Recumbent Invisibility 

Mr Knight has been nagging me.

How is John's bike coming along? come on chop chop.


I had to tell him, with some reluctance, that John's high racer sits in a few partly-welded-up pieces on the workshop floor gen'rally getting in the way and annoying me. I have lots to do on it but have made no progress on account of house painting and broken lawn mowers (under guarantee, but I'm left mowing the lawn with the hand-push-mower, which is *much* harder work after three days' heavy rain and frenetic spring growth, but at least it saved me going for my bike ride yesterday to get my hour's hot and pungent exercise) and a desperate need to completely re-organise the workshop so I can put my drawing-board somewhere that I can actually see the pencil-marks.

And then Ron popped in with a couple of bikes for me to repair for him for free. I don't mind doing it for Ron. He's a dead nice bloke is Ron, always volunteering to do stuff for everyone else for free, and he's a Green, and he's a Transition Towns Movement person, and a Community Gardens person, and he's married to Edith a Swiss lady with a fantastic head of hair, all fuzzy and standing six inches up round her head like a halo, who has given up the violin in favour of gardening but who used to practice for 6 hours a day which immediately tells me she was of professional concert standard. Blimey! I didn't know that. - I thought when Herbert said 'a violinist' she would be as bad as me. - Ron rides a Healing Commuter, a 1968 mild steel affair with 27 and a quarter inch wheels, a Shimano 3-speed hub that was out of adjustment and a chain which, on measurement, was 12.5 inches long for 24 links. He needed an entire new drive train. His front fork is bent and among all my spares I don't have one that will fit, so I'm going to have to bend it straight for him. He rides his bike everywhere and hates using his car. Herbert once told me he used to be a Catholic priest, but I don't know if that's true. He's such a nice bloke I can't imagine him molesting children. Herbert was my source of all sorts of goss, some of it even true. Herbert trained world-class cyclists and pulled everyone's leg, but checking his stories was always easier before he died.

Herbert. This is him with Karen Holliday whom he coached. It was taken 20 years ago after she had just become New Zealand's first ever cycling world champion

Last week I nearly died myself, or so I was informed by the lady who almost effected my death. I was riding home at speed and a nondescript grey BMW ("The Ultimate Driving Machine") had stopped on the wrong side of the Motueka Valley Highway and a lady stood astride the road with arms out flagging me down. We then had an Invisible Recumbent conversation.

'Do you know you are almost invisible down there? I nearly didn't see you.'

With a helmet height of 48.5 inches, I discovered that among the misfortunes of middle age is the lack of desire to be brutally rude and point out to her that I sit higher than a child cyclist, am bigger than a sheep or a labrador or a traffic cone, and that if she really has trouble seeing me then perhaps now is the time to relinquish her driving licence. But of course there was no point. She meant well. I did however discuss the matter with a member of the Diaspora living in our colony of Oregon who chanced to be online, and he replied

Yeah, the  'I can't see you cos you are too low and not glowing like a radioactive fallout victim'  does get a little irritating. Funny how drivers don't seem to have a problem seeing the lines painted on the road, at a height, of oh, about 0 inches..... Maybe we should hurry up and burn all the oil to get these people off the road?


Right, must go and mitre some tubes for the seat frame or Mr Knight will think I'm slacking.

Thursday, October 6, 2011 9:36:00 AM Categories: Bob Knight's fairing maintenance Rob English stupidity

A perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle 

 TransportNZ has decided to maintain State Highway 60, not one lane at a time but the entire section. And to everyone's surprise they have taken it away. The whole highway. For the last month a mile of road between here and Motueka has had no tarmac at all and is a sandy muddy swamp and accordingly Mr Knight, who knows about these things, has instructed me to acquire a perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle. Nobody in their right mind builds such a thing but unf. I have a crippled neck and mountain bicycles suitable for perfectly good gentlemen have the handlebars about a mile too low and make my arm all numb and tingly. (Attentive doctors of medicine will immediately diagnose C7.)
Besides I already had the makings of a perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle. I had some Marzocchi forks. These cost but little because a previous owner - a moron, if we're being straightforward - had attended to the stem with a hacksaw. (I offer up to the world Middleton's Second Law, which is this: 'Things are seldom improved with a hacksaw.') Fortunately I am a genius and promptly extended the stem with a one-inch tube which inserts tightly and when plug-welded to another stem lies perfectly straight.

