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New adventures in indexing

April 16, 2015

A 1984 Suntour ARX pre-index shifting rear mech. A 7 speed Shimano SIS freewheel. An 8 speed Shimano Ultegra bar end shifter. These things are not fated for a happy menage a trois when drivetrains are concerned. And yet I have today discovered that they work. And pretty darned well.

Back in 1984 – apart from Shimano’s ill-fated Positron indexing system, SIS gears were the stuff of whimsy and friction shifting ruled.


Suntour’s patented slant parallelogram derailleurs were still the sweetest shifting mechs on the block but Shimano was making rapid progress.

The ARX was at the tipping point, designed as a response to Shimano’s 600AX futurism – and to replace the ageing yet brilliant VX range. However it was still a fine piece of kit, especially for a mid range derailleur.

I’ve wanted to have the option of indexing for a while, having ridden for a few years on a positively ascetic friction-only setup.

Furtive searching of Sheldon Brown’s site confirmed that 8 speed shifters will work across a 7 speed block because the difference in cog spacing is minimal (4.8mm for 8 speed and 5mm for 7 speed according to the mighty SB).

The question was, would my achingly lovely Suntour ARX generate the correct amount of mech movement for a given amount of shifter cable movement? This was a question that Sheldon and a host of bike forum-o-nauts couldn’t readily answer.

There was only one thing for it – to get the bike in the stand and see if it worked.

It was with much trepidation that I snugged up the 4mm Allen bolt holding the cable and tentatively spun the pedals and worked the bar end shifter. Especially as the setup currently has no barrel adjuster to finesse the cable tension.

So one can imagine my surprise and delight when the chain sprang willingly from one cog to another and back again with very little complaint.

For me this experience is potential proof of a number of things:

  1. There may indeed be a benevolent and omnipotent God
  2. I may be a mechanical genius
  3. The strict laws of product compatibility may not be all that

Here endeth the lesson. Happy shifting and amen.

Four days of cycling heaven. Where? The Netherlands of course

March 30, 2015

I had my own lane. I had my own traffic lights. Motorists gave way to me when I crossed a t junction. 

Everyone around me on the bike lane was wearing normal clothes. I didn’t see a helmeted cyclist until I got to the Omnisport Arena, Apeldoorn where I was live blogging for British Cycling and the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships. 

The event was great. Great for me and great for the team who came away with seven world titles. 

But for me it was my humble ride to and from the team hotel that will stick in the mind. 

I found myself quite emotional when I handed back my Gazelle hire bike yesterday evening. 

She had become a faithful friend over the previous few days. 7 easy gears. Brakes that worked no matter what the conditions. No danger of an oily trouser cuff. Or a stiff neck or sore wrists.  Kind of like I would expect if I was driving a car. 

But driving didn’t seem so appealing. Even in the wind and rain that lashed the Low Countries over the weekend and blew Geriant Thomas off the road at Gent Wevelgem. 

A kilometre long queue crawled impatiently out of town as I rode home one night. But there was no gridlock on the bike paths. Just steady, stately progress. 

Nobody was in a rush because nobody needed to be. Why? Because journey times on a bike are utterly predictable especially when the beefy tyres on your Dutch bike seem as impregnable to punctures as car tyres. 

My last view of Apeldoorn was the railway station with its double decker trains and double decker bike park, housing hundreds of commuters’ bikes. 

Coming back to the UK I’m going to have to readjust, recalibrate my radar and remind myself not to ride on the pavement. 

As a colleague said to me over breakfast one morning, “Cyclists here are like sacred cows in India. They are allowed to wander where they please”.

Wide, flared and handsome – I’m a little smitten with the Velo Orange Grand Cru Randonneur Handlebar

October 16, 2014

The big problem, for me, with standard drop handlebars, is setting a handlebar angle that is at the same time comfortable on the drops and behind the brake levers.

This is because in my opinion, somewhere along the way, the DNA of drop handlebar design was fundamentally altered, and because its development was driven by going fast/looking fast rather than going comfy, nobody noticed.

Racing and touring bikes back in the day had comfortable drop bars with an elegant, constant radius curve and parallel drops and tops. Then someone came along and broke it all.

But happily, of late, there’s been a resurgence in handlebars that don’t torture the wrist and demand a vice-like grip. The Nitto Noodle, championed by Rivendell is one and the Velo Orange Grand Cru Randonneur is another.

