopped because it was Celia, and while my wife and Celia wagged their jaws at one another I fixed Celia's front brake which she had disconnected 'because it rubbed'. I shall not give my views on Celia's bicycle maintenance other perhaps than to say cheese opening is uncontroversial by comparison.

While we were variously wagging jaws & repairing Celia's brake two tandemists came hurtling past in a racing crouch. Well, four tandemists, in four racing crouches on two - anyway you know what I mean. And then a third tandem, and soon we discovered we were in the middle of Tandem Rush-hour. One after another came past, occasionally two or three together, occasionally shouting 'Hi Richard' which left me wondering who they all were. So we left Celia and headed back to Motueka and half an hour later found that Mike Gane, who is a famous cycling event organiser, had for our convenience organised an entire tandem race, and we joined him at the finish line and commanded him to build us some tandem wheels because mine, as everyone had assured me they would, are going all agly. Spoke tension is astray, rims are beginning to nudge brake blocks, and since I know for a fact that Mike Gane has a tandem triplet - actually it might be a tandem fourtlet so I don't know it for a fact at all - and a bike shop in Stoke, I was happy to take his advice which is that 40 spokes on a 559 wheel will be fine for a tandem.

Back in town a boring old bloke with shaggy black hair whom, unfortunately, I happen to know came over and started telling me how I should have braced the frame of my tandem. From past conversations I have established that he has made this many tandem frames:
and he has this much experience of making recumbent-or-trike-or-any-other-cycle frames:
and the advice that he gave me today was misremembered from something that I had observed to him a while ago and what he told me was this:
and I started to wonder what it is about me that turns me into an Advice Victim. Wherever I go I find myself on the receiving end of large amounts of advice about what I have already done from people who have never done it themselves.

Since the children, who are up on bullying, have told me this is against my Yuman Rights, I shall now take a leaf out of their book and start to dish out advice in a similar manner.

I shall start by advising a former cabinet minister not to read his text messages while he's driving his car. I have never myself done this on account of not having a mobile phone, but on an occasion when I was passenger in a motorcar driven by a cabinet minister, he did read his text messages and turned me into a Very Frightened Passenger. I have chosen this advice carefully because it's about to become illegal anyway, and ex-cabinet ministers always obey the law.
(Well, some of them do. Some exercise their constructive spin skills on their having deliberately run over and killed a cyclist )(I wish I could read Dutch. It would be interesting, given their attitudes towards cycling, to see what the Netherlands media make of the story.)

I'd quite like to advise our present cabinet ministers that $25 a tonne (about ten quid, the current NZ proposal) as a cap-and-trade price for carbon dioxide is not going to make folk more thoughtful about cars since it'll only cost each of us a hundred quid a year. But, when he's set his heart on it, advising a cabinet minister not to do something completely pointless is like advising a teenager not to smash his bourbon-and-coke bottle on the BMX track.
Hmm. Maybe I'm a wuss. Maybe I need to be more assertive. Maybe I need to get in training. Maybe I'll go and advise my wife how to open cheese.
Sunday, September 20, 2009 6:33:51 AM Categories: New Zealand tandem


