Cycling

Bike Cameras for my Brompton

For some time now I’ve been thinking about putting a camera or cameras on my bike for my commute. While there was no single thing that tipped me over the edge, and I’ve been lucky to only have some rare incidents with other traffic, the ease with which you can fit cameras to bikes meant that I needed to bite the bullet. On camera footage definitely helps with prosecutions of bad behaviour – especially driving.

I wanted to do it cheaply and I already owned an inexpensive GoPro Hero camera. These retailed for less than £100 or so a couple of years ago (that’s cheap for a GoPro). These models aren’t available any more, but they shoot 1080 at 25 frames a second which is fine in this instance. I know that today, there are a wide range of cheaper action-cams available online and on the high street. I suspect that some of these may supercede a three-year-old base level GoPro, but the footage is of high enough quality for my needs, and I already had the camera.

I attached it to my saddle using an adapter that fits to the rails at the back of the saddle (although see below for a better value package). This mounts the camera upside down, and as long as you make the change in the settings, it records video in the correct ratio. Mounting it under the saddle hides, to some extent, the size of the camera.

For the front camera, I chose a GoPro Hero Session which is just under £150 and is the cheaper of the two Session cameras currently available (Note that GoPro will probably update their range soon with a rumoured Hero6 being launched at the top end). There’s a Hero5 model that costs another £100 and adds things like voice control and automatic upload to the cloud. The more expensive model is 4K, whereas the model I bought maxes out at 1440p (2.7K). GoPro says that stabilisation comes with the more expensive model, but there is definitely some stabilisation in this cheaper one – at least when you record in 1080p. You can see an example of that in the video of above at around 7:30, when I go over some cobbles. You can see my bag bouncing around on the cobbles while the camera’s view is relatively stable (the bag was a bit overstuffed, but is attached firmly to the bike). The image remains stable as I believe there’s some electronic stabilisation going on – probably throwing away some of the extra pixels from the wider 1440 image.

The cheaper Session is still waterproof without a housing to 10m, and has Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, although I tend to leave these off to maximise battery life.

Other cameras I considered were the Cycliq Fly6[v] and Fly12. These are cameras specifically designed for bikes, and are built into LED lights. While the rear Fly6[v] was reasonably priced at a little under £100, and includes a very decent looking light, I already have plenty of rear lights. I currently use the Blaze Burner which I backed via Kickstarter. The problem with the front light is that it’s over £200, and is massive. Mounting it on a Brompton would not be easy as you want something that doesn’t stick out when you fold the bike. So it was a non-starter.

Contour cameras are popular with some cyclists and include functionality like over-writing older files that you don’t want to keep. But the camera quality isn’t that great, and there don’t seem to have been any updates in a while. The GoPro Session does have some reasonable low-light imagery for rides in the evening.

To mount the Session to my bike I bought a set of adapters which was good value on Amazon. I was specifically after a minimalist mount that would let me hang the Session below my Brompton’s handlebars. This set came with two options, and I used the smaller one, meaning that the camera doesn’t get in the way when the bike is folded. The camera casing is firmly afixed to both the bars and the GoPro which means removing it all requires a hex key. However the Session itself can easily be popped out via a quick release. The mount set also included another adapter for saddle rails.

Both cameras can be set to use single-button quickstarts – indeed the Session only has one proper button, with a second tiny one set out of the way. So a single press of a button on each camera both turns them on and starts a recording.

The sample video above gives you an idea of what the cameras are capable of, although I know that I could do a bit better with the Session’s output, especially with Protune which allows a “Native” output for finer colour correction in post processing. The regular Hero has no such options with the video quality.

Overall I’m pretty satisfied with my solution. A series of beeps let me know that I’ve switched the cameras on (and off), and I’ve left the LEDs on for confirmation that all is working. The set-up is fully waterproof – the cheaper Hero doesn’t actually come out of its case – and the battery life is sufficient for my needs. I’d say that it’s roughly 2 hours for each camera. Importantly, both cameras fit onto a Brompton very comfortably, and don’t shout “camera” too much.

No sooner had I written most of this entry than I was on my daily commute and the following incident happened. It all happened slowly, and I was unlikely to get hurt as I had plenty of time to brake, but the car driver simply didn’t look to see if there were any cyclists coming as he crossed the junction where I had right of way. Note that while the rear facing camera wouldn’t seem to be much help in this instance, it does allow me to clearly read the driver’s number plate.

RideLondon Classique 2017

A few weeks ago, it was the annual RideLondon. This year I didn’t get a space in the main RideLondon 100, but I still popped down to watch the RideLondon Classique race around a central London course. Unfortunately it was a miserable day, with fairly unrelenting rain.

I meant to arrive a little earlier than I did, but by the time I got to the bottom of Piccadilly where the teams were warming up and had parked up their various buses and vans, they were mostly all heading to the start line.

I positioned myself near the top of Whitehall where the cyclist came past twice a lap, once heading out onto The Strand, and once again when they returned around Trafalgar Square, through Admiralty Arch and into The Mall.

The rain meant that nobody wanted to let a breakaway go, and the race was tight all the way through. That also meant that any riders who dropped off the back would stay dropped for the remainder of the race. You felt very sorry when you saw the same riders, lap after lap, doing their own wet-weather time-trials.

RideLondon pays equally for both men’s race and the women’s race, and as a consequence offers more prize money than any other race in the Women’s World Tour calendar. For that reason alone, the teams take it seriously, even though I suspect many would rather race something more akin to the men’s route out in the Surrey Hills and back.

I suspect that the organisers don’t think that they could fit it another ride along that route when they already run both the RideLondon 100 and RideLondon 46 along those roads, making sure that they’re clear for the professional men who set off some 5-6 hours after them. There’s also the issue of TV coverage of both men and women. As things stand the Women get live TV on Saturday evening, while the men get coverage on Sunday afternoon.

Back to the race, and Sunweb took it very seriously. They always had riders at the front of the race, and were looking for intermediate sprint results too. At one stage I found myself standing next to team director or helper who had a radio, and was busily instructing his riders from his viewpoint where I was near the top of both Whitehall and The Mall.

In due course the race was won by Coryn Rivera in a closely fought sprint finish. Cevelo’s Lotta Lepistö came second while Canyon-SRAM’s Lisa Brennauer was third. Just behind them was Marianne Vos who had been reasonably anonymous in the race. I’d not seen her since I’d seen a couple of spectators grab a selfie near the start (I kicked myself I didn’t do the same).

A shame about the weather which I think neutralised the race too much. While a criterium like this affords plenty of views to see the riders, there’s a limited amount they can do to get a break.

