October 16, 2012

Two old friends

It's October and this morning it was 5 degrees Celcius. Yesterday it was 1.7 degrees. My full finger fleece gloves are beginning to make their reappearance as my full finger mesh gloves bow out. Last week I arrived home with several fingers turning white, and I decided that just wasn't on. If I had a coal fire in the house I would probably be poking it this evening; in its stead I'm poking this blog.

Back in April I was busy leading a bike ride from Perth to Dundee, along the south shore of the River Tay. I'd been to Perth a few times before for work, even cycled a tiny bit there, and back in the early days of Laid Back Bikes and our weekend tour to Rannoch Station I cycled a tiny bit in Dundee, but not so much that I was terribly clued up on routes. The plan had been to take my P-38 because of the distance; I was in London for work in March—the week after my last entry, in fact—with my Brompton in tow: another story entirely, when over three days I covered about 60 or 70 miles, and that was enough for me on a regular bike saddle. The only problem was that my cheapskate in-no-hurry approach to booking train tickets included having dinner in Dundee before catching the train. And the more I looked at Open Cycle Map, Streetview and pored over search results for places to eat, the more I realised that taking an expensive touring bike to a strange faraway city and locking it up somewhere anonymous wasn't that great a plan. It seemed that bike parking was practically limited to a bunch of poorly installed, poorly sited, imitation Sheffield stands outside the railway station, and that was sufficient reason for me to take my Brompton to Perth instead.

It rained a bit as we left Perth, past the prison and through an industrial area, brightened up as we left the main roads to go sightseeing, then drizzled. Further on, it began to rain, and then rain even more. By halfway we were huddled inside a bus shelter waiting for the rain to die down. Much further on, towards Newburgh and Wormit the sun came out! And for the final two miles across the Tay we freewheeled down the central cycle lane of the bridge. The northern end of the path was a great big lift, plenty big enough for anything other than a tandem or a monstrous American recumbent, and we quickly found ourselves outside the railway station. Going for a meal in the nearby multiplex-cum-leisure facility was straightforward with the bike folded in a corner, but there were bike racks outside that might, just, have been adequate.

Before long I was back in Edinburgh, back home and missing my recumbent's creature comforts terribly. And no wonder: I think the day's total distance was about 45 miles, two-thirds of doing Pedal for Scotland without any toughening exercises.

Pedal on Parliament came along at the end of April. A rolling stone gathers no moss, they say, but POP28 was certainly rolling, and gathering moss as though it was going out of fashion. What started out as an observation became an idea for a demonstration to parallel one in London and another in Italy. It became a mass bike ride followed by a demonstration, and as a few more people joined the core group it became several mini-mass bike rides followed by a mass bike ride followed by a demonstration.

'How many do you think will turn up?', Lothian & Borders' finest asked.
'We don't know how popular it'll be, but we think two or three hundred. No-one's really done this before.'
'Well then, we'll probably look to arrange support for up to a thousand. Junction controls, light phasing, and there's a demonstration earlier that day that you'll want to avoid. You should consider starting an hour later in the afternoon.'

Little did they know that the thick end of three thousand people would turn up on bikes. Not just bog standard town bikes but every kind of bike, and every kind of person. Lycra, tweed, fluorescent yellow, stealth black, people wearing hats and gloves, people with helmets, a little girl dressed as a lobster. Bikes with trailers, recumbent bikes, trikes, unicycles, Moultons, Bromptons, mountain bikes, tourers. Retired people, middle aged people, young people, Mums and Dads, children. And an environment in which the road was so comprehensively claimed by weight of numbers and good spirits that one little boy rode his wooden balance bike all the way from the Meadows to the Parliament.

The politicians were slightly taken aback by the theme of the event and the show of feeling: time to stop marginalising people who ride bikes, time to start spending some money. To give some perspective, while Edinburgh filled with 3000 cyclists, London filled with 10,000 and Rome filled with 50,000.

The next month I led another bike ride, this time on the west coast, exploring another area I hadn't visited before. And this time the Rain Goddess was left high and dry. As a matter of fact, as I luxuriated on my P-38 for 30 miles I was quietly burning up. 'Sun cream? In the middle of May? I think you overestimate my chances.' It was a lengthening of a ride suggested in my book, "21 one-day routes in Central Scotland", which I bought while scouting around for ideas for a summer tour a few years ago. For the most part it was fairly unremarkable, actually, following National Cycle Route 7 to Johnstone along a converted railway line, then branching north-west along another old railway line. We ate our picnic on an old railway viaduct, and then carried on to the industrial centre of Greenock and finishing up at Gourock railway station, just next to the terminal for the ferry to Dunoon.

We arrived at the station with mere minutes to spare as a train was waiting at the platform. Piling on and shoehorning our bikes in, herringbone-style, we dropped into our seats and sped back to Glasgow Central.

Sometime between May and last month, my bike's front brake started squealing now and again. I couldn't be bothered doing anything about it this time. The back brake was ready for new pads anyway and Kool Stop's salmon went in. To tell the truth, I'm not sure I can really tell the difference between them and the ordinary black ones.

Also sometime before the summer, Speedy, whose long-awaited swansong was Pedal on Parliament, finally went to a new owner. Then of all the coincidences, not a week later the original owner got in touch with me, having been wondering of its whereabouts over the last nine years. So the girl who thought it ridiculous and madness to own two recumbents, and had managed to acquire four, and whittled the stable down to three—'a nice round number'—was finally back to two. The supreme tidiness of my little P-38, matched by the sheer bulk and unwieldiness of the monstrous bike, and coupled with a Brompton that is on loan at the moment (if not actually being used for anything so drastic as riding, and rather unobtrusively occupying two square feet of floor space) and a mountain bike that, still wearing its beastly studded tyres, is quietly waiting for the snow, means that I am sitting comfortably for once.

