Resurrecting a Bike

We are living through varying depths of lockdown and fear of Covid, cooped up indoors, reluctant to travel, especially on public transport vehicles. We yearn for fresh air, exercise and the feel of sun on our skin. Surely, this is a brilliant time to rediscover and enjoy cycling.

According to Cycling UK, England: 42% of people aged 5+ own or have access to a bicycle = about 20 million people. Of people over 16 years of age, around 4.5 million cycle weekly or more often – 800000 cycle at least five times per week. But this still means that there are millions of bikes out there that are seldom or never ridden.

Take a look in your garage or garden shed. Yes. It’s a bike ! And maybe it’s feeling rather lonely and neglected.

If you don’t happen to have a bike hidden away, longing for your attention, there are good odds that someone in your kith and kin will have one that they don’t need, and they may be glad to see it returned to regular use. Alternatively, there’s Freegle [], or charity shops and EBay.

If you have a choice of bikes, try to find a basic, simple one that works for your regular journeys …….

Cycling is free, indeed saves you money and helps with exercise in lockdown times – better than electric scooters. Isn’t this just a perfect time to bring your lovely old bike back to life ?

Here’s how …..

Start with potentially expensive items before minor issues. Check that the bike is worth the repair cost, or choose a different bike before you waste lots of time, money and resources. If in doubt, seek qualified/experienced advice.

  • Is the frame damaged, bent, badly rusted, cracked ? If it is, a cheap bike is likely to be beyond viable repair.
  • Is the saddle in a good state, secured ? Can it be adjusted to suit your height ? It can be hard to free a badly seized seat pillar tube.
  • Check wheels for damage and corrosion. Are the spokes broken or loose ? Do the wheels spin freely on their bearings ? Are they running true or wobbling between the forks? Are the mudguards secure and clear of the tyres ?
  • Are the tyres worn out, cracked/split or punctured ?
  • The pedals and cranks should turn freely with little or no slack in the bottom frame bearing. Oil and adjust as necessary.
  • Are both of the brakes working OK, correctly adjusted and not sticking on ? Examine both brake cables very carefully for seizure, corrosion and fraying – both ends. Check that the blocks are secure, aligned with the wheel rim and not worn out.
  • Is the chain in good order, tension correct ? Are the gears working OK and cables free and not frayed ? Are the gear levers moving freely and secured ?
  • Is the bell working ? Too late to check when you suddenly find that you need it ! There is a friendly, polite, feel to a short ring of a bicycle bell to warn people of your approach.

Saddles and their adjustment

If you are planning regular rides over longer distances, attention to your bike’s saddle and its adjustment is important. To put it another way, a naff saddle, wrongly set up, can be a real pain in the bum.

Choosing a saddle is a personal preference, but the basic issues are clear. Narrower and more rigid saddles favour lightness and performance. Broader, spring-supported, softer saddles favour comfort. Well-designed saddles are often gender-specific, to suit pelvic shape – wider for women. If you are buying a new one, it is wise to shop around and seek qualified advice.

The main adjustment of saddles is the height from the pedals to the seat surface. Many more complex calculations are available, but let us keep it simple. Wear your normal riding clothes and shoes. Adjust the angle of the saddle so that the top surface is level. Sit on the bike – riding if it is easier – and place one heel on a pedal. Stretch down, pushing the pedal in line with the frame tube that the saddle pillar fits in. Your leg should be straight. If your leg is bent at the knee, the saddle is too low. If you have to lean or stretch to reach the pedal, the saddle is too high. This setting will prioritise efficient connection between the energy you expend pedalling and the power driving you along the road. It will probably feel a bit high until you are used to it, and you may find it easier to mount the bike from a kerb.

Adjustment is made by loosening the clamp holding the seat pillar into the frame and sliding the pillar up or down; it can be tight. Make sure that at least twelve centimetres of pillar engages into the frame tube, so that it holds firmly. If you cannot engage that length, you may need a longer seat pillar. Note that they are made in different diameters – get the right size and the right fittings to attach the saddle. Retighten the clamp securely.

For more detail on adjusting the position of saddles and handlebars, there is a good page on the Cycling UK national website.