Plenty more photos over on my Flickr page.

oBikes – Initial Thoughts

oBike 1

On Saturday night, I was returning to my north London home when I noticed something I’d not seen before – a new type of hire bike.

Now us Londoners have become used to “Boris Bikes” – or Santander Cycles as they’re officially known. This is a scheme that I’ve been using fairly consistently since its start, using the bikes to traverse central London if I don’t have my own bike with me. London has a network of docking stations, and you can take a bike from one station and lock it up somewhere else. The scheme works well, and is certainly useful for commuting. If you arrive in London at a mainline railway station, you may complete your journey on a bike. Or if you live in Zone 1 or 2 – the central area of London where most of the docks are to be found – you might carry out all your commute on a bike. They’re popular with tourists too – especially in some of the larger parks like Hyde Park.

But there are some significant flaws, or at least shortcomings.

You can only really use the bikes within the area that has had docks built. This is largely Zone 1 and 2 in the middle of London. And while the bikes extend a fair way east to Docklands, they don’t extend that far in other directions. They don’t even extend as far as the inner gyratory road system, let alone straying into the outer boroughs.

You have to return the bike to a docking station, and they can often be full in popular locations. While a mobile app can help you a little with that, the flow of bikes is such that a team of vans has to move bikes around to prevent key spots being filled all the time. The bikes are also fairly heavy, but they come with three gears, so while you won’t be racing too much on them, you can get pretty much anywhere.

But back to the oBikes. I asked the proprietor of the shop I was in on Saturday evening, how long the bike had been there. He said that it was the council that had put the bikes out (this is very much not true), and that the where many along the entire street. When I left the shop, I saw that on a closer inspection, there were several more along the length of the road.

Well, always keen to give a new bike scheme a go, I pulled my phone out, downloaded the requisite app, registered my card details, and tried to release a bike. The app seemed comprehensive, if a tiny bit confusing at times. There was some kind of deal on giving free hires, but it really wasn’t clear from the app because you could click through to get the details. I paid a £29 deposit and then got a free hire. It seems that in fact, hiring remains free for the remainder of July, but I only learnt this later on the website.

While the bikes aren’t locked to any physical infrastructure, their rear hub is locked in place until it’s released wirelessly. Using the app, you can locate the rough whereabouts of a free bike, although in practice I found that the GPS coordinates could be up to 100m out. You then scan your phone on a QR code on the stem of the bike and a few seconds later – mobile data permitting – the lock on the hub is released. A trigger physically pinging up.

The mobile app warns you to wear a helmet, and ensure that the rear light is switched on. But in fact, the lights seem to come automatically, powered by a dynamo system when the bike is moved. While Boris Bikes’ lights work on a similar basis, they seem to store more residual power meaning that lights start immediately when you move. Even with the low demands of LED lighting, these lights seem more ineffective, especially when you set off.

What about the bikes themselves?

Well, they’re awful.

oBike 3

oBike 4

On the plus side, they’re much lighter than Boris Bikes, and they have a proper basket on the front rather than the often irritating affair that Boris Bikes have, that require a bungee cord to hold bags in place. But beyond that, I have no good things to say about the actual bikes.

They’re clearly cheaply made. There’s a single gear, and somehow it doesn’t seem suitable for anything other than a really slow potter around. It feels incredibly spongy too – something that a fixed gear bike really shouldn’t feel.

The seat post goes from low, to not-quite-as-low. Now I realise that at 6 foot 2 inches, I’m not the shortest person. But for me, this was like riding a BMX. My knees were nearly at the handlebars, and it was generally incredibly inefficient for me to cycle on. Indeed anyone much over 5 foot 10 may struggle with these bikes.

There’s a feeble bell rung by a twist-grip affair. Nobody is going to hear it. At least the hub brakes did seem to work well. The bikes have mudguards of sorts, but they’ve tried to remove as much surplus plastic as possible meaning that there’s very little real protection. I wouldn’t want to ride one of these in the wet without completely covering myself with muck.

Overall the bike felt like one those awful super-cheap supermarket bikes that I’d never recommend anyone ride, no matter how little money they had to spend. And at least those bikes have some gears.

Now I live at the top of a hill. It’s not a steep hill, and nor is it a long hill. In fact it’s 900m at an average gradient of 4%. While you feel that in your legs, it’s not going to stop the average cyclist comfortably riding up it. I can do this on my Brompton with extra shopping bags hanging off my handlebars.

But using the oBike I struggled. I mean I really struggled. The single gear was neither fish nor foul, and the uncomfortable riding position didn’t help. I ended up cycling on the pavement as I was going so slowly. In the end I gave up. I parked up in a responsible location and ended my ride, locking the bike by pushing a trigger down over the hub. My phone beeped as the app acknowledged that my bike hire had come to an end.

I was very unimpressed.

The following morning, however, I needed to get back down the hill and then travel further into my local town centre to catch a train. It would be tight walking there in time, but as I came back down the hill, I saw that the bike I’d parked the previous night was still there. So I unlocked it once more, and took it out for another ride.

Going down the hill was fine, although I still felt as though I was riding a BMX, and found myself having to get out of the saddle to stretch out my legs. I rarely get out of the saddle on Boris Bike, which seems much more suited to carrying a wider range of differently sized people. I don’t even max-out the seatpost on those bikes meaning that riders of perhaps up to 6 foot 4 can comfortably ride them.

On reaching the flat, the limitations of the single gear were once again in evidence. I have no idea what gear the bikes are, but again I found it incredibly slow going. It took me much longer to get to my destination than it would have done on any other bike. And it was much harder work as well.

I parked the bike up by some Sheffield stands in the town centre quietly vowing not to use the bikes again. As I did so, two separate people came up to ask me about the bike. What was obvious was that the lack of a requirement to dock the bike somewhere specific was popular. “It’s like Uber, for bikes!” said one man.

However I had to tell both people that I thought it was only good for travelling somewhere very flat, that it was not for tall people, and that nobody was going to get somewhere very fast with one of these bikes.

Subsequently I learnt that although hundreds of bikes had appeared across London the week before, no permission had been sought from any council to run the scheme. While it’s not completely clear why council approval would be required, there is almost certainly concern for how the bikes are treated, and in particular, where they are left. There are horror stories in China, where these bikes are made, and where this type of hire scheme has become prevalent, about hundreds of bikes being literally piled up on pavements near places like stations. In some instances pedestrians struggle to walk along pavements to avoid thoughtlessly placed bikes.