The latter I chose to buy for my sympathetically restored Raleigh Clubman, which, one day I will itemise fully on this blog.

The Grand Cru Randonneur is a handlebar in the classic constructeur style. Wide, flared and with the critically important parallel drop and top. Why is this so darned important?

Well, it allows the drop bar to be so angled that the tops are level with the ground, along with the drops and the brakes within easy reach from either position. This all results in a relaxed wrist and hand, opening up a whole new world of drop bar comfort.

It is rare that ergonomics and aesthetics go hand in hand to such a degree, but I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s a certain Georgian rightness about these bars that’s hard to dislike.

Velo Orange Grand Cru Randonneur handlebar

Velo Orange Grand Cru Randonneur handlebar in the 46 cm width, mounted on a Zenith 80mm quill stem.

Sunshine and showers

August 17, 2014

Sometimes you can hum and hah the day away, thinking “should I have a ride or shouldn’t I?”.

Today was just such a day. Blustery, dark and cloudy then bright and sunny by turns.

But I’m glad I did. 13 miles on the loop line in dappled sunshine. Bike ride scratch itched. Squirrel count: one (grey).


The longboard and short of it – SKS P45 Longboard Beige. A review.

August 1, 2014

When I acquired my Raleigh Clubman it came with an affliction common to many sports tourers of its era, namely fenders that are too narrow for the tyre.

The delightful ESGE 35mm gold fenders that came stock with the bike in 1983 wore their 31 years well but with 27 x 1 1/4 tyres beneath (i.e. 32-630) they weren’t exactly roomy.

The problem was exacerbated when I swapped the stock Raleigh tyres for a set of Panaracer Paselas, which, aside from being wonderful, are the fattest 27 x 1 1/4 hoops in all of Christendom. So portly are they that they forced a period of fender abstinence.

Now this was fine during the hot, dry spell that has shocked and stunned the UK for the past week but, as any proud Stark would say, ‘winter is coming’ so a fender solution was sought.

So to cut to be chase I ordered a set of SKS Longboard fenders in the 45mm width in ‘beige’. Now don’t be put off by that word. Antique cream would be more accurate. They look fine against the metallic claret of the Clubman’s frame and pick out the decals nicely.

But the coverage… My oh my, I went out and wilfully sought out puddles in the country park and lo, my be-sandalled feet are clean and dry.

In short this is a hearty recommendation for the longboard. And a review of sorts.

As with all proper fenders, monkish levels of patience are required in order to fit them. There’s a knack too, which I’ve developed over a decade plus of fendering bicycles.

Rivendell have a great video on how to do it on YouTube. Seek it out. Me? I’m waiting for it to start raining so I can test them out some more.

I bought mine for £23 minus 10% plus £3.95 express delivery from ProBikeKit. They came well packed, on time and with a free bottle of Lipton ice tea, which my son quickly swigged. Very civilised.




Thank you Sheldon

June 28, 2014

Everyone would like to leave a legacy. Children, a fine building, a neatly wrought song.

But Sheldon Brown has left an online legacy that bicycle mechanics the world over tap into every day.

My latest thank you Sheldon moment came a few days ago.

An old Suntour 2 prong freewheel refused to budge, 30 years of hard pedalling and corrosion had stuck it on tight. My two prong remover had sheared right off and become a totally useless one prong remover.

I thought I was looking at a new wheel, forced to say goodbye to my lovely weinmann 27 x 1 1/4 and Maillard hub.

After a minute or so of pondering the answer came with a question. “What would Sheldon have done?”

A quick google and I had the answer.

I knocked the sprocket lock ring loose with a screwdriver and hammer. Off came the bearing adjuster ring with it.

Off slid the cluster accompanied with a shower of tiny ball bearings, to reveal the pawls and freewheel body.

I found the biggest mole grips I could muster and clamped them onto the remains of the freewheel. A 3 foot bar over the end of the mole grips and some firm pressure anticlockwise and bingo, the old freewheel body spun away.

The new freewheel spun on nicely, with some grease on the threads to aid future removal. A new chain and all is slick again.

Thank you Sheldon.

The Falcon rises, reForged…

February 7, 2014

A few weeks ago I blogged about my acquisition of a nice, 1980s Falcon touring bike. A garage find, it polished up nice, needed no new parts, just TLC. So I went about the application of said TLC and got it to a reasonable level. But I knew I could take it a step further.