March 15, 2012

On the back of your forty-second screamdown

So, it's only been ages since I last wrote anything in here. While the tumbleweed absent-mindedly blows across the road, and I shuffle around somewhat sheepishly in the knowledge that, incredibly, this blog is actually linked to from somewhere else (edinburghcyclechic, as it turns out, which is suitably ironic for my general predisposition to wear lycra, and occasionally even look good in it), you can listen to the muted and rather pleasant rhythm of cogs ticking round. That isn't the sound of a well-oiled dérailleur transmission, nor even a rusty squeaking one, but of my brain on the realisation that four and a half months have gone by with the first thought that nothing of note has happened.

Has it?

After Tim Brummer at Lightning sent through the replacement and much stronger boom for my P-38, back in May last year, I set off into the countryside here in pursuit of hills and railways and architecture, took a spin down to York to look at Moultons and windmills and railways and architecture, commuting as usual the rest of the time, and all the while generally enjoying the heck out of the bike. After all, it had been several months in which the bike had lain in the garage in a not-quite-rideable state. The first real outing of the new boom had of course been the day of the twelve steepest streets, but it had also cemented itself in my memory as the day that the Brake of Horrendous Squeal came into the world. For some reason the entire world supply of Kool Stop brake pads had vanished a week before, and I'd reluctantly slid in a new set of those peculiar Ashima pads, discovered they were too thick, adjusted my once meticulously set brake positions four times to try to compensate, discovered to my joy a long lost pair of Kools in a bag and slid them in, adjusted the brake position again ... and gone climbin'. And for the next 1000 miles or thereabouts the front of the bike braked just as well as it ever had before, but in the process would be sounding like an air horn.

Slowing down from 20 or 30mph, behind a car, while one's bike produces a noise like a double-barrelled Air Zound mixed with fingernails-on-blackboard, is one of the most embarassing situations I've ever known, even worse than organising a meeting for twenty people and forgetting to invite the chairperson. Worse still, it wasn't even a new situation, as I recalled my experiences of Victoria's old cable-powered Tektro discs trying to do their best in a thunderstorm. They were certainly most trying, which is why I replaced them with Hope hydraulics which turned out to be only slightly more powerful and almost as noisy. But with a P-38 you can have any brakes you like as long as they're rim brakes, so you throw money at it and buy an Avid Ultimate. Given the frankly astonishing increase in price for those twin machined aluminium arms—currently at a discounted 85 of Her Majesty's British Pounds, or £115 at full price, when the Big S's XTR is clocked at £100, and Avid's otherwise excellent Single Digit 7 comes in at an altogether less eyewatering £22—I was inclined to grin and bear it. There was method in the madness at the time I built the bike, because the Ultimate transforms to a mirror image of itself which made for tidy cable routing, and in 2007 we were still enjoying ludicrously good value on expensive components.

In a similar manner to John Ackroyd's Thrust 2, which Richard Noble and Ron Ayres later discovered was stable only under savage acceleration, my P-38 would only be quiet under savage deceleration, and while that might useful for avoiding fading discs or drums, if it had any, I was rather too aware that it wasn't so good for holding traction with skinny little bicycle tyres, even if they've worn down their herringbone pattern micro-tread to pure slicks. The rest of the time, dabbing a brake here and there for traffic lights and traffic jams, an occasional errant pedestrian, or a frequent pothole, the bike squealed unrelentingly. I even found myself digging a heel into the brake arms—sometimes the left, sometimes the right—in a hopeful attempt to quell the vibration, with both brake and rider fretting merrily to themselves.

At least twice I set-to on the bike to resolve the problem once and for all, with a little piece of folded-over breakfast cereal box for presetting the requisite toe-in of the brake pads, and despairingly it made no difference whatsoever. Last week it became all too much and I took Victoria out on the roads instead, while back home I investigated a suspicious amount of play in one side of the brake; the Ultimate runs on two pairs of 15mm sealed ballraces, not that you really needed to know that, so one ought to expect perfection. After prising off a rubber seal and finding all the grease replaced with plenty of rust, it took a heatgun, a hammer and a thin screwdriver to remove the bad ballrace which promptly committed suicide, spilling its insides onto the workbench. And, of course, the things are of a hugely proprietary type that one doesn't find stocked by places like SimplyBearings or Model & Small, being assymetric and of a size far too small for which anyone remotely technical might have any use. But heroically Avid provided a part number—genuine spare parts!—and a few days later again my local bike shop had the goods. Before this I'd actually devised a workaround using industy standard items and some skateboard bits that I would've still had to modify, and then I worked out that it was easier if just as expensive to buy the genuine things in the first place.

Buoyed by my newfound confidence in solving mechanical mysteries, I made a rudimentary Ultimate bearing press and provided a home to two brand new sealed ballraces. I was so confident in fact that my testing regime was to ride 20 metres up the road and back again, and if it didn't squeal I was in business. It didn't squeal.

And so the very next day I set out on my commute. About 30 seconds down the road, where the hill begins, I applied the brake firmly for the first time and my bike was blissfully silent! Actually, it wasn't. At this point I had to get to work, an activity involving plenty of traffic and plenty of hills, so I said something that rhymed with muddy bell and decided my back brake would have to work extra specially hard. Most of that day was spent doing worky stuff, while part of my brain was busy thinking about brake pad compounds and logical ways to rule out one component after another.

As I thought idly about the familiar (too familar, for this former student of vibration theory) relationship of natural frequencies vs. mass, spring stiffness and damping, it occurred to me that my suspicions of why Victoria's discs sometimes sing loudly to themselves, being attached to very lightweight rims and spokes, and akin to a sounding board, might translate to the little bike. After all, I already knew that both wheels were rapidly approaching rim replacement. If the rim sidewall was sufficiently worn down, perhaps that was the crucial factor. It seemed like a good idea to set up the wheel truing stand that weekend and install the new rim I'd bought ages ago while they still made them, and a happy afternoon was spent unpicking spokes and threading them into their new homes, culminating in that meditative zone of spinning a wheel, eyeballing, listening and tweaking things to perfection.

'If this doesn't do the trick,' I said to myself as I returned the wheel to my bike's fork, 'it has to be either toe-in or pad material. It has to be!' With my confidence in solving mechanical mysteries now higher than ever, this time I didn't even bother with a test ride. The next day I set out on my commute, and the first hill was pleasingly silent while the pads gently scoured the untouched brake trake of the rim. I came to the big hill, and accelerated down it. At the bottom, where a bus was setting down its passengers, I decided that slowing down might be a terribly good wheeze. I hauled on the brake, and it squealed for Britain; it was as though the last thousand miles were just the warm up. I may have said several very rude words at that point.