All the bikes I’ve seen so far have been left in decent places, often by existing bike stands. But I can see why many would prefer the more ordered system that Boris Bikes use.

There’s also the question of people vandalising the bikes. Although the hubs lock the rear wheels, the bikes can easily be lifted and placed somewhere else. A similar scheme in Manchester has already seen a number of bikes ending up in canals, and my borough has the New River – effectively a non-navigable canal.

I do feel a little torn about the oBike scheme. On the one hand, I’m very much for encouraging bike use, and my local council is doing a lot for bikes, building new cycle lanes in the face of sometimes quite hostile local opposition. But a badly run bike hire scheme is probably not the answer either.

It certainly feels that the Singapore-based company that launched these bikes has bought the cheapest bikes they could get in China, and not remotely considered local needs. While dockless schemes seem like an excellent idea, in that it reduces the costs dramatically since there’s no infrastructure required, I worry that it also means doing things on the cheap, and not worrying unduly about the social and environmental consequences.

And a bad scheme can have a significantly negative impact on cycling as a whole. If people find bikes abandoned in inappropriate locations, then they will take against the scheme. Similarly, would-be cyclists might well be put off from cycling after experiencing poor quality bikes that don’t make travel easy. These bikes are not a good introduction to cycling, whereas I would argue that while heavy, Boris Bikes are a decent introduction, and may well have persuaded many to invest in their own bikes and cycle more as a result (I’m hoping the upcoming replacement model will be even better).

The reaction overall has not been positive thus far, and in fact my local council has reached an agreement for the bikes to be removed locally pending a wider conversation about how the bike scheme should work. I believe that the same is happening in other London boroughs.

While Boris Bikes were a TfL initiative, and cost millions to set-up, and require continued investment to maintain, the scheme has been well conceived, and there is full support as well as maintenance of the equipment. The bikes, currently manufactured by Canadian company, and seen in other cities such as New York, are well suited to their environment and in general are a boon to encouraging cycling as a form of transport. It’s worth noting that for TfL, cycling is not just a “nice-to-have” but an essential part of London’s transport mix. Every cyclist on the road is one less tube passenger for example. I can’t say the same for oBikes.

This morning, as I got on the train at my local station, at the top of the same hill I live on, I noticed someone had parked a bike by the station to get their train. All I can do is give kudos to whoever rode that bike up the hill this morning!

Tour de France 2017 Podcasts

Valverde and Quintana ahead of the Sky train including Peter Kennaugh, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas at the 2015 Tour de France
At the 2015 Tour

Le Tour is back underway, and while I’m sadly not planning to go and visit this year, I am of course closely watching TV, listening to the radio and podcasts and following all the action on Twitter.

And of course, I’m helping out with The Cycling Podcast, the finest podcast covering cycling! Listen in your favourite podcast app!

I’ve been making a few of the KM0 feature podcasts (KM0 indicates the point at which the race actually starts each day, following a warm-up of a few kilometres out of the start town).

Here’s on on the environment and the Tour, with its rolling circus of 2,000 vehicles:

Here’s one on the breakaway kings of this year’s Tour, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, who have been putting their riders in most of the breaks, however much they may be doomed to failure:

And here’s my favourite so far, on Australian Phil Anderson, and in particular his yellow jersey win in the Pyrenees in 1981.

Women’s Tour 2017 – Stage 5 – London

Following Saturday’s Nocturne, I headed back into town to watch the final stage of The Ovo Energy Women’s Tour, which was concluding on a circuit not dissimilar to previous years’ Tour of Britain finishes. (This year, the men are finishing in Cardiff instead).

Taking in lots of iconic London streets including Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and The Strand, there were plenty of vantage points. At roughly ten minutes between laps, you had time to walk the course a bit, and in some places see the racers twice a lap.

While the racing was great, the overall winner was never in doubt after Katarzyna Niewiadoma won the opening stage by nearly two minutes. This year’s race was longer and harder than previous editions, but there were plenty of other things to keep an eye. Not least of which was which of the Barnes sisters, Hannah or Alice, would take the overall best British rider (For the record, it was the older sister, Hannah. But Alice showed support from the top of a van with some friends at the final podium as can be seen below).

The weather was good, and the racing fast. A fine way to spend a Sunday.

Many more photos over on Flickr.

Rapha Nocturne 2017

This weekend saw the return of the Rapha Nocturne, with Rapha resuming sponsorship. These days, the event has moved from Smithfield Market to an area around St Pauls near the Guildhall. While I have no problem with the route, it’s a shame that it no longer covers an area with bars and pubs like Smithfields did. Most places in the City are closed at weekends, and I would suggest that Tesco Express was probably the biggest winner.

Still the racing and fast and frenetic, and it comes into its own as the sun sets later in the evening. I only arrived in time to see the end of the fixie race and the final two races of the evening.

I took photos…

Plenty more photos are over on Flickr.

A Tale of Two Ferries

I thought I’d document a few of my more interesting rides from last year. So here’s one I made over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

The ride is a circular route starting and finishing at Colchester railway station. You quickly leave Colchester and head north into Dedham Vale where there are both a few hills and some stunning scenery. Climbing out of Higham, and leaving Thoringdon Street and Raydon behind, you then head towards Ipswich.

The route through Ipswich is fine, and there are the usual city-centre cycle routes to follow which aren’t terrible, but aren’t too great either. On balance the signposting is slightly better than normal. There is a section of busy road leaving Ipswich that isn’t easily avoidable, and then you cross over the A12 (never a fun road), to head towards Woodbridge.

You’re not far here from Sutton Hoo, which is well worth a visit. But this time around, I cycled on along a fairly flat road in the direction of Butley. Here I encountered plenty of other cyclists, and this part of the Suffolk coastline is well catered for cyclists. I also really began to feel a headwind, which had become a bit of a nemesis since I’d turned east in Dedham Vale.

Eventually the road drops down to Orford itself, a small village nestling above a key. I’ve visited Orford a few times before, and if you’ve never been, a trip across the water to Orford Ness is a must. As well as being a nature reserve, there’s also all the remains of the military presence, especially from WWII, when lots of monitoring took place here. A fantastic and unique place.

I stopped for some food in the village, buying snacks from the busy village store. Then I retraced my route a few miles before heading south towards Butley and Felixstowe Ferry. This was the first of my ferry crossings, where a small ferry runs across the estuary of the River Deben. They happily take bikes and there were small queues on both sides of the river to make the three minute crossing.

The area is full of yachts, and there are plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat, but I back on land, I was heading a few miles south and into Felixstowe.