Late night perursal of RAL colour charts and researching local powdercoaters quickly ensued. I would transform the Falcon and it would rise, like a, erm, falcon from the ashes of it’s grey charcoal paint, to become the first bike from my new quasi-business venture/labour of love, ‘Mill and Forge’ – rejuvinating old bikes and forging them anew, like Aragorn’s sword, only a lot more useful.

So without further ado, I give you Mill and Forge #1, the Falcon Westminster.

The Falcon, after a lot of reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.

The Falcon, after a lot of reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.

This blue-green beauty started life as a charcoal grey Falcon Westminster women’s touring bike, built in the early to mid-1980s; at its heart lies a hand-built, lugged Reynolds 531 frame and a lugged cromo Tange fork.

The beautiful, slender chromed steel rack responded well to the caress of wire wool.

The beautiful, slender chromed steel rack responded well to the caress of wire wool.

When we first saw her in a garage in deepest Cheshire, we knew she had been loved and deserved a second life. The bike oozed quality – the components, the frame, though definitely old-skool, have an elegance and quality that you just don’t get any more.

Shimano's Altus LT derailleur - early eighties vintage. A sight more elegant than Shimano's current Altus offering.

Shimano’s Altus LT derailleur – early eighties vintage. A sight more elegant than Shimano’s current Altus offering.

So we brought it back to the Mill and Forge workshop and began to strip away a few decades of dust and dirt, to reveal a bike in fine mechanical fettle, apart from the paintwork, which had definitely seen better days.


The Weinmann 730 sidepulls after some attention with the metal polish. Teamed with alloy rims and new cables, stopping is up to modern expectations.

So it was off to the power-coaters for a media-blast and a nice durable coat of ‘Bianchi celeste’ – a lustrous pastel bluey-green, or greeny-blue , if you will.


Is it blue? Is it green? I dunno…

Back from the painter a few days later and the bike was lovingly put back together. Every component has been cleaned and polished for that ‘better than new’ look.


High quality and utterly elegant SR bars and stem.

We also supplied brand new Michelin World Tour tyres and tubes and new cables throughout. The headset and bottom bracket have been re-greased and all bearings have been adjusted to perfection.


Comfortable, classis Selle San Marco saddle.

The results are, as we’re sure you’ll agree, pretty special.

We offer this stunning, ‘fully-reForged’, ready to ride bike for just £170, local pickup only from Liverpool or Manchester. She’s too lovely to post, we’re afraid.

Look for a comparable new bike (e.g. the Cooper Aintree) and you’ll be parting with around £900, for a bike with none of this old girl’s charm.

Full specification

  • Frame: Reynolds 531 lugged and handbuilt in Britain – fully media blasted and powder-coated
  • Fork: Tange chromoly lugged crown with double eyelets
  • Size: 21inch (54cm) – would suit rider from 5ft 5in to 5ft 8ins approx
  • Colour: blue/green powder-coat
  • Headset: Tange threaded chrome plated.
  • Stem: SR Sakae quill type – hand polished
  • Bars: SR Sakae Road champion vintage with original bar foam
  • Brake levers: Weinmann short reach (good for smaller hands) with extension levers. Black hoods.
  • Brakes: Weinmann 730 sidepull – hand polished
  • Crankset: original SR Sakae Custom 52/42 teeth with built-in chainguard – hand polished
  • Pedals: Lyotard alloy rat-trap style
  • Bottom Bracket: Original Tange full adjustable cup and cone – rebuilt and re-greased
  • Chain – Sedis 5 speed
  • Freewheel – 5 Speed
  • Gear levers – Shimano Altus LT in polished aluminium (old skool friction shift – very low maintenance)
  • Front derailleur – Shimano Altus LT original spec
  • Rear derailleur – Shimano Altus LT original spec – polished aluminium
  • Hubs – Maillard of France, nutted axles front and rear
  • Spokes – rustless
  • Rims: Rigida polished aluminium (better braking than cheaper chrome steel rims and lighter too)
  • Tyres: Michelin World Tour 27 x 1 ¼ brand new with new tubes
  • Seat pin: Fluted aluminium
  • Saddle: Original Selle San Marco Anatomica in suede/split leather
  • Mudguards: Bluemels style chromoplastic in chrome/black with front flap and rear reflector
  • Rear rack: Chrome steel vintage ‘randonneur’ style
  • Price: £170
  • Buy now

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