I stopped short of taking my bicycle to the menders, because I used to be one of them and I decided that a stupid little brake couldn't be that hard to sort. Could it? Returning to my bike at the end of the day with my multi tool in hand, I took a bit of plastic about the thickness of a credit card and wedged it behind the brake pad, and reset the toe-in on each side once and for all. It could hardly make things worse. Amazingly it didn't, and even more amazingly the brake suddenly started to behave, just like it did in the olden days. I accelerated, braked, accelerated, braked again, and ... silence. I rode the long way home with the long gradual descent, and it behaved. A few more days and it's still behaving. Hurrah!

I was going to tell you a tale of Carradice, saddlebags and Bromptons, but my back brake has started squealing.

October 28, 2011

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

A little while ago I was on a training course at work about writing economically and effectively and efficiently. Clearly there's a need to use plain english to aid the understanding of an audience whose familiarity with a topic could be close to zero, but indeed also serving, without overt oversimplification, an audience possessed of no little prior knowledge: an audience who quite rightly could feel offended at having to wade through ridiculous baby talk. They also encouraged us to construct short sentences. And, as part of the process that any half-decent writer ought to undertake before putting finger to keyboard, or as is my wont, pencil to recycled paper, how to write a plan—a brief, if you will. But I'm not at work, and I'm writing for the hell of it, so my plan involves only the words 'Brompton' and 'saddle', plus an answer to the question, Am I Sitting Comfortably?

The answer, for those of a more fragile disposition who might prefer as little suspense as possible, is a resounding No. More correctly perhaps, the answer is No, Well Yes, Well, Kind Of. And actually, sometimes I become just a little bummed out about the whole thing.

Many of you I expect might remember the halcyon days of bicycle accessory catalogues, when suddenly everyone had forgotten about Brooks and Carradice, but before the market became rad and funky and well crucial, when clothes turned from the nice, CTC-approved muted hues of blue and grey and greeny-beige that you could eat while enjoying cucumber sandwiches to the fluorescent assault of Bula and Chums and Oakleys with red lenses, alongside Cannondale's sideline in hot rod t-shirts with piranhas on the front. John Grafton probably hadn't yet graduated with his degree in numerical control part programming; your choice of consumer suspension forks was just one: an inventive upstart called Rock Shox; and Ground Controls were still the hot tip for riding up mountains. This was the day of the Selle Italia Turbo saddle.

It was one of those designs that seemed to fit everyone, and every kind of riding. Crusty old men with beards and saggy panniers who weren't using Brooks were probably using Turbos. Thirty-something men were using Turbos on steel Saracen Blizzards and Specialized Stumpjumpers for cross country mountain bike races, and twenty-something men were using them to ride to university. If you were a bit Brookish but liked the Turbo, you bought a San Marco Rolls instead. Women didn't have much choice but to use a Turbo or a Turbo-like Terry, because saddles with holes hadn't been invented.

I never even had a Terry. I had to make do with a horrible Matrix saddle at first, which became replaced along the way with an almost as horrible thing, a Selle Cattivo or Cuscino Basso Costo or San Luis Obispo, or something foreign-sounding like that. People with money later branched out, like the manufacturers who'd suddenly discovered elastomers and gel and computers, so you would see them perched on Turbomatics, Turbolites, Turbobios, Turbo Gels and Turbo ProTeams, or perhaps it would be something more deviant like a Vetta TriShock or Specialized's ProLong and Joe Blob saddles. By then, us girls could sit on Joe's partner, Betty. Really. Of course it all changed when someone invented titanium and the Selle Italia Flite was born. The original box had a picture of one in flight set against a cloudless sky, which I thought was brilliant. A saddle was now more than just something to sit on: it was a style icon of curves and expensive materials, and it was something that delighted the weight weenie brigade. For quite some time, the Flite was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Later ones had Kevlar corners for gnarly stuff, or cheaper Vanadium rails which broke. They even made one out of carbon fibre but it was about a million Pounds and no-one bought it.

I did buy a titanium Flite though. I remember it cost as much as a nice pair of SPD shoes but I'd more or less destroyed the not very good stock saddle from my mid-90s Rockhopper and I needed a replacement. Well shoot but wasn't the Flite just the most comfortable saddle I'd ever tried? In fact, for at least ten years it was; it was absolutely perfect. The black leather top became polished to a brown sheen, the natty red stitched lettering gradually turned a pleasing shade of patina and it lived through summers and winters. Then one day it became the most unbearably uncomfortable thing and I just couldn't stands no more.

I did put on a little bit of weight, after all that sort of thing happens to people from time to time. But perhaps I simply wore out the poor thing; I certainly covered enough miles during that time, and what little padding it did have might have broken down under my super sharp sit bones. Perhaps in discovering the incredible and bizarre world of recumbent bikes I lost my hard-won toughness. Yes, that's it, I blame the recumbents.

I hadn't counted on the weather, though, to blunder in with its size twelves and ruin it all. With Speedy being my main machine and my rusty Rockhopper having died and been replaced with Annie the Blue Bike, complete with inherited Flite and living more and more in the garage complete with cobwebs and soft tyres, everything was metaphorically cool. The weather hadn't been so cool, because snow had become something that happened for a few days each year and was nothing much to bother about, but then it changed and I needed a go-anywhere bike that could plough through winter crud and snowdrifts. And I wanted a saddle with a hole in it. So one day I sat on some memory foam and found myself a Specialized Avatar with rinky-dink gel inserts, and it felt tolerably comfortable, at least when coupled with a bit of padding; it was ostensibly a bloke's saddle but frankly I was hard pressed to tell the difference because by then apparently blokes also wanted saddles with holes, and it was good enough to manage a few weeks' winter riding. But ride a recumbent bike for a few years and you really do begin to wonder why anyone in their right mind sits on an upright bike for hours and hours. Think again, and you realise that there is an awful lot going for crank forward designs, like the RANS Zenetik, Citi and Alterra. Somewhere in my (n+1) list is one of those.