I’d never visited Felixstowe before, and that was largely because I thought of the place as a major port and not as a tourist destination. Yet clearly that’s not the case. The coast here is geared up entirely to holidaymakers and daytrippers with all the amenities and attractions that you’d expect in any seaside town.

It’s true that at one end, tall cranes tower over the town, but even the sight of a container ship heading into the North Sea doesn’t dampen the place’s spirit.

I was heading to the southern end of the thin peninsula, with tourist attractions eventually giving way to industrial units and security fences. Even though I’d checked in advance, there were no signs advertising a ferry service, and the best I could see were signs for Landguard Point and Customs House. The road ended with a car-park, and a fort which housed a museum. There’s also a very smart café with views across the estuary. Discovering that I had just missed the hourly ferry, I settled into the café for some very reasonably priced drinks.

The Harwich Harbour Ferry runs between Harwich, Felixstowe and Shotley, crisscrossing the area around the docks where the Stour and the Orwell meet. This is where the container ships come ashore, with the vast cranes to unload them. The small ferry easily accommodated my bike and those of two other cyclists who were returning to Harwich having spent a few hours in Felixstowe. The landing in Felixstowe is a little more precarious than at either of the other two stops, with the need to board direct from the stoney beach rather than pull alongside a harbour. Nonetheless it was handled easily and we were soon crossing the harbour, passing yachts and heading towards Harwich where my I got off.

I was now in the home stretch. And the headwind I’d suffered earlier was now magically a tailwind. The A120 is the direct route from Harwich to Colchester, but that was a major road, with I suspect, a lot of heavy goods vehicles running along it. Fortunately National Cycle Route 51 runs a little south of the A120 and takes you through pleasant Essex villages on a parallel but much quieter track.

Only right at the end did I depart the cycle route, and wended my way through Colchester in search of the train station.

This is a nice solid day ride, with lots of opportunities to stop and do interesting things, for the most part on pretty quiet roads.

My Strava measurement below, unfortunately shows a straight line along the coast where I must have accidentally turned off my Garmin. But the route above shows the way I went.

The trip could be made a little shorter by starting and finishing at Manningtree, but you wouldn’t then head through Dedham Vale which would be a shame.

Finally a word on taking your bike on the train on Abellio Greater Anglia. While the operator (owned by Dutch railways) is said to be a good citizen in supporting bikes on trains, I found the information online to be somewhat obtuse.

At time of writing, there’s a page on taking your bikes on trains on their network. It details two types of trains:

– Intercity London to Ipswich and Norwich services
– Local services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

Colchester is served by both local services from London and intercity services. Reserving tickets isn’t possible less than 24 hours in advance seemingly, and since I delayed settling on my route until the weather was a bit clearer, I’d seemingly missed the chance to book a bike on a service. In any case, the return time would be uncertain because I wasn’t sure how fast I’d complete the ride.

Not that it’s clear from Abellio’s page, but there are also “local” services from London. These don’t require booking on the basis that there’s not really a specific place for cycles on these trains. I used a disabled area on the train out. But this was at 7:02 on a Saturday morning so the train was basically empty.

But if you read their page, it wouldn’t make any of this clear.

On the return, I was planning to get another “local” train back, but the first train to arrive was an intercity. I didn’t have a reservation, but I stood in the right place (at the back of the train), and the guard let me put my bike on anyway. I saved the better part of an hour getting back since this train was non-stop to London.

Whether other guards would want to check, I’m not sure, but the guard’s van on these trains is still sizeable, and there was only one other bike on the train. (Curiously, nobody collected the bike at Liverpool St, until just as I reached the ticket barriers, another passenger heard my wheels, looked around, said “Oh sh…” and ran off down the platform to collect the bike he’d completely forgotten he’d brought!)

The Cycling Podcast Review of the Year 2016

I seem to have been a little backwards in coming forwards with details of this edition of The Cycling Podcast put together by yours truly and published over the Christmas period.

Obviously it won’t be of enormous interest if you don’t follow professional cycling, and you’ll miss all the running jokes if you haven’t listened to previous episodes of the programme. And if you do follow cycling, and already listen to The Cycling Podcast, then you should have already heard it.

Nonetheless, a certain amount of effort went into making this, since we all know that searching for audio clips is relatively slow going. You can’t easily “scrub” it as you would video.

Dave Yates’ Framebuilding Course

Dave Yates Framebuilding Course-106

Earlier this summer, I spent a week in rural Lincolnshire building a bicycle frame, from scratch, starting with a box of steel tubes. The resulting frame was painted, and then I carefully assembled the bike from parts.

The bike you see above is the fruit of those labours, and I’ve written a much longer than usual piece, which is copiously illustrated.

Read lots more about this endeavour on this page, which will look much better on a large, high-resolution monitor.

There’s a full photoset on Flickr too, documenting the build.

Dave Yates Framebuilding Course-28

Dave Yates Framebuilding Course-42

Dave Yates Framebuilding Course-72

Dave Yates’ Framebuilding Course

Framebuilding

[Note: Best viewed on a nice big monitor as there are lots of photos, which may take a while to load. The full photoset is also on Flickr.]

Day One

I first heard about Dave Yates’ course when I read Bella Bathurst’s The Bicycle Book, published in 2011. The first chapter of her excellent book details how she built her bike, and it got me very intrigued. Although I’ve always lived with off-the-peg bikes, something that was very personal to me sounded wonderful. I’d guess that Bathurst must have attended his course in either 2009 or 2010. Dave says that he started the courses in earnest when he moved to his Lincolnshire home in 2005.

This year he’s been doing about 6 courses – each with two people. Next year there may be fewer, and who knows beyond that.

Bathurst noted in her book that his courses tend to be booked up well in advance. I booked a course by enquiring back in early 2015. While someone dropping out of a 2015 course meant there was some late availability then, I wasn’t able to take it. So, when in September 2015 an email dropped into my inbox giving the 2016 dates, I knew I had to move fast. To book a spot, I had to make a deposit pronto. That meant dashing out to the bank – from a work conference no less – since my mobile banking app wasn’t working at the time.

And so, some ten months later, I found myself in Lincolnshire, checking into a nearby B&B, ready to do the course.

Dave’s property is quite large and he has a separate entrance for his bike business. Today he still builds frames, although he’s fairly choosy about what work he takes on. The workshop comprises of two rooms – one with several workbenches where most of the filing and brazing takes place – while a second room houses some large industrial machines that Dave has collected from various sources over the years. Notably they include a massive lathe and a large mill.