A plug-welded stem extension

Moreover 'arry, who ran the bike shop in Loughborough (no-one pronounced the 'H') once gave me the back of a bent GT LTS. - This is a GT LTS which had a bend in it, not a recumbent form of a GT LTS, which clarification I make because there are all too many philistines who following a very doubtful and frankly rebellious parish in our noble British colonies - America - erroneously fancy that 'bent' is an acceptable abbreviation of 'recumbent.'  Which it is not. Bent is a word with negative connotations into which I shall not go. Recumbents on the other hand are a glorious invention of magnificent god-like creatures, viz., us lot.

And having a vast Bike Heap I have decided to weld all this together and I can assure you that this will necessitate my using the *uck word quite a lot because it always does. I will also waste most time on the tiniest little bit, and the smaller and less significant it is, the more time and the more *ucks will be spent on it. In fact I just spent two and a quarter hours attaching one of those plastic cable-guiding thingies to the bottom of the BB shell of the donor frame, because a previous owner - a moron and probably the same one - had removed the original and it wasn't a standard size and to make another one fit I had to use a hammer a screwdriver a hacksaw a punch two rivets the small end of a .223 brass rifle cartridge a 7mm spanner a 13mm spanner the hacksaw again an 8mm tap and some meths to wash the reaming tapping and cutting fluid off my best trousers in which I had rather foolishly entered the workshop. As there may well be a vicar reading this I shan't tell you how many times I said *uck but it was fewer than this morning when I found that my bloody wife had constructed one of her amusing Art Installations with all the crockery on the draining rack. We have this rule - call it My Wife's Second Law - that when she cooks I wash up, and when I cook I wash up. And should I demand my yuman rights and go On Strike of an evening she punishes me by playing that bloody Jenga game with the plates and coffee mugs and glasses and carrot-grater and lemon squeezer and anything else possessed of an outlandish and unstackable shape, and behold! at 7.55 am there on the draining board is a reproduction of Mount Everest in bone china.

Friday, April 30, 2010 10:49:11 AM Categories: brass cartridges maintenance mountain bike


Yesterday I made a huge advance in Science and they're going to give me the Nobel Prize. I have discovered the smallest particle in the universe.

Physicists have built this huge circular thing in Geneva to see if they can make a quark but in vain because, quite independently, I have discovered an even smaller particle. It is the brain of the motorist who throws beer bottles onto the cycle path across Motueka Bridge. I swept up nine with my broom. (Beer bottles, not brains.)

The best broom is made of broom and no doubt that's why it's called broom, unlike quarks. What goes through the mind of a physicist when he calls a small particle after a soft cheese?

Conveniently broom (Planta genista) grows right next to the bridge, and the way you make brooms is with secateurs, a strip of inner tube, and a manuka trunk. Manuka grows abundantly here, a small tree of very hard, very dense, strong wood, relatively straight, 1,828.8 mm to 2,438.4 mm long and up to 25.4 mm in diameter. (We Nobel prize-winners only use metric.)

What you do is steal a manuka tree, cut three stems of broom 914.4 mm long, and with the strip of inner tube lash the thick ends to the manuka stick. Behold! a broom.

A broom, yesterday

And with this broom you can remove glass from any pavement with a single dazzling swish, and if there happen to be motorists a-passing at the time you can usually spray their paintwork with a hailstorm of road grit at the same time, two birds with quite a lot of small stones. The broom improves with age as it hardens but when it wears out you unlash and replace. The manuka handle lasts forever. For sweeping it's about a thousand times better than conventional nylon-bristled yard brooms, which are hard work and don't do anything like as good a job. Don't trust me. Make one and you'll see.

Right, I must now compose my Acceptance Speech in Swedish and see if I can borrow the Large Hadron Collider to try to make curd cheese out of drunken motorists' brains.

Friday, January 22, 2010 2:02:33 AM Categories: maintenance stupidity


Broken off seat clamps

Sam is my friend although he is Scottish. The Scots are faultless (Hamish told me) but Sam does have one fault which is that every time he goes near a recumbent it breaks. No - hold - he has another fault which is that he oils his chains. - And actually he has another fault, which is that the bearded Celtic kilt-wearing bagpipe-playing Gaelic-speaking midge-slapping baaaaarstard doesn't bloody well clean the black ucky sticky horrible oil off his machines before handing them to me to fix. So I get oily fingers and oily bench-edges and oily inside-of-vans and oily bench-press-handles and no doubt other oily bits that I won't find till later when my wife draws my attention to oily shirts. Amazing what you brush a machine against when you bring it into the workshop.