So it's not terribly surprising that buying my Brompton, that most practical of little bikes, was to no little extent contingent upon the saddle and by extension the general riding ergonomics being anything more than just tolerably comfortable. Few would argue that the original Brompton saddle was a hideous piece of sticky black plastic covering a piece of foam whose non-Newtonian dynamics meant that the density changed from cotton wool to concrete upon application of any pressure greater than a fingertip, but the current iteration is really not too shabby. It does however have a major failing in the three-panel pretend leather top, whose twin rows of stitching are placed precisely to wear away at one's skin, largely independent of cycle shorts. This is probably why people buy the genuine Brompton-specific Brooks saddle. Obviously I am the exception that proves the rule because the Brooks is a massive and expensive hunk of gleaning brass and leather, and my Brompton is already well on the way to shoulder tearingly heavy. A Brooks would probably result in the formation of a blue hole and another rip in the bicycle-time continuum.

You may remember me luxuriating on such bicycles as the Lightning P-38 and the RANS Vsquared, with their highly engineered foam cushions and mesh seat backs. So why, in the name of all that is sensible, did I think unearthing a 16 year-old Flite for my Brompton was a good idea? The perception of absent things often improves in the fullness of time, and the feathery slip of leather and the mythical grey metal had long lain in a box to gather dust, and possibly spiders. I actually felt as though I missed the thing; somehow feeling sorry for casting it aside for some cheaper replacement. And of course, every bicycle improves when you add something made of titanium. An evening spent fiddling with seatpost clamp bolts and carefully eyeballed tilt angles and studied hip-knee-ankle ergonomics suggested I was good to go, so the next day I headed out on my commute.

'Oh good grief, it's hard as nails!' I complained, as I drew up to the main road after a couple of minutes' riding. Did I really ride this thing when I was younger? I must've been mad. It actually reminded me of those hard plastic saddles that were standard equipment on your Mag Burner, Falcon Pro, Supergoose, and pretty much any other BMX in 1980. Then I realised my riding style used to be all-out, where anything less than 20mph—uphill, into the wind, in the snow—was naturally hugely embarrassing. That kind of riding takes some of the weight off the saddle and carries it on the great force from your legs. By the end of the day I arrived home with a further 15 miles done and, amongst the swearing and the realisation that my riding position was suspiciously stretched out by about an inch because I hadn't cranked down enough on the clamp bolts the day before, I was ready to throw the infernal thing away. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I thought . . . but...those rails are titanium!

My masterplan of buying a cheap second seatpost in order to experiment with my collection of saddles without upsetting the finely tuned original Brompton setup took a bit of a crash after that. It might not be my preferred steed for reeling off 60 miles every day, or even 20 miles, and in fact it isn't, full stop, but 1500 miles on the clock and a bunch of relatively happy outings up and down the country does rather suggest that if the disarmingly friendly little bicycle ain't broke, don't fix it. So I won't, once I've given my Rolls a quick try-out, that is. And when that fails, because I'm sure it will, I'm going to get rid of them all.

I always knew there was a reason I liked recumbent bikes.

May 17, 2011

It's not how fast you can go

Three days since my last entry and I'm writing again? Not since the heady days of the lamented According to Bex has this happened, so something must have happened. Something good, for goodness sake; woah, somebody's coming!

Who's coming up behind you is in fact a black clad rider on her fully armed and operational Lightning P-38.

I jest, of course. On my way home from work today I tried chasing down two roadies with calf muscles the size of pint glasses, astride carbon fibre bikes and working a cadence seemingly so slow as to suggest complete nonchalance towards speed, but my body was having none of it as I enthusiastically created whole clouds of weather around me while battling something slightly gunky inside my throat. I'd breathed in and swallowed a fly earlier in my commute, but had at least the presence of mind to wash it down as quickly as possible with a generous helping from my water bottle. There were actually four people on upright bikes taking on the long hill, a slightly chopped up three-quarters of a mile with 140 feet of climbing, and I dispatched the first one easily after my patience ran out at 7.5mph. The second I could have caught but my exit arrived before that; the roadies by that time had cleared off and were a further few hundred metres up the road. But to be fair, neither of them was carrying any luggage beyond perhaps their house keys, and my bike wasn't made of plastic and soot. I had also not cycled yesterday, owing to a commute on the VFR which itself had been pressed into service to let me recover from Sunday's bicycular theatrics. My knee is almost behaving, too, but Tabitha and I have been apart for the best part of eight months. Victoria's done her best to keep things in check, but she is a touch more slight on the Q-angle and on the crank length. 170 or 175? Aluminium or carbon? 3500 miles on the latter says it works for me, but only time will tell.

Having spent longer than I expected on Saturday fixing up the P-38's boom and front brake, and with the bike sitting with its full lightweight race pack, consisting of a custom made front light mount constructed from a Dremel'd-into-submission Busch & Müller fahrrad-rückspiegel bar end mount attached to 90mm of the lightest handlebar I could find, replacing the undoubtedly massively overbuilt and overweight Topeak Spacebar of the previous four years, and the dispensing of the curly Vistalite extension wire, we were now ready to burn rubber.

In the morning I headed over to The Bicycleworks to meet Andy, David, and whoever else intended to turn up, but strangely although I was on time as usual, no-one else was around; even more unusually even TBW didn't seem to be open. Perhaps they've gone to Peter's Yard, I thought, so I pottered through the Meadows in covert monitoring mode. There were some bikes parked outside but not any I recognised, and nor did I spot anyone familiar inside, so I parked up against a tree and watched and waited. Just then David came flying down the path so I waved and caught up, and we headed back to TBW whereupon Andy appeared. On the citycyclingedinburgh forum we'd had a slightly ridiculous discussion about Edinburgh's steepest roads, everyone making suggestions and the list being reduced to the top 10 or 20, along with what Gugol's maps and spreadsheets thought were their respective gradients. Obviously the roads had to be tested for cyclability, and Andy suggested a route that took in twelve of them. Some I was familiar with from being driven up them, another one I'd cycled once or twice (actually, probably a hundred times), and others I'd never visited at all. I had my GPS to record the day's ride to get some Real Data, and to show the planned route. In the absence of proper GPX route planning skills, that seems to have become my standard workflow for cycling with my GPS. I'll knock up a basic track using something like BikeRouteToaster, roughly following the planned route rather than letting it auto-follow the roads because that creates more than 500 trackpoints which, once I've navigated the execrable RoadTrip™, makes my Garmin shrug its shoulders and proclaim that it's truncated my lovingly prepared track. I can have the city map onscreen as I ride, with my nice green line showing up, and all I need to do is follow it. I even added a dozen waypoints with cute little names like 'OldFishMkt' and 'Gloucester', although the chances are that I would recognise a bloody steep hill when I got to it.