I have been showing off my tandem, as one does, to all who come my way, among whom was Biffer. For reasons that may become apparent Biffer may not wish to be identified. Biffer admired my tandem in a perfunctory way because he is actually not in the slightest bit interested in tandems or indeed anything else with pedals attached - and then - I can't remember how - got onto the subject of the local council, of whom he had recently made enquiries regarding his replacement shower. Biffer had been into the Council offices.
'Do I need a building permit for replacing my shower?'
'Okay. How much?'
'WHAT! For replacing an existing shower?!'
'Can you tell me what I'm getting for that?'
'We have to accept and inspect the correct documentation.'
'Which is?'
The Council officer gave him a long list, concluding with an Original Certificate of Title for the Home.
'What d'you need that for?'
'To prove that you own the house.'
'Hang on. Last week I paid you $700 Rates. You didn't need me to prove that I owned the house then. What's happened in the last seven days? You forgot or something?'
'And another thing. Look at me. Do I look like the sort of bloke who goes about surreptitiously breaking into people's houses and installing a shower when they're not there?'
'And now I expect you want me to provide an architect's drawings of the shower.'
'We will need to see plans.'
'What for? What are you worried about? I'm just replacing a shower!'
'We need to see plans for the drainage pan, to check it doesn't leak.'
'So what will that be? A square with a little circle in the middle of it?'
'Well, yes, that would do.'
'Tell you what. Gimme a bit of paper and a pencil and I'll draw it now for you.'
Needless to say Biffer went away with a pocket full of documents none of which will ever be returned, and should the council officers busy themselves poking into his basement, he will assure them that you can do wonders in making an old shower look like new with a little floor soap. A similar problem arose a while ago when the council took it into their heads to charge a $400 Resource Consent for a solar panel, which a number of people declined to pay, taking their chances on the local council's ability to withdraw access to the sunshine.
Meantime I swept up another smashed beer bottle today, because although the council officers assure me that all I need do is submit the appropriate form to draw the roading engineers' attention to the matter, I'm the one that fixes punctures in this household.
Thursday, September 17, 2009 11:03:13 AM Categories: New Zealand stupidity


A sedate tandem, yesterday

My tandem is now finished and I have ridden it and that is all you ever do with a tandem. Ride it once and hang it up to dry.

Since Bob Knight has a tandem and someone I happen to know was going to a medical course near Rangiora at the weekend, I hitched a ride and took with me various items of mutual interest - a Peugeot frame with no visible means of fixing a seat post in it, a micro steam turbine car, some handlebars with an OD of 24mm - that sort of thing. Why does a reputable handlebar manufacturer suddenly take to churning out 24mm handlebars? Ever tried getting a brake lever onto a 24mm tube? Maybe the designer was having an off day.
'Excuse me sir, but Mr Smith has telephoned to say he has a cold and can't come to work today.'
'What does Mr Smith do?'
'He designs the outside diameter of our handlebars.'
'Right. Okay. Um. Yes. Er. We mustn't panic. - Tell you what - telephone the Breville Kettle Company and see if they can design the outside diameter until Mr Smith gets better.'

The person who happened to be visiting the Knights went tootling off to Amberley to study what to do when someone falls off the roof of a car while mooning and this left me at liberty. Mrs Bob Knight had a prior engagement with her girlie friends and their birthdays and this left Mr Knight at liberty.
Mr Knight knew of three adjacent shops in Christchurch which he felt could be of interest. Mr Knight's views and mine are at variance in a number of matters - his bicycles have to be perfect concours specimens whereas I'm content if the chain doesn't fall off - but we are as one in the matter of shopping. So we abandoned Mrs Knight in a small dinghy with a compass and a map of the Pacific and headed for Pak'n'Save, an emporium where, should you desire genetically modified peanuts, you can probably get a couple of tons for sixpence. Pak'n'Save is a vast hideous yellow box supermarket-like thingy next to the bike shop but we were under no need of the facilities other than gracing their forecourt with Bob's car. I shall not discuss Pak'n'Save any further lest I receive a Cease and Desist letter from their lawyers, and I shall not mention that New Zealand also has a vast hideous red box store called The Warehouse where, as the schoolchildren sing to the tune of their advert, 'everything's open and broken'. Don't want The Warehouse's lawyers sending me a Cease and Desist letter either. (I have been reading a book called Tescopoly by Andrew Simms.)(And another book called The Walmart Effect by Charles Fishman.) The Warehouse is New Zealand's largest retailer, and if you buy a heater there you keep the receipt because it will, actually, break as the guarantee runs out and they won't have any truck whatsoever with you when it does. This happened to us. Unluckily for The Warehouse it was two weeks before the guarantee was up, and unluckilyer for them, I managed to find the receipt. It broke again a month later though. We never go near The Warehouse now and I strongly recommend you don't either. The workers there hate it. I've actually seen one playing football with the goods he was supposed to be stacking, kicking them to his mate up a ladder.