I am therefore very kindly going to offer two Useful Tips as a timely present to all Scottish Persons before the New Year reduces them to the usual insensate alcoholic stupor.

1. Prior to getting someone to weld something back onto your machine, clean it. Clean oil off the frame. Clean oil off the front chainrings. Clean oil off the rear cluster. Clean oil off the underside of the handlebar and clean oil off the rear mech and the front mech and the idler wheel and the rear rack and the oily, black, disgusting back wheel-spokes. And finally clean oil off the cable housings. And if you are Scottish keep the resultant black rag and you can sell it to Canada when the Athabasca sands run out.
2. Whatever possesses you to oil your chain anyway? It only makes you feel better, not the chain. The chain is a tension member and needs lubricating only when it snakes its way round the chainrings or idler wheels. Road dust+oil is a penetrative lapping compound and helps to wear it out. Chain maintenance is done by waxing. This is not a new idea: 'tis as old as the bicycle. Remove chain; place in saucepan of wax; deep fry; remove; cool; replace. About once a month works for me and I don't even clean the chain before waxing because there never seems to be any dust to clean off because road dust doesn't stick to dry wax. (Though I graciously permit the use of oil inside a fully enclosed chaincase to which road dust doesn't have access.)
3. If you are Young and Disputatious and feel that I am a pedantic old git, which view has some merit because it does in fact happen to be the case, and you persist in besmearing your exquisite machines with inappropriate lubricants then removal of oil from hands is best effected with soap and sawdust. This isn't a new trick either; everyone did it until Swarfega advertising executives persuaded us daily to daub unknown chemicals on our hands at five o'clock and leave a ghastly black residue in the tea-room basin. Wet the fingers, rub a little soap on, and dip generously in sawdust. Make hand motions like Lady Macbeth. Rinse off and lo! the oil is stuck to the sawdust and you can go inside and play your violin with impunity.
4. If you weld a flat plate to the middle of a flimsy bit of box-section it had better be for a low-stress joint. Seat bases are not low-stress. Pedalling a recumbent produces a slight swaying motion of the pelvic girdle. Not many metals particularly enjoy constant twisting strains.
5. I can't count to two.
How the seat base is clamped

As a matter of fact when I ground all the paint off the broken bits of Sam's bike I found that it had broken before at the same place and someone had brazed the plates back on. They are now beefed up with small triangles and my big ugly blobby welds and we shall see how long it takes Sam to bust them again, and then we shall further see if he reads this blog because if he does, the sporran-swinging claymore-waving peat-burning oat-eating baaaaarstard'll then kindly return the machine to me in absolutely pristine condition and the sawdust quotient of his bathroom waste-pipe will be high but there won't be any oil on the holes of his chanter.
Monday, December 21, 2009 9:03:00 AM Categories: Chain case engineering problems maintenance