We quickly arrived in Blackford and had a brief warm up as we ascended Maurice Place, before turning right for Blackford Hill Rise, and rise it certainly did. The switchback brought us out onto Observatory Road, so it was only fitting that we cycled to the top to take photographs and carry out a little breath-catching. So far, so good, though I suddenly realised that there were another eleven to go. Retracing our steps we headed west through Morningside, Craiglockhart and out along the Water of Leith path to the former Colinton village railway station. A short loop brought us to Spylaw Bank Road, which I think I'd only been up before on my motorbike. Andy approved of the wall of tarmac, hemmed in by tall greenery, and put the hammer down a touch to leave me opting to take my time in my lowest gears. 'Aye, it's a wee toughie, that one!' I exclaimed at the top.

With the obligatory photographs taken we looped back down to the village and turned towards Bonaly and a short hop to West Mill Road, part of my "longer than usual, just because" commuting route back in my university days. We entered at the top and rode down, so naturally we had to ride up it for it to count, and then rode back down again.

Taking the back way out past the luxury flats built on the site of Mossy Mill and crossing the Water of Leith on an early Arrol bridge, we climbed up to the Lanark Road and took the fast road north through Wester Hailes, Sighthill and Corstorphine village. Kaimes Road was next on the list. less than half a mile long but about 250 feet of climbing. And it felt like it went on forever. As expected, Andy was first to the top, and I chugged away in 1st gear, sometimes reaching the heady speed of 6mph. After taking in the view and watching the Inverness to Kings Cross HST making its way towards Murrayfield, we descended. But only halfway, because Corstorphine Hill Road, the next block over, was also on the list. That one was pleasantly short, but just as sharp.

A careful descent took us all the way back down to the main road, and heated up my front brake just enough for it to start squealing. Crossing back towards Corstorphine we joined the old Pinkhill and Corstorphine branch line to Balgreen and Murrayfield, then followed the Water of Leith path to Roseburn, and up and onto the Roseburn railway path that is still mercifully free of trams. A slight navigational failure took us through Ravelston Dykes which meant that Bells Brae, the long, subsided, bumpy, cobbled climb from the old ford crossing of the Water of Leith in Dean Village, was met at the top. So we rode down it, up Hawthornbank Lane which David suggested as a bonus hill, back across to the top of Bells Brae (it would, of course, have made more sense to turn around...), down Bells Brae, pause for photographs, then up Bells Brae for it to count, then back down Bells Brae for the third time whereupon my bike fell to pieces. It didn't really, although my mirrors were making rattling noises. We took to the Water of Leith path again and turned off at India Place, just near the newly made allotments that would provide each budding gardener with a poky plot that was possibly more double bed than flowerbed. Enough to harvest a family-sized crop of potatoes, though, if the sunshine can penetrate the clouds.

Gloucester Street was up next, another long, subsiding, bumpy, cobbled climb up to Gloucester Lane, which was even worse, and which climbed all the way up to Heriot Row, which itself is on the way to George Street at the very top of the valley, with the Water of Leith at the base and Ravelston Dykes on the far side. Andy and I took ourselves up the hill while David took photographs, and then we took photographs of David hightailing it up on his superlight recumbent bike. From there, the onslaught of cobbles continued as we made our way to Drummond Place and Scotland Street -- possibly the very worst example of Victorian road surfacing in the whole of Edinburgh -- and to the bottom of Dublin Street: a ruler straight ascent up the side of the remnants of the glacier that carved out Princes Street Gardens. Dublin Street, being a not uncommon commuting route for me, and in fact part of National Cycle Network Route 75, is actually shallow enough a hill to be climbable on a six-speed Brompton with standard gearing, albeit at 4mph, and on my P-38 it disappeared in fairly short order.

After recordeding our ongoing success we took to the main roads of York Place and the mighty Picardy Place roundabout. I say mighty, in the sense of cyclists who say, 'It's really dangerous!' and 'Ooh, I never go there!', but not mighty in the sense of impressive, and possibly gutsy road engineering as befitting, for example, the multiple mini "Magic Roundabout" in Swindon. But it was Sunday anyway, and the traffic was minimal, which was a fleeting disappointment to us three intrepid riders who eat roundabouts for breakfast.

And so to Calton Hill. Cobbled, bumpy, short, and very steep. Closed to traffic, too, for many months not so long ago but more for nearby demolition and building work than being too difficult for the poor little cars. I can't remember who took it on first, but it might actually have been me. First gear, feet on the pedals and go, go, go. A few cars decided to make the ascent even more technical by trying to come down the hill at the same time, but I was having none of it and steered around them without missing a beat. All too soon the road levelled out and I turned around, parked my bike and fished out my camera. Andy was there too, and David came up shortly after. After a quick break we carefully made our way back down again, picking routes that hopefully avoided the worst of the tyre-sized gaps between cobbles, we raced down Lower Calton Road, swung right to pass under the East Coast Main Line, and right again and across more chopped up tarmac that in most places was doing an entirely bad job of covering the old cobbles underneath. Cranston Street was another short little climb, this time up the side of the 'tail' on which the High Street was built, and to which the 'crag' is Edinburgh Castle. David and I went up together in record time, neither of us even bothering with our nine smallest gears. Andy took his time, having photographed the route from the bottom, and then really put the hammer down as I did my best to capture the moment. Two more to go.