The bike shop was magnificent but it was cheaper to buy new handlebars than to buy special brake levers. 24mm. Huh! The model shop next door was superb too and had the brass tubing that one requires if one is the father of a fourteen-year-old bent on steam engine manufacture, but the tool shop next to that switched off its lights because it was 12.30 and the assistants wanted to spend Saturday afternoon pulling one another's trousers down. (I understand this is the aim of the game of rugby football.) But I managed to get five Eclipse hacksaw blades for ten dollars, which is four quid in civilized money. - Well it is at the moment, though I gather what Gordon's done means it isn't likely to be civilized money for too much longer.

An-y-way, in the afternoon - which is what we were building up to - we got the Knight tandem down from its hook. Mr & Mrs Knight possess an Ibis made in California and my legs-and-arms approximate to the lengths of Mrs Knight's legs-and-arms so I could sit on the back and enjoy myself.
A 22 mph tandem which I did not build

I haven't ridden tandems before but now I've built one I needed to find out how they're supposed to go. One has to have total trust in the chap up front, and sit clipped in while he stands at junctions, and one has to pedal like absolute stink when setting off because the pilot is busy trying to balance and steer and locate his cleat, and this pedalling is done from a standstill at the command of the pilot, and one has to stop pedalling on command too, and one has to refrain from steering. All of these things don't come naturally. However my bad neck which has prevented me riding drop handlebars for a while was now no obstacle because I didn't have to see where I was going but could peer straight down throughout the ride and admire the chainset, and because I do not wish to offend Mr Knight on a public forum such as this web log, I shall not disclose that his left rear crank had fourteen specks of road dust on it.

Approx halfway along the ride someone shot an airgun at my helmet. I heard the pellet whizz past in the air. I said the usual word, then:
' - what the (usual word) was that?'
And then I received a direct hit on my helmet. I said the usual word again, and nearly bringing the tandem down, twisted round to see who was shooting at me. A large bird was flying away with a vicious grin on its beak.
'Hah!' said Mr Knight, delighted. 'Magpie attack!'

It seems that the Australian magpie, which is a handsome crow with a white back and the most magical musical song, has for the two nesting months of September and October a habit of attacking cyclists' heads from behind. These aerial attacks are so startling - I now vouch for it - that people have fallen off, and indeed one wealthy cyclist paid for hunters to shoot every magpie they could find in a certain mountain pass where he fell off and broke his bones.

On the Sunday we did another ride sans magpies managing 22 miles in one hour which is as good as I can manage on a closed oval racetrack on a racing recumbent. I was reminded of the first BHPV event I ever went to which was in, oh, about 1986, where the Crane cousins thrashed everyone including the Vectors, riding a caged tandem.

A 44 mph tandem, 1986. Dick and Nick Crane, Milton Keynes. The shoulder in the yellow jersey attached to the chap who doesn't know which way to arrange his hat is that of one Richard Ballantine Esq.

Home, and I took my recumbent on my daily ride, and slowing on the cyclepath to spy out all its broken beer bottles (I swept up four) I was overtaken by a roadie who cleared first his left nostril in front of me and then his right, which I considered really quite impolite because the spray went all over my face.

So I paid for hunters to shoot him.