Now my metalworking skills are pretty primitive – that is to say – non-existent. Although there was metalwork at my school, if you were academically strong you didn’t really do it. In all my years of education, I spent more time doing pottery than either metalwork or woodwork. Indeed, I had one precisely one term of the former (I made a bottle opener) and I never set foot in the woodworking shop at all.

When signing up for the course, we were assured that lack of metalwork skills wouldn’t be a problem, although my fellow student did seem to have done a bit more than me.
Introductions made, and tea brewed, the first morning was largely discussions about what we wanted to build, how some of the kit worked. Not least was an introduction to the oxy acetylene torch. We also chose the various components of our frame.

There was, however, have a major distraction. Dave’s workshop is adjacent to RAF Coningsby, which is home to both Eurofighter Typhoons and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

When I’d arrived at my B&B on Sunday, the first thing Eve, my landlady told me, was that the Lancaster was flying today. It was the first time it had flown since April 2015, after a fire had damaged it. Now the various repairs had been carried out on what is currently the only flying Lancaster Bomber in the UK (there’s another in Canada), and it was performing that day!

I’d headed out for a late afternoon/early evening bike ride, and ended up getting enormously side-tracked when I’d realised that the plane was going up again. The Rolls-Royce Merlin engines make a wonderful noise when they pass by.

Once in the air, the plane had repeatedly looped around the base, delighting plane spotters who’d gathered at several viewing points near the end of the runway. Moreover, the pilot deliberately passed by fairly low – as little as 250 feet – delighting all.

Now today, and it was clear the plane was flying again, it’s regular manoeuvres taking it low over Dave’s workshop meaning we regularly stepped out to look on in awe.

What’s more, it was later accompanied by a Spitfire and a Hurricane, with the three flying in formation. A wonderful sight.

The reason for all of this activity is that the pilots have to get their licences to perform at air shows, so that means repeated manoeuvres as though they were at an air show. And there are several pilots. For us, it meant a free display. And if it wasn’t the Lancaster interrupting us, it was a Typhoon, heading off towards Wales to fly low through the valleys. The way they can ascend vertically is remarkable and makes a terrific sound. If you’re even up in that particular piece of Lincolnshire, bring a camera – sadly I’d not though to pack my DSL and long lens.

Back in the workshop, our first job was to trim some bits off our bottom bracket joint, and then braze the down-tube into the bracket.

Brazing requires a flux and a filler metal. In our case, we pasted the various parts with flux, and then were going to use thin brass rods as our filler material. The flux prevents oxidisation, while the filler, which has a lower melting point than the steel, bonds the steel together. The process involves heating the steel to temperature and then melting the brass into the gap, using the torch to draw the brass through, making a good join that is strong.

I’d never done anything like this, but under Dave’s tutelage I had soon brazed my first bits of metal.

Next up were the rear drop outs to the two chain stays. This involved first reshaping the Reynolds steel, before using a hacksaw to cut out a couple of indentations where the pre-made dropouts would sit. Lots of filing ensued when I repeatedly cut too small a hole for the dropouts.

Again, brass was used to braze the pieces together, followed by lots of filing to make the joins good and the visually smooth things out.

Over on the other workbench my fellow course mate David, who was building a slightly different type of bike to me using lugs, was starting on his front fork. I was going to be fillet brazing my bike – a touring bike – which is harder, but looks nicer. Nothing like setting myself a challenge!

Next up for me was doing the geometry of my bike. There are endless geometries available, and a lot of voodoo science too. I left myself in Dave’s hands, since he’s built thousands of frames over the years, and we soon had something that should work. Things that had to be taken into account were the relatively relaxed position on a touring bike and the fact that I have big feet and so need to think about making sure my heels stay clear of the rear panniers.

Geometry worked out, and it was time to cut my head tube using Dave’s lathe. He showed us how it worked, and then I performed the cut myself. It makes a perfect 90-degree angle that is razor sharp if you’re not careful.

And that was day one complete. On the way back to my B&B, I stopped off once again to watch he Lancaster continuing to perform for onlookers. Against the blue sky of an English summer, it was perfect.

Day Two

Today was a day of lots of filing, cutting, and yes, brazing. My bike was beginning to be assembled in Dave’s self-designed and built jig. Because I was building a fillet brazed frame, it meant that there were a great deal of angles to work out.

Dave’s a big believer in dispelling some of the frame building myths that perpetuate. Some things are more important than others, and there are a variety of ways of getting to a desired outcome.

With my bike, this would mean having a fairly flat top-tube, which is fine by me, while everything from my preferred crank length to the kinds of wheels and whether I’d be using disc brakes would be taken into account (Dave’s not a massive fan of disc brakes – but in any case, I would be using cantilever brakes on this bike).

Building the body of the frame means accurately cutting the various tubes to length – normally a bit long, and then filing back to make a perfect angle with the existing tubes. This is quite a fiddly process and means lots of filing, checking, going back and filing again ad nauseum. The concern is always that the more you file to get a fit, the less tube you have to play with. It’s a bit like the junior hairdresser taking a bit off the left, then a bit off the right to even up, but then a bit more off the left, and so on. A belt sander in Dave’s expert hands allows you to finish off a little and get as close a match as you can – somewhere around 0.5mm.

By far the hardest part was getting the seat stays right. The angles here are odd, and when, finally you’ve got one right, getting the other right, and then both matching means a lot of filing and fettling.

Finally, there was a bike-shaped-object in the jig, and the next job was to tack the various parts together. This is effectively making joints to the frame to give it stiffness, but ahead of the final fillet-brazing itself.

In fact, even the tacks give an enormous amount of strength to the frame, with Dave reckoning you could ride the back like that (it wouldn’t be recommended). The joints let the brass run all the way through after all. But by the end of the day, I had a tacked frame looking suitably familiar to me, and ready to go.

My fellow student, David, was building a lugged frame – which worked out well for the course. Because while I was using the jig, he was building his forks and was some of the sub-assemblies he would need. This way our work dove-tailed and we’d not both be using the same tools at the same time.

Today we had fewer aircraft distractions, although there was the odd Lancaster flight overhead and when I cycled back to my B&B, I had to stop at the red traffic lights that indicated something was coming in – in this instance a Typhoon, passing perhaps 10m above the road as it hit the runway just beyond (the very low) fence.

Day Three

Today was to be a day of fillet brazing. In essence, this would mean adding a smooth layer of brass on top of the joins I’d already made. The frame came out the jig very easily, and it could now be attached in a vice to allow me to work at the fillet brazing. David now needed the jig to assemble his bike, with a little work required to get the geometry right.