Down to the Cowgate, via a quick pitstop for me to buy a banana and Jelly Babies, and along the dank corridor of arches, rock clubs, pubs, slightly dodgy looking hotels, and innumerable closes with dank staircases. Daylight reappeared as we reached the Grassmarket, and we casually took ourselves up West Bow and Victoria Street, going up past Long Tall Sally, assorted 20-something shops with black t-shirts and skater clobber hanging in the windows, the tattoo place, the coffee place and so on. Victoria Street was so common and easy a route for us that we'd turned left and cycled across to the Mound and not taken a single photograph. The final assault was Ramsay Lane, a cobbled, bumpy, short and extremely steep little road that seemingly runs right up the side of the Castle Rock. It used to be open to cars whose drivers wanted to avoid the traffic lights of the High Street and George IV Bridge, but they've sort of closed it these days. Tickling my bike into its lowest gear and with my back firmly against my seat I set off. After Calton Hill I wasn't quite so scared and in fact I zipped up, barely breaking a sweat. It's pure skill, I'm sure. City of Edinburgh Council had even been so good as to paint a lovely double yellow finishing lane across the end of the lane and we stopped right there with a quiet little whoop and a possibly more obvious punching of the air from the mysterious black clad rider with the long hair.

Twelve hills in one day! Twelve and a bit, actually. And according to my GPS, a total of 2000 feet of climbing and we hadn't even left Edinburgh. To celebrate our incredible achievements we parked up at The Hub, all of 30 metres away, and spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying a late lunch of hot chocolate, coffee and chips. David parted ways and aimed himself at the pub, while Andy and I rode out of town a little way before I took off for some more hills and my old standard of a three-quarter mile drag with bumpy tarmac.

May 14, 2011

Don't go braking my heart

Victoria, my monstrous American recumbent, originally came with a pair of cable-powered Tektro disc brakes which in the hot dry conditions of the Erie Canal towpath were plenty powerful enough, and nicely progressive feeling. Even when racing downhill with a touring load there was about enough in reserve for shedding the miles-per-hour, but once in the Canadian thunderstorms the brakes squealed so badly that car drivers in front probably thought I was giving them both barrels on an air horn. Once back in the cold and damp of home, and in the close proximity of Edinburgh roads compared with the vast airy four-laners of Schectenady, the problem seemed even worse. It was downright embarassing actually. Dismantling the calipers, attending to tolerances and using copious amounts of copper grease behind the brake pads ended up, to my great bicycle mechanic chagrin, making no difference whatsoever.

In the end, I found a pair of second-hand Hope Mini hydraulics and promptly doubled their value by replacing all the pads, buying several metres of hose and the requisite unions, and rebuild kits for the brake levers. I'd had Hope Minis on my Speedmachine, and those ones worked superbly, so I had plenty of reason to assume these would be just as good. Mmm, no. I actually had to file down the diameter of the front disc because for some bizarre reason it was jammed in the caliper. But since then, the rear caliper has been dismantled, rebuilt and bled three times now because the pistons insist on extending more on one side than the other, resulting at best in a plaintive-sounding rubbing as I ride along, and at worst a stronger and stronger rubbing on the disc until it barely turns. If I'd had a modicum of sense, I would have rebuilt both brake levers and both calipers with new seals all round, but in my earlier enthusiasm I left things alone if they seemed good enough at the time. And when it rains, the Hope discs still squeal just as much as the Tektros. In fact, if I'd had any sense whatsoever, I would have bought Avid BB7 cable disc brakes right at the start.

I might've attended to the rear caliper pistons today, but I had more important things to do. I haven't been out on my Lightning P-38 since late last summer, after the frame clamp bolts distorted the aluminium boom. I'd had to install a new seat mesh because the original one started coming apart where the eyelets were pressed in, and the new wrap-around design actually shortened the distance to my pedals by about half an inch. Not much, you'd think, but half an inch is a big deal on an upright bike, and most recumbent seats have a fairly well defined sweet spot too. The raft of knee problems a year or so ago meant I was also trying out some shorter cranks, but that meant needing to lengthen the distance to the pedals as well. But the stubby little boom that Lightning supplied when I bought the frame simply wasn't long enough. So I mothballed my bike, and put the miles on Victoria and Henrietta instead.

But this week I finally received my replacement boom, in shiny black cro-moly steel rather than aluminium and a full two inches longer than the original (Lightning marked it as "XXL": this being installed on my already XL bike!). I had to bash a former into the frame tube first to expand the distorted clamp, although I'm not sure it made an appreciable difference. Then I left my brain in neutral while trying to install my FSA bottom bracket. Back to front. The worst thing was that I was nearly successful in screwing the left-hand threaded half of the BB into the right-hand threaded side of the BB shell. Pedals are easy: right-hand pedal, right-hand thread; left-hand pedal, left-hand thread. Bottom brackets: right-hand side, left-hand thread; left-hand side, right-hand thread.

It reminds me of that old sentence for remembering one's right from one's left. "I write with my right, and the one that is left is my left." But I, being left-handed, had to turn it around. Thus: "I write with my left, and the one that is left is my right." Well it's obvious, isn't it?

With the boom installed approximately, the bottom bracket, the cranks and the pedals quickly followed, then I cleaned up and installed the front dérailleur and the cable, and finished off with a few goes on the track pump for 85psi. A quick spin up and down the road told me I needed the pedals further out by a good half an inch, and this time there was boom length to spare. But look, the front brake pads are nearly worn out too! So on went a new pair of pads (peculiar orange and grey Ashima cartridge for V-brakes) too. Something wasn't right, though, and I realised that Ashima, like Clarke, has decided to make its pads twice as thick as Kool Stop does. My beautifully aligned pad holders then had to be realigned to take account of the wider spread of the V-brake arms, which then meant that my brake cable was just barely long enough to reach across. Perhaps I was being too much of a perfectionist but I think I revisited the pad holder positions about four times, trying to avoid the tyre sidewalls while setting precisely the right amount of toe-in and angling them just right so that they wouldn't drop off the bottom of the rim sidewall as they wore down. But with great serendipity I discovered in the bottom of my bag of spare parts my very last pair of Kool Stop pads! So the Ashimas went back on the shelf, and with the Kools in place I re-aligned the pad holders for a fifth time. After inspecting the brake cable I decided it probably ought to be replaced too, so I handily stole the original teflon-coated brake cable left over from my Brompton handlebar project. And heck, if I'm pulling out the cable I might as well replace the cable housing too and fix that missing inch on the length that's annoyed me for the last four years... After far too much fiddling—I even regreased the little bolt that holds the inner and outer dérailleur cage halves together—I think my P-38, the machine that was designed to be my flagship bicycle, is ready to hit the road again.