Sorting out bike gears

Hub gears

Many bikes are taken out of use because three speed hub gears are not working properly. Sorting them out is often easier than people assume.
Always check the change lever is not damaged and working freely (a drop of oil helps), the cable is not seized or frayed and the hub spindle chain is not twisted or sticking. Make sure the bike drive chain tension is right; adjusting it will affect the gear setting. Then adjust the gear change chain as in this video

Derailleur gears

Make sure that the gear changers and cables are operating freely and that the chain and sprockets are not worn or damaged.
Check that the spring that holds the chain cage taut is working correctly and that the jockey wheels are turning freely, then adjust the gear mechanisms as in this video

Fixing punctures

Here is a fairly good YouTube video on how to fix a puncture.

Further suggestions, following on from the above video ….

  • Try to avoid using tyre levers if you can manage without them. Use care and patience, not force.
  • Remove tyres starting opposite the valve, refit them starting at the valve. This reduces the strain on the innertube.
  • Always check that there is no second puncture, especially if you have ridden over thorns or glass.
  • Occasionally, punctures are caused by damaged rim tape or sharp spoke ends. Check carefully if the leak is on the inside of the tube, touching the wheel rim.
  • Patches that use liquid glue stick better than self-adhesive ones. Carry a stick of chalk. Powder the fixed patch with chalk dust to stop the back of the patch sticking to the inside of the tyre and being stretched, peeled or damaged. Press the patch down firmly.
  • The tread patterns on some tyres are designed to rotate in one direction, marked by an arrow on the side. Get it right.
  • When you have rebuilt your wheel and tyre, inflate slightly, then make sure that the tyre is nicely centred on the rim and the tube is not trapped between tyre and rim, while you can still move it easily – then inflate it fully.
  • When you refit the wheel, check that it is centred in the frame and brakes.  Check the chain tension is OK and three speed hub gear change is adjusted.
  • Test ride to check all is in order.
  • Have a cuppa – you deserve it !

Here is a more detailed diagram of bike checks. You might like to print it out for reference as you work around the bike, or keep a copy on your phone.

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So you’ve sorted out your bike. Let’s think about riding it !

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.
H G Wells, Author

If you have not been riding for a while, try a few easy local rides on quiet roads before you start using your bike for regular, longer journeys. There are helpful training courses, but Covid regulations may intervene. Do not take risks – follow the rules.

Stuff for the ride …..

  • Helmet.  Buy from a reputable shop, chosen to fit you by trained staff.  Do not skimp !  Treat it carefully.
  • Warm clothing, gloves/mittens, a hat that will work with your helmet, waterproof clothing.  Several layers work best.  In cold weather, wear your outdoor kit for a few minutes indoors, before setting out to ride; get warm first.
  • Water – in a reusable container please; to avoid single-use plastics and litter.
  • Lock.  Choose a strong one and lock up to a proper bike rack if possible. A strong combination lock means you never lose or forget your key.
  • Lights/Reflective yellow jacket.
  • Summer time: Insect repellent. To a cloud of mosquitoes, a cyclist is their version of meals on wheels !
  • Toolkit.  What are you willing to fix at the roadside ?  What tools will you need ?  Take a spare inner tube; it’s often easier to patch the old one at home.
  • Pump – plus two connectors, one for Schrader valves, one for Presta/Older Woods type valves, or one plus an adapter.

Be ready to cope with occasional rain showers ……

If you make a regular journey, it’s worth remembering places on your route where you can shelter if there is a short shower.

Enjoy your new cycling freedom. Keep safe and take healthy outdoor exercise. Give a Covid era, spacially-distanced, greeting to your fellow cyclists on the road.

Love your bike !

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Useful online information

Great BBC News video (23mins): Our World “Europe’s Cycling Revolution”
How COVID-19 is changing the way we travel.

Local cycling information Local group of Cycling UK, listed below.

National organisations
Largest National cycling campaign. Membership fees support the cycling cause and include an excellent magazine, plus insurance for members third party risks and legal costs. See their website for details. National Bike Week. Loads of great stuff happening Sunday May 30th to Saturday June 5th 2021. All subject to Covid rules, naturally. Women’s Festival of Cycling – taking place from 17th July to 1st August 2021. Interesting and detailed essay on Women’s cycling. For people with disabilities.
Work to ensure that the benefits of walking and cycling are enjoyed by everyone. Custodians of the National Cycle Network, a UK-wide network of mostly traffic-free paths for everyone, connecting cities, towns and countryside.
UK online Vintage Bicycle Museum – great collection, take a look.

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