Each pair of tubes brazed had to be done in four sessions, with roughly a quarter of the way around the tubes brazed, stopping each time to file off the warm brass to get a good smooth braze. Seemingly Gary Fisher had let on to Dave how much easier it is to file when brass is still hot.

Even then, this means a lot of elbow grease since you’re trying to get a smooth finish.

The actual brazing itself involves getting the metal just up to the right temperature that means that brass – which comes in thin wires – to melt as though it was solder. You then want to use a combination of gravity and heat applied in the right place, to get the brass to form an even appearance. For a total beginner like me, this meant a certain amount of trial and error.

You also need a steady hand, something I sometimes struggled with when holding a flaming torch in one hand that is burning at 800C, while holding a stick of brass in the other – which all the time, was getting shorter.

The brass needs to be even with no bubbles or inlets. The joints need to solid and therefore strong. Dave watched carefully as I carried out this task.

By the end of the day, nearly all the brazing had been done, with only the rear dropouts needing a final bit of work. Running over the fillet brazes with a belt-sander gave the frame a final smooth appearance.

All of this work will be lost under the paint when it goes on of course, but it does make the lines very attractive, and much prettier than much of TIG welding you see in mass-produced frames.

Finally, a little ahead of schedule, I started work on my forks. I was warned when I started the course that choosing to use fillet brazing might not leave time to build forks, but it looked like I was going to have time to build them after all. I’d seen David build his, and a certain amount of the following day would be spent making them.

Otherwise it’s all the various cable guides, lugs and other appendages that still need adding, as well as reaming the head tube, and bottom bracket. The frame should indeed be complete by Friday lunchtime when the course finished.

We had additional distractions in the form of more Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane practicing. The various manoeuvres lead them to flying low right over Dave’s workshop. Invariably, as we heard the thrum of the engines, we’d drop what we were doing and rush out to see the planes pass overhead.

Day Four

Returning to the workshop, it was beginning to feel that I was into the home stretch. The first task for me was to make my forks.

I’d already begun filing – I was doing so much filing this week – and needed to get a good fit for the dropouts in the two fork stays. Once this was done, it was time to braze them into position. Clearly the pair had to be identical to get a nice symmetrical fork.

Dave gave us a steel cast crown into which the head tube and the two fork stays would be brazed. First I brazed the head tube into the fork, letting it cool and then filing it back to ensure a flat smooth underside to the fork. I’d managed to let far too much brass run through, and that needed removing.

Then it was the turn of the two fork stays, first cutting them to length – something I was pleased to do almost completely correctly first time of asking, with only a small amount of corrective filing required. Maybe I was finally getting just about OK at this filing lark.

My only memory of my solitary term of school metalwork was of endless filing of a bottle-opener that took weeks to make. I’m not even sure I ever finished the damned thing.

Finally, the fork stays were all brazed, and the only final job was to use the lathe to cut a 30mm diameter ring around the top of the tube. This left me only with the need to ream a screw fit in the top of the fork to serve as a mudguard mount and allow other attachments to be placed on the bike.

Then it was back to the main frame, where I now mostly needed to simply add the various braze-on lugs that do things like guide the gear and brake cables. Also affixed were the screws that allow for fixing pannier mounts to the front fork and the rear of the bike. Instead of brass, we’d be using silver solder to make many of these mounts. This requires a lower temperature, and an awareness that it’s a much more expensive material to use.

Invariably throughout this process, Dave had a series of specially built little tools that helped make these tasks somewhat easier. Occasionally I needed to line something up by eye, but more often than not, there was an aid.

Some of these needed building up, including making a bridge to run between the two seat-stays.

I finished the day with a good number of the braze-ons completed, and just a final few, including the attachments for calliper brakes to go.

David had got to a very similar point with his bike, and was in the process of affixing a number of braze-ons himself. His particular needs for his 650mm wheels meant a different pattern to my more “normal” frame.

I wish I could say that I’d improved leaps and bounds in my brazing ability over the four days so far, but I know that I’d need to do a lot more to get good at it. From lighting the oxy-acetylene torch to getting its heat right and not introducing too much heat to the wrong part of the bike, I’m still a rank amateur. I was still getting slight shakes when introducing brass or silver to the joint I was fixing. Fortunately, Dave was never far away to put me right.

Day Five

The final day of the course, and the majority of my jobs were to complete the various braze-ons about my frame.

Overnight, Dave had shot-blasted the two frames and forks, removing the heat marks and generally cleaning the frames up. He’d also used the belt sander to clean up some of the joints. To some extent, we were going to be undoing some of that work since we still had a few places where work was needed.

For me this was a fairly relaxed morning, since I easily had enough time to file, sand and braze the parts I needed.

However, I’m sorry to report that despite having had four previous days of brazing, I still hadn’t quite got the hang of it. Even getting the oxy-acetyline torch lit was a bit hairy – I suspect a consequence of never having owned a gas cooker.

The other major job I had was to put in a couple of support bridges. You never think of these when you make a frame, but they add structure to the rear dropouts. And of course, joining an oval to another oval, at an angle, meant more cutting, filing, checking, filing, checking and filing, until you realise that if you file any more away, the bridge will be too short and you’ll have to start over.

It did seem that my filing had now improved enough that I was actually removing metal when I did it – just sometimes too much metal.

The final thing I had to do was close up part of the seat stay, and my bike frame was complete!

Well – complete in that it would still take a little more cleaning and tidying on Dave’s part. But I could have carried that bike away and it would have been fine. Although as Dave pointed out, it would have rusted pretty quickly had I not painted and cleaned it.

There was still the small matter of painting.

Despite thinking about this bike for nearly a year, I didn’t have any real idea of what colour I wanted it. For ease, I’d decided to let Dave paint it, and he had a nice colour chart of short pieces of tubing in each of the colours he offered.

Beyond that, he could mask parts of the frame, blend colours and so on.

I’d spent the previous evening flicking through a couple of cycle magazines and browsing the internet seeking inspiration.

To be fair, my colleague on the course was not much better – to the point that he was going to leave the frame with Dave, but get back to him on his final choice of colour scheme!

But I ended up going with cobalt blue. The fashion in bikes these days is actually matt finishes, but Dave didn’t offer that, and in any case I wanted something classic. Not quite a royal blue or a racing green, but something that would stand out. A metallic coat.

Dave said he’d paint the frame the following week, and I made plans to pick it up a week or two after that. A week of drinking tea, and bike-building, all to the soothing tones of Classic FM in the background had come to an end.

In the meantime, I was getting more and more distracted by what was happening in the air above us.