Meanwhile, little Henrietta Brompton, who lives in the corner, recently notched up her first 1000 miles. She's already sporting four new brake pads, a new rear rim and a miscellanous new spoke in the rear wheel as well. After work a few days ago I took a trip down through the Meadows, down the Innocent Railway path, past Portobello golf course and down to Portobello beach to pedal along the promenade and look at the big houses.

I finished up at the Dalriada Bar, having a mug of hot chocolate and a huge piece of lemon sponge cake, and sitting next to the open fire while reading my book for an hour or so. Of course, fold-fold-fold and Becky and bike went inside together. As I had expected and had prepared for by packing a jacket in my pannier, it was pouring with rain when I left to cycle home again. The Bar wasn't serving meals and I hadn't fancied eating in the Porto Café, which was both empty of other customers, and about half an hour from closing time when I looked in earlier, so I pottered the ten or so miles home on what felt like the most inefficient bicycle ever invented, finally giving up halfway to peel off my portable sauna of a Goretex jacket and opting to get wet instead. I was down on energy and I wasn't enjoying the saddle very much, but while my Brompton often feels too heavy, too slow, too undergeared, and too bumpy, the rest of the time it's so unbelievably convenient and disarmingly friendly that I always seem to end up forgiving it.

April 21, 2011

So many different connections

The past few weeks have been lovely for cycling in Edinburgh, down to long-sleeved Helly Hansen temperatures at times and almost no rain at all. The only problem is, I've been battling a cold (like everyone else I think) and then battling a cold that turned into a cough, which went into my lungs and into my sinuses. By the end of last week riding every day was getting to be just too much, when my usual chestfuls of fresh air were met with coughing fits and and endless supply of tissues. I would've admitted environmental defeat and taken to the VFR, but it was still in a garage having its exhaust mended.

But never mind my health, I wanted to support Laid Back Bikes in only their second proper public display at a bike show. I missed the more local show at the Royal Highland Centre near the airport, but I did make it through to the SECC in Glasgow. Having been a fairly frequent visitor to the Weege in recent months for other bikey stuff involving Bromptons, ferries, trains, snow, and beer, it was a pleasant but headwindy two mile ride from Queen Street railway station down a mobbed Buchanan Street to the River Clyde, out past the Meccanotastic Finnieston Crane and along to the venue. I was last at the SECC for a camping, biking, boating outdoorsy show, so long ago that I was writing about it in English class at school.

Being a clever little girl, I had already researched the bicycle parking facilities, revealing them to be somewhat limited: a couple of racks at each of the main doors, and each rack good for half a dozen bikes at the most; not that much capacity for somewhere hosting a bike show, I thought. But I rode my Brompton, so I didn't need to bother with all that tedious locking up outside stuff, or worry about security. It turned out that they had actually set aside the entirety of Hall 5 for cycle parking inside, but even by my fashionably late standard of 12.30pm it wasn't what you would call stowed out. Like most exhibitioney places, the SECC is well served with car parking, but unlike Birmingham's NEC, which is convenient only for powered transport, you can actually walk to the SECC very easily, or you can take a brisk half-hour walk from the railway station, or you can take a bus, or even hire a bicycle. The SECC was built on the old filled-in Queen's Dock, which is on a fairly central and therefore accessible bit of the Clyde, instead of being a barren patch of tarmac eight miles from the city and on the wrong side of an airport and railway line.

Fold-fold-fold-fold and in I went, left the little bike under guard and collected my ticket. I'd paid £7.50 in advance rather than £10.00 on the door, which felt like good enough value to me, and so I wandered over to Hall 3 to visit Laid Back Bikes. And y'know, maybe check out the other stuff going on there too. No sooner than I'd arrived and unpacked my camera than I bumped into my friend Susie, who'd already been round the exhibition and was just leaving. Then after two shots my flashgun's battery died, which at least lightened the load on my neck; unlike the outspoken Ken Rockwell I'm still using the undoubtedly awful standard Nikon strap, which to his credit is actually quite uncomfortable. Laid Back Bikes was doing a roaring trade by all accounts. I said hello to David and Irene and was about to wander somewhere else when I bumped into George the Cameraman. I didn't recognise him at first, but we'd met six years ago when I helped out (she says, modestly) with a video he was making with Laid Back Bikes. And then I bumped into Keith, the very happy new owner of my infamous Speedmachine. I miss that bike, actually, even though my knees don't. On display at the LBB stand were two trikes and three bikes: I'd seen the silver Challenge Alize trike before, parked outside The Bicycleworks back in Edinburgh, and enjoyed its 'jet plane' looks. The dark red ICE Sprint possibly stole the show, though, even alongside a bright orange Challenge Fujin SL. Of course this was Laid Back Bikes, and the Nazca Fuego—almost David's signature bike now—was on prominent display and resplendent in a deep blue that was like looking into a river.

So I went wandering around, past Ironwood's build-your-own-wooden-bicycle stand and past some slightly anonymous and not very memorable stands demonstrating roadie stuff (too much carbon, not enough money) and BMXey stuff (too much radicaldudeness, not enough gears) and arrived at The Bike Chain's display, and bumped into Adam who'd much earlier furnished me with a long-handled allen wrench for my Brompton; TBC's owner Mark was flitting around between bikes and customers and being busy as, well, a bee. I like The Bike Chain a lot. By then some of the Edinburgh contingent from the citycyclingedinburgh forum bumped into me and we powered around the place, taking photos of the BMX area, complete with a quite impressive ramp setup and some daring riders. I only saw one accident in which the unfortunate rider landed backwards and fell hard onto the floor on his back. There wasn't an awed silence from the crowd, half of whom wouldn't have seen it anyway, nor from the riders themselves, who were all well hard. I did wonder though if he would be wearing a back protector in future; that's something that's on my shopping list for motorbiking to replace the foam thing in the back of my Hein Gericke jacket, and the excuse for a foam thing in the back of my leathers.