I have just been visited. By a Christian gentleman. I knew he was a gentleman because he was on a gentleman's mountain bicycle, and although I don't know for certain he was a Christian, he was ugly. He had a shrunken head as if he'd been recently mummified. Half the Christians you meet are ugly: it's why they're Christians in the first place. There were a heap of them in Nottingham when the university chaplain was the son of the Bishop of Durham and eager to assert the independence of his mind by giving fantastically thought-provoking lectures in the guise of sermons. The congregation overflowed with ugly people in dowdy dresses, along with those who were so old as to be almost dead of course. Whenever he got his father to come and preach the congregation was full of people universally in black with dog-collars on, and they all heckled at the end with polite hatred and he dealt with them swiftly and surely because before he was Bishop of Durham he was a professor of theology and knew more than all of them combined. But it made no difference. They were still half ugly.
My ugly Christian gentleman would have been better off as a museum specimen in the Pitt Rivers museum where they like to specialise in shrunken heads except their shrunken heads are all dead and he was still alive. Anyhow he didn't visit me on account of his unusual head dimensions and what he wanted wasn't to enter a museum. What he wanted was for me to do work for him. He was a businessman and - I'm guessing - ran a B&B.
'I heard about you, and was wondering if you could help. I've got some bikes I keep for my paying guests, and I need someone to do some maintenance on them.'
My heart sank when he said this because I knew what was coming next. What was coming next was that he was far too busy himself, and that the local bike shop had quoted far too much money, and that because they were only cheap bikes, maintenance should cost him next to nothing and that since I seemed a handy man with a spanner maybe I could do the work for him. For which I knew he would offer me sixpence by way of payment.
'Well I'm not quite sure - ' I started to say.
'It would be very easy work. They're only cheap ones, but there's nothing wrong with them. They just need routine servicing.'
'The cost of servicing - '
'I went to Coppins but they were way too expensive.'
Coppins is Motueka's only bike shop. They currently employ Josh who used to be the head boy at the high school. He's a good mechanic and he knows his stuff because he studies it with the extreme interest of youth. When I get stuck I go and consult Josh because he knows how to set up these new-fangled index shifting thingies so that they change gear and not so that they go clickety click all the time which is how I know how to set them up and which is why I don't use them at all.
'I think you'll find,' I said, 'that Coppins isn't expensive. On the whole people run bike shops because they love bikes, not because they're out to make a lot of money.'
'Oh what they quoted was much more than these cheap bikes are worth. They wanted a huge profit. I'd do the maintenance myself of course, but I haven't time - I'm running a business.' I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be impressed at his knowing how to maintain a bike, or impressed at his being a businessman. I said,
'Servicing a bike is very time-consuming. And it may make a difference whether or not it's a top-end bike because - '
'Oh it's not for servicing my bike. I've got a top end bike alright, but that's mine, not the ones I've got for my guests.'
'What did you pay for it?'
'Over a thousand dollars!'
It's funny how you can tell when people are trying to impress you with how much money they've spent. I thought for a moment what to say next. Last year when I enquired, a 23.5 lbs full suspension carbon mountain bike cost nine thousand dollars locally. I stepped outside: he had a perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle but I could see at a glance that a crowd of people immediately hadn't gathered round to admire it.
'And those for your paying guests?'
'Oh no, they were much cheaper.'
'Well there may be a problem. Cheap bikes are often badly set up and therefore hard to maintain, and the time spent working on them can be much greater. If you buy a very expensive bike, the shop will have set it up perfectly. They make virtually no profit on expensive bikes.'
This is a curious phenomenon about cycle shops. Cheapness and profits are inversely proportional. In the olden days when I lived in England and you could go to Halfords and buy a hundred quid mountain bike, I was told by one of their buyers it would have cost them twenty. But if you went to the local bike shop and spent a thousand quid then their profit would still be eighty quid because they knew that they couldn't break the thousand pound barrier or no-one would buy them at all.
I said,
'I'd be surprised if they made a huge profit on maintaining your bikes. Their mechanics charge a pittance compared with what you'll pay to have your car serviced. You see, I charge two hundred and eighty dollars an hour because I do experimental work and write it up for American magazines. You probably can't afford that.'
I was lying of course, and quite outrageously at that, but sometimes you have to lie when you bump into shrunken-headed Christian businessmen who aren't prepared to support other local businesses. I don't charge two hundred and eighty dollars an hour for anything at all because nothing I do is worth it. I plucked the figure out of the air. (And here's a useful tip: if you're going to lie, make the lie a really, really big one because then people will be more likely to believe you.) And I don't write for magazines any more because
a) magazines don't pay anything at all these days and
b) magazines aren't interested in 'experimental work'. (Home-made recumbents, to you and me.) They're interested in sycophantic reviews of expensive commercial stuff because that way they can collect advertising revenue, which is why if you read a detailed report in a magazine on Swarovski binoculars, you will (I guarantee it) find a glossy advertisement about Swarovski on the opposite page, and should you read the article carefully you will find not a single sentence that isn't full of praise and gush. (Not that I object to Swarovski optics. I have several. They're very good. 'Very good' is as far as I can manage in the sycophantic gush line, but even so I should be grateful if they will now send me sixpence for saying so. Thank you very much.)
So my ugly Christian gentleman got on his top-end thousand dollar (that's about ₤300) perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle and rode away a trifle disgruntled, and must now rely on the efficacy of prayer to find someone who will do the work for 0 dollars an hour. And I have to stop writing this blog entry for 0 dollars an hour because I must get on my not-top-end experimental (home-made) recumbent bicycle and go to the dentist who does charge two hundred and eighty dollars an hour, mostly to shrink my head by drilling holes in it, though probably not enough to warrant Pitt Rivers status. And who rides a $280 mountain bike. Which he bought at the Warehouse. Which I shall decline to maintain, should I be asked.


Saturday, November 21, 2009 8:57:23 AM Categories: maintenance
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