Today was “Family Day” at RAF Coningsby. I knew this because every B&B for miles around was full up, and it’s an event that only takes place every couple of years. Friends and family come and visit the base, and most importantly, a major air display is put on for everyone.

First up were the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane – who also managed to fly in formation with a Typhoon, the latter struggling to stay slow enough to match the speed of the other planes that were no doubt maxing out their engines.

Then we had a Belgian pilot flying an F16 and performing a very impressive display all around us. A pair of helicopters were less impressive – mostly because we couldn’t see what they were doing.

At the end of the course, we took final photos, said our goodbyes, and I headed to a field that Dave had directed me to where I might be able to see more of the display. Although there’s a particular spot at the end of the runway at Coningsby for aircraft spotters, when I’d passed it that morning at 8.30am, it had already been full.

This other field was somewhat more hidden, and seemed to only be known to a few spotters who were there with deckchairs and scanners, along with enormous 500-600mm lenses for their cameras.
Again, my small point and shoot wasn’t going to be much use, but I hung around for various displays of biplanes and wildcats, before the display I was really waiting for. The Typhoon display.

The Typhoon basically takes off vertically, soaring into the air like a rocket. It can perform remarkably tight turns, causing us spectators to twist around endlessly. It can also fly very quietly – seeming to almost glide at times – using its air brakes. A wonderful display.

There was more to come, but for me it was time to head home.

Now I had to wait for my finished frame, but had to start planning how the bike was going to be built up.

Later

Early one Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, I set off from nearby Norfolk to drive over to Dave’s workshop to collect my bike. I arrived a little early but the gate was open and inside the workshop my frame was now a blue cobalt colour and was being worked on by Dave. He was just reaming a couple of dropouts after the painting, and was putting in a couple of gear guides and a seat tube bolt.

A few minutes later and the frame was complete. We took it outside to examine it in the sunshine, where the light bounced off the metallic blue finish. The colour worked and I had what was undoubtedly a finished frame.

I carefully loaded the frame and its matching fork into the car, using a few blankets to ensure that nothing got scratched. This frame was going to get some true TLC.

I thanked Dave once more, and headed off with my prize. Later I would carefully wrap the frame in bubble-wrap since I had to travel onwards from Norfolk to my home via public transport, and I was scared stupid of getting it scratched.

Now it was time to build the bike up.

While it’s possible to build a frame, there are relatively few components that most people will build themselves afterwards. Perhaps the key one is wheels, and while I’d previously bought a wheel truing stand, I was worried about my abilities – or lack of them – in this field.

David, who had been on the course with me, had built a pair of his own wheels for his bike, and claimed that it was actually pretty straightforward. He’d recommended a book to buy – The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt. I’d found a copy online and ordered it. But I was still a bit uncertain. If my wheels went while I was on my bike it could be catastrophic.

I felt that wheel-building was something to aspire to, but not something I was quite ready for just yet.

But a hand built bike did deserve some hand built wheels. There are plenty of wheel builders around, and a colleague recommended DCR Wheels based in Lewes. I dropped David a line (everyone in this piece seems to be called Dave or David), telling him what I wanted, and he suggested a specification for me, using his own hubs and some Velocity Chukkar rims. These wouldn’t be cheap, and it’d take three weeks build time since there was a queue of wheels that he was working on. Nonetheless, I ordered them.

I created a spreadsheet filled with all the rest of the components I’d need. Years earlier, I’d also read Robert Penn’s book, It’s All About the Bike, where he’d essentially built – or had built – the finest bike he could, visiting wheel builders in the US, and the Campagnolo factory in Italy.

I was on a bit of a tighter budget, and decided I’d stick with what I knew. So, that meant largely Shimano components, and mostly Ultegra. While I did toy with the idea of a triple chain ring, to allow me to get up hills with a fully loaded bike, that would mean mountain bike gears, and they don’t work easily with road shifters. This bike was going to have drop handlebars, and so it really needed a road specification gearset.

So it would have a compact Ultegra chainset, and an 11-32T cassette at the rear, allied with front and rear Ultegra derailleurs. The bottom bracket would also be an Ultegra one, while the brakes would be Shimano’s cantilever model Ultegras. These are mostly designed for cyclocross bikes, but they make sense for a touring bike. Dave Yates had actually suggested Tektro cantis, but I was worried about marrying the pull of an Ultegra shifter with Tektro brakes. Going all Ultegra seemed the safer bet.

I wasn’t at all sure about what handlebars I wanted, but I settled on Nitto Noodle bars. These are actually silver, and while bars of old always used to be silver, I hadn’t completely clocked that every bar these days tends to be black. And that means both stems and headsets are largely black.

Even though it would have bartape, a silver bar with a black stem didn’t work for me aesthetically, so I found a silver stem to match.

Headsets are, like bottom brackets, an area I get thoroughly confused about. There are a myriad of types and manufacturers seem to make dozens of variants. Which did I need?

Well I knew I needed a threadless headset, and I’d quite like it to be silver. That limited my options severely, with only high-end manufacturers like Chris King meeting those needs. But I found an M:Part model at a more reasonable price.

Fitting the headset was another concern, and I knew I’d need to either buy, build or borrow some tools to fit both race crown on the fork, and firmly affix the top and bottom cups to my frame.

The saddle was a relatively easy choice – a Brooks 17. I’d recently fitted one to my Brompton and felt it’d work well on this classic bike. This would be attached to a silver Deda aluminium seatpost. The saddle would be black and therefore my bartape also black. I really like Canyon’s own Ergospeed Gel tape that came on my Inflite AL8.0, so I ordered some of that from them.
For the tyres I decided on some 32mm Schwalbe Marathon Supremes that seemed to have good reviews, and I also ordered some SKS Chromoplastic Mudguards.

Pedals would be a pair of Shimano A530 flat/SPDs. These allow you to ride either with or without cycling shoes.

I already had a Tubus Logo rack which would be transferred to the bike in due course, and aside from some lights, a seatpack and a pair of bottle cages, that was the full bike specification.
I placed several orders with a variety of retailers, and waited for boxes to arrive…

My original plan had been to purchase everything, and then embark on the build. I did indeed accumulate a big pile of boxes of parts, with items from a number of different retailers. But key to all of these was going to be the wheels, and I was in a queue to get my wheels built. It’s perhaps not surprising that the summer months are the busiest for wheel builders.

The problem was that much of what you do with a bike depends on the wheels. Sure, I could drop in a temporary set of wheels and build around those, but that felt wrong.