However they have to get the right roadie.
Because I had to send a note through to the Police asking them to contact a local truck driver and ask him if he'd very kindly stop driving deliberately close to me, and the Police replied and said three of their officers have had the same problem with the same truck driver. You see, half the local roadies are also Police officers, a fact which isn't as widely known as you might have thought, though when one particular pair of exuberant youths repeatedly carved up a training peloton, they found out on the Monday morning when a uniformed senior officer pulled up outside their house and discovered a bag of cannabis in the offending car.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 11:45:34 AM Categories: New Zealand stupidity tandem

Stupidity Quotient 

There is this New Thing, and I have Invented It.
It is called the Stupidity Quotient. It is a bit like the Intelligence Quotient, only the opposite. I have an abundantly high one. Mine's about 174. I examined all the bits and pieces and decided that I would need a super-narrow chain and rushed pell-mell to see Josh, who was out. Josh is a boy of 19 and he tells me stuff I don't know about MTBs, which subject he studies diligently. He works in the bike shop, except when he doesn't, and then I prove my high SQ to myself by spending money on things I don't understand. I got them home and was baffled by these new-fangled pin thingies. Therefore I emailed Mr Knight:
My tandem has some cranks and nearly some chains and I got two cheapy seats and I am getting exciteder than my wife is getting. I got two 10-speed narrow chains but they look like as if it will be impossible to split them once joined. Any experience in this matter? - R
Mr Knight emailed back:
Are they new chains? And Shimano ones with the push in pins? If so, you can break them again but you must use a new pin every time you rejoin them; the pins are dead cheap and easily available. However, I do not like the Shimano system and steer clear of them for this reason. I use SRAM chains because they come with a neat little joining do hicky which can be opened repeatedly. - Bob
Having a high Stupidity Qotient I had got on with the job without knowing what I was doing, and therefore was in the embarrassing posish. of having to email back:
The chains have been abandoned. Stuck back in their boxes. Yes, they have little pins, but I am a marvellous angel with chains, removing them and waxing them monthly, and having to buy new pins is against the waxing religion. Each cost me $32 and they will now be stored for when the world collapses, which it definitely won't do because the New Zealand Treasury have forecast a modest recovery. I used three chains from bikes obtained from the dump. I measure all chains coming from the dump, and every now and then one measures exactly 12 inches for a foots-worth of chain and I clean and wax it for making tandems. I had three. And I was much pleased to find they fitted past the crank on the synch side. - R
As a matter of fact I am not the only one with a high SQ: whoever designed a handlebar clamp for a BMX and made the inner bit 7/8 of an inch instead of the otherwise standard one-inch has a high SQ, though I am yet more stupid for not having examined it beforehand to see if this was going to be the case. One should never underestimate the stupidity quotient of any person charged with designing bicycle components. If they can dream up a slightly incompatible part, then I assure you they will. The other day came a phone call from a friend whose son had broken spokes in his back wheel and could he come round to remove the cluster. Which he did. Without the wheel. Which he had forgotten. Which was a nuisance.
'Tell you what, lend me your tool and I'll go and fix it at home.'
I now have a firm policy, friend or not. No tool gets lent by me to any other creature, human or inhuman, friend or foe, Rotarian or interesting person. There is a reason for this, and since every single reader of this blog is utterly certain to know what the reason is, we needn't discuss it further. He went away, and returned with wheel and son, son being under an injunction to watch & learn from proceedings or he (father) would not help with the repair. I examined the wheel. It had the one cluster for which I have no removing tool.
'Can't help you,' I said, fingering my Suntour tool which would nearly fit and which, unattended, he would probably have coaxed into place with a hammer. - It was a millimetre too tight. - And the son's wheel was an old piece of - er - was worth a good deal less than a Suntour block remover.
'Can't help you unless I weld the block solid, and then you won't be able to use it again.'
'He needs it for school tomorrow. I'll just phone home and see if I've got a spare block.'
He had, so I welded it and took it off with a chain whip, and then, because he had wandered off inside discussing the local hospital with my wife, I started to sort through the spokes he had brought. There were 36 of the right length, neatly labelled '700c 36 3-cross small flange' inexplicably in my handwriting on a card attached to them with a rubber band, and there were 16 assorted other spokes of which half had no thread and the remainder were the wrong length. I fitted four spokes, reducing the bundle of 700c spokes to 32. While I was tightening them, the father wandered back.
'I'll do that, if you like,' he very kindly offered.
And then he collected his son, who had been watching from a different room several doors away, and my Stupidity Quotient is so high that when he said the words 'thank' and 'you', they sounded to me exactly like 'Well we'll be off then'.
Monday, September 7, 2009 10:29:53 AM Categories: stupidity

Tandem welding 

I have braced my tandem. I have looked at every single photo of every tandem I can find, and tried to get my feeble brain to imagine what the stresses might be, and have examined my wife's Raleigh Lady Clubman, and have concluded that a mixte frame has so much going for it that it's worth a try. I have also heard by e from Mr Knight of Rangiora, a tandemist until he had children when his tandem was retired. I expect when his children grow a little more and leave home he will get his tandem down and shortly afterwards Mrs Knight will divorce him. Anyway here follow his remarks:
Now then young man, I've just perused your tandem piccies and I am mighty impressed by how straight and aligned the top tubes and seat tubes are. This is most unlike you. Did you have help? I hope that you intend to brace that big open hole where the direct lateral tube isn't. The Direct Lateral Design is the best tandem design; you know this is true because my tandem is one and everything bike that I own is the best. Also I strongly recommend keeping the drive all on the right hand side if possible, otherwise you need to venture into tandem chainsets which may look like normal chainsets except that of the four cranks, three are reverse pedal threaded to normal. Both fronts and the left rear. Tandem chainsets are expensive. However a triple or quad rear chainset and a sync chain on the right will work well. Sacrifice high gears for low ones. You need low gears, lots of them. You will be slower on a tandem, best get this out in the open at the start. Lots of people buy a tandem and think they will be really fast, twice the output, same frontal area and all that. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that, tandems tend to average your separate speeds. If you are faster than Heidi, then she will go a bit quicker than normal and you will go slower than normal. Uphill you will be slower, much slower. Downhill you will be much much faster. And on the flat you will be about the same or maybe a bit quicker. I have lots of tips for riding tandems; we will discuss them shortly at great length. After you have examined my Campagnolo toolkit.

I have just read this to my wife, who immediately has just said ' Oh *uck, that's no good. I thought we'd have an easy life. You'd better get in training then.' (She says *uck quite often, as a matter of fact, but I never tell anyone because several of the people we know are Rotarians.)
Anyway Mr Knight is almost unkind in implying criticism of my brilliant welding and alignment and whatnot, and the only reason he isn't entirely unkind is because it is a factual remark. My welding is crap and so is my alignment, usually. And no I didn't get any help and the way it came out right was this: Pure Luck. The jig to weld was two bits of angle iron clamped very hard to the BB shells, the frames held together with a length of rubber inner tube. And my experience has always been that this is as inadequate as any other method I've ever dreamt up, and I fully expected to have to bend the thing afterwards - erm - that is to say, Cold Set it -and was astonished that this hasn't been necessary.
Note, however, that I do not afford this Blog the courtesy of close-ups of the welds. "Hmm, MIG welds aren't very pretty, are they,' is what Mr English observed once when he had spent too long examining one of my machines.
So now I have got out all my old chainrings and spiders and bless my soul, my head aches with trying to find two that will synch in such a manner as to please Mr Knight and earn his respect and regard and ravioli. (No, ravioli isn't the word I wanted. I suddenly felt in a thingy mood, where you try to use the same letter - wosscalled - alliterative.)

Friday, September 4, 2009 10:51:45 AM Categories: tandem

Career advice 

I have just read the following comment on the Internette:
I make my living as a consultant applying semantic technology to knowledge intensive enterprises to unlock and analyze dynamic data to transform into actionable information for better decision-making and to make knowledge workers more productive and organizations more profitable.
Fantastic. Just fantastic. I want to meet his school career advisor.
Meantime, anyone tell me where I left the Vernier? Can't find it. Put it down and now it's looooorrrrst.