Nonetheless, I could do a couple of jobs. First off was treating the inside of the frame to prevent rust. Dave had said to use Waxoyl, widely available at Halfords. There are bikeframe specific treatments, but they’re not cheap. I went out and bought a can of clear Waxoyl, and taking my bike outside, attempted to spray the inside of the steel tubes.

The first thing to note about Waxoyl is that it comes out as something of a goo. Although delivered via a spray can (there’s also a version that is applied via a paintbrush), it does accumulate very easily. And looking online showed that in heat, excess liquid came out as a yellow residue. So I also used some GT85 spray to drive out the excess as best I could. Of course, that may have also removed some of the Waxoyl. Hopefully, between the two substances, I had at least created a rust barrier.

The first component I added to the bike was the bottom bracket. Now I must confess that I find the whole area of bottom brackets immensely confusing. There are lots of different types, and designs, as well as screw fittings and everything. It’s one of those areas of the bike, I’ve left to the professionals in the past.

But in truth, the Ultegra level bottom bracket I fitted to my bike was pretty straightforward. I bought a cheap tool, although had to use the plastic adapter that came with the bottom bracket itself. Then it was just a question of using some lithium grease and screwing it into place. I confess that I don’t have a torque wrench to get the exact tightness right, but using the weight of my body, I got it in as far as it would go.

Then it was the headset, another area I wasn’t too sure about. First off, I had to fit the crown race to my fork. The internet will furnish you with many DIY solutions involving washers and lengths of PVC tubing. But I’d bought a proper tool for the job. Except, I had a problem. The length of my fork – yet to be properly cut to length, was so long, that the crown race tool wouldn’t reach. So I first had to cut off a conservative length of the fork to allow me to even fit the crown race!

The fitting was simple, and just involved holding the fork with the tool in my left hand and hitting it with a hammer in my right hand. The key thing here is not to rest the fork down. I didn’t want to damage the dropouts.

Next it was going to be fitting the cups onto my head tube. These cups are part of the headset assembly, and need to be applied with a certain amount of pressure. The fit is tight!

Again there are DIY tools to do this job, and again I’d bought something to do the trick. But I had a problem. My head tube is quite large, and I’d discovered that the tool was designed for smaller ones.

Eventually I worked out that if I fitted one cup at a time, and unscrewed the tool as far as was safe to do so, I could just fit the tool around my head tube. I had to use an adjustable spanner as part of my solution, but I managed to fit both cups properly into place.

The rest of the headset really required a wheel and inflated tyre in place to make sure I got the height of the fork right. But that went back to my wheels again. And so, the frame was put aside until I had more components.

The final arrival for the big bike build was a package containing my two new wheels from DCR Wheels.

I finally felt able to start the build. I’d carefully accumulated every single component necessary to build a bike. Indeed, it turned out that I had a few “spares.” Shimano, it turns out, packs some brake and gear cables with its shifters, so my separate cable packages were unnecessary.

But it also turned out I didn’t quite have what I needed in a couple of places. The first place I fell foul was with the headset. It turns out that cutting my fork down to size was more fiddly than I’d anticipated – at least without a tool to ensure I cut a perfectly straight line. It took a certain amount of filing down to get a decent finish to my steerer.

But that wasn’t the real problem. That was getting the star nut to adhere to the side of the tube. I had a 1 1/8″ tube, but it seems that not all 1 1/8″ tubes are the same. I actually had two sets of star nuts, and having finally worked out how star nuts should ensure a snug fit, I realised that my steel tube was slightly wider than some, and the star nuts were slipping down. I nipped out to the only local bike shop to me – a Halfords – thinking perhaps I’d damaged the two sets of star nuts I had. But this wasn’t the case. The new one was also too small.

I ordered a Hope Head Doctor from Evans and figured that this would solve my problem, being expandable to fill the tube.

Meanwhile I’d opened by cantilever brakes package and realised I had another problem. The front brake cable needed to drop vertically down to the centre of the cantilever to work properly. At least if I wanted a decent pull that wasn’t off centre.

The back of the bike was fine, since there was a central slot for the cable to reach, and a barrel adjuster in place. But there was no such thing at the front.

You can get pieces that slot into your headset, but these would be no good for me, since my head tube is quite long.

Searching around on Google, I found an image of a cyclocross bike with the same CX70 brakes I was using. This bike had a front fork hanger than guided the cable down. Again, this was going to be a special order, and I would need that part before I fitted the front brake.

But that weekend saw the tyres, wheels, cassette, front mech and rear mech all fitted. My long chainstays meant I needed nearly all the links of the chain I fitted.

I managed to get the front mech shifting properly, but the rear mech was giving me problems. I only seemed to have 9 of the 11 gears, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get any more. One for another day I decided.

My frame is quite large, and as a consequence, I didn’t need much seat post showing.

At the end of a busy weekend, I had a bike still missing its front brake, bottle cages, handlebar tape, and properly tightened headset. There were also mudguards and a rack to go on. I’d got rid of a lot of boxes, and had a bike that now looks like a bike.

It was getting close!

I ordered a few more bits and pieces. Top of the list was a front mech cable hanger. Tektra make one that uses the mount on the front fork to let the front brake cable drop into place vertically above the cantilever brake.

But on fitting the piece, I found I had another problem. There was now not enough room for sufficient cable pull to engage the brakes. The angles meant that the top of the cantilever hit the head of my cable hanger.

No matter how I aligned the brakes I couldn’t avoid this. In the end, my solution was to find a shorter link wire – the contraption that delivers pull between both sides of the cantilever. I found a couple of shorter sizes on eBay and one of them seemed to work. I now had a working front brake.

In the meantime, I also fitted some mudguards – my hacksaw coming in useful in making sure that the stays were the right length. I did discover at this point that a mounting hole on my bike was in the wrong position at the front, and I had to make some “manual adjustments” to get it fit OK.

I also finally put on some bar tape, and now had a broadly functioning bike. The first test revealed that the position was indeed more upright than my existing bikes. But this is what I’d wanted. While the frame is large, and I perhaps could have had a downwards sloping top tube to allow more seatpost to show, the bike is wonderfully well fitted to me.

There was still the issue of the headset though, and my gears weren’t right. These would both require shop assistance. The worry at the back of my head was that there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre if the top of the fork needed some remedial flattening. I had a single 3mm spacer in my stack and no more.

Either way, it was time to go to a bike shop, and so one morning, I set off to work very early and to an early opening bike shop near work, to get the final snafus sorted out.
That afternoon, the shop had fixed everything perfectly and I now had a complete, and fully functional bike. I rode it home that evening with delight!