Thursday, September 3, 2009 11:03:54 AM Categories: engineering problems


I think my wife wants a divorce. She has given me permission to build a tandem. - Actually she didn't give me per.. - I just got some mountain bikes and got on with it.

The way you make a tandem is this. First you re-read Martin van den Nieuwelaar's article in the Feb 2008 newsletter of KiwiHPV, and then you re-read Sheldon Brown, and then you re-read John Allen and then you head for the dump at Mariri.

With a name like Martin van den Nieuwelaar you are required to live in Christchurch which is reassuringly flat. You're 1.8 metres tall, and the person who's (probably) thinking about divorce is a 1.6 metres tall fully trained German violin maker which I still find difficult to believe. What are the chances of finding a fully trained female German violin-maker in a country with a population the size of Birmingham? - As a matter of fact I bought an old Stradivarius in a junk shop here, signed with the date - 1776 - written in by hand, a trifle baffling since any reputable forger would know Stradivarius died in 1737. - What's odd is it does have a nice tone. - What's odder is it's a 15/16 size, so if anyone's a particularly small violinist in need of - anyway, this isn't getting us very far.

Martin told us his and Hanna's heights in his article about making a tandem, it being relevant, but my wife nicks all my bikes so I knew I would be able to get away with two frames about the same size. And luckily enough the dump had just been freshly filled. The Police had evidently run out of room in their garden shed. Some of the thirty bikes still had Found Property Label, Police, For Use With Form 263 tied to the handlebar, which label has (economically) printed on the obverse Exhibit and Miscellaneous Property Label (for use with Pol. 268). Next time I get prosecuted for something juicy and the Exhibit is presented to the Jury I shall cunningly turn the label over and say I found it. Whatever it is. Gun, bike, lead piping. - Matter of fact Colonel Mus- well, John actually - found a large adjustable spanner on a bike ride a month or so back, and recognising the ute off which it had freshly fallen, hied him along to the relevant farmer who didn't even thank him. $45 the spanner was worth. (I'll advise him to use it in the kitchen. Farmhouses in New Zealand don't have a billiard room.)

A perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle

Most of making a tandem comprises worry. You worry about meaty front forks. You worry about cutting the wrong bits of rear stay off. You worry about whether 36 spoke MTB wheels will be up to it, and you worry about the geometry going wrong because you've cut a bit of tubing either too long and you can't be bothered to file it exactly to size or that you've cut it too short and the finished thing will look like a hog.

Most of my time is spent saving fivepence by splicing bits of tube together. I do this because whenever I see a sawn-up bike frame I think about how long it would take me to mine the ore, smelt it, and come up with a perfect piece of tubing. Making tubing by hand is astonishingly laborious. When the first gas pipes were laid in England, gunmakers were the only people who knew how to turn a lump of iron into an air-tight pipe (clue: Damascus barrels), and it is reported that the first gas-pipe was musket-barrels welded end to end. When once you know a thing like this you can't ever bring yourself to cut into a 20 foot length that you keep for just such purposes.
Oval tube prior to splicing.

Preparing the donor frames mostly comprises removing bottom brackets. I advance the Middleton Theory, which is that there is a mischievous elf who goes around with a spanner tightening pedals, stripping the thread in cranks and hammer-forging the right-hand cup into the BB shell and when he's done with all that, he pours dilute zinc chloride into handlebar stems. Come to think of it, John found his spanner. Hah! Where's the Araldite? Two can play at this game. He'll be amazed at how irritating it is to find a washer epoxied all the way into the lock of his ute.

Two perfectly good gentlemen's mountain bicycles, shortly after coming into my care.

(I have retired from politics, by the way. I learnt yesterday that 'not being in Parliament is not a handicap at all' which tells the British HPV membership all they need to know about Winston Peters the last foreign minister who - ahem - lost his seat, along with those of his entire political party, at the last general election. - New Zealanders do not need to be told about Winston Peters. They already know.)
Wednesday, September 2, 2009 10:04:30 AM Categories: tandem
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