Later on two more of the Edinburgh forum arrived, having cycled all the way, and into the wind, and we decamped to the back of the arena to drink fruit juice, eat incredibly sugary, fattening things, and try out some of the Electra crank-forward(ish) bikes. Not as crank-forward as RANS builds, but enough that you could immediately feel the sit-up-straight, shoulders-back, relaxing riding position. We took turns to ride to and fro, while taking photographs and smiling and shouting encouraging things.

After being shown how to clean my sprockets using some very hi-tech long flexible bristle brushes with fleece woven into them (I think someone actually invented them a century ago, and called them pipecleaners...) at one stand, and being really impressed by Trakke's locally made messenger bags (like Crumpler without the sexist, vulgar advertising, or Carradice with cheery primary colours), and had I not already bought my Timbuk2 bag I would've been very tempted to buy, I ended up back at the Laid Back Bikes stand and chatted to a lady who was most taken with the ICE trike. She told me all about her cycling history and how much she'd enjoyed riding her custom built touring bicycle back in the day.

I still hadn't had any lunch though so I visited the little cafe for a hugely overpriced chicken and mushroom pasty ("D'ya wannit warmed up, luv?" "Yes please.") which I promptly discovered was so warm it burned my tongue, although it was actually very tasty. After leaving a pile of pastry flakes on my napkin and saying a farewell to some of the Edinburgh people, I was back in the sunshine on Henrietta Brompton and rolling along towards the station again.

Next year for the Scottish Bike Show? Probably, but to support local businesses more than anything else. Apart from the Trakke bags, I wasn't tempted to buy anything at all, or put in an order for anything. To tell the truth, these days I kind of have everything I need for cycling these days. But 2011 was the very first Scottish Bike Show, and the organisers took a pretty good stab at it.

February 14, 2011

I disregard the writing and I play just what I feel

With the odometer sitting today at 676 miles, I have to say that I'm getting on really quite well with Henrietta Brompton. I haven't really written much about the little one who lives in the corner, but to be fair, I haven't written terribly much about anything of late, except perhaps how to justify owning more bikes.

After the false start in 2009, when the bike-to-be turned out to be no more than a potential collection of components, my Brompton arrived at the end of June 2010 with the help of Biketrax, here in Edinburgh. I'd previously test ridden several bikes in order to try to decide what options I would like: a two-speed with the low, flat handlebars was pleasantly light and stiff, but while Londoners get by very well with the minimal gearing, we have hills; a six-speed with the classic handlebars felt pleasantly tall, which was good news for my neck, and rather too flexible, which was bad news for my muscles; and in any case I found myself hopeless lost with the unusual gear changing between two sprockets and three in the hub. Over at Kinetics in Glasgow I'd tried a titanium version and marvelled at the weight reduction compared with steel, and I took myself around the block on a bike with the multi-position handlebars. I'd bought my Dahon with the intention of occasional folding and frequent riding, probably at some speed, and having decided that speed and distance was a recumbent bike's domain, my Brompton would stay in the court of more gentle and genteel trips.

I wanted to like the 'P-type' touring handlebars, with their controls on the top level and a narrow, low-level position for riding into the wind, but it felt like steering the top of a door. I quite liked the classic 'M-type' handlebar arrangement, but its two-inch height advantage over the flat 'S-type' bar also meant it used a shorter and more vertical stem. If I ever decided that I wanted lower handlebars, I might struggle to find medium-high rise conventional handlebar. On the other hand, with the S-type bar the riding position was low but not stretched out, and potentially good for cranking along and hill climbing within the range of acceptable power output for the bike. And if I ever decided that I wanted the handlebars a wee bit higher, or further forward, an aftermarket adjustable two-inch riser could be fitted, perhaps in tandem with mountain bike riser handlebars. I opted for the flat handlebars.

Gearing was really a no-brainer. Single-speed? No way. Two-speed? Aye, on a 1 in 7 hill? Three speed? Getting there but needs more range. Two-speed, and then fit a double chainring? Potentially a good idea, but it worked out about the same weight as the six speed. So, six speed? My final decision was for the six using the wide-ratio hub and a smaller chainring, which would get the bottom gear around 29 inches which is sufficient for most places in Edinburgh, and on the top end presumably I could simply freewheel if need be. Mudguards were required for weather, and I didn't need any lights because I had them already. I had planned to get Biketrax to order me an aluminium telescopic seatpost, as I had found that even the extended seatpost was laughably short for me. But when I discovered the price of it, and after I'd picked up my jaw from the floor, I decided to stick with steel and hang the extra weight.

And so remained the most important decision of all: the colour scheme. I spent literally hours playing with NYCeWheels' color picker page, and to tell the truth, I came up with several combinations I really liked: Race Green extremities (that is, fork, stem, swingarm) with Apple Green frame, Apple Green extremities with Race Green frame, Cobalt Blue extremities with Arctic Blue frame, White extremities with Arctic Blue frame ... and I tried other combinations to invoke national identities. How about the Cobalt Blue frame paired with White extremities to recall the halcyon days of Ecurie Ecosse motor racing; or the Race Green frame with Yellow extremities for Team Lotus. I even tried the vaguely camouflage colour scheme with the Race Green frame and Sand extremities. In the end, I chose the Arctic Blue frame with Sand extremities, since Sand was the closest colour to the lovely cream colour that Brompton formerly offered. Blue and Cream was, of course, the colour scheme of the English Electric DP1.

That was then. An early modification was to replace the foam handlebar grips with Ergon GP-1s for more contact area. Victoria already had them, and I liked them a lot. I also added some stubby bar ends, wrapped with bright blue tape to match the frame. A cheap Cateye Micro wireless computer from eBay seemed to do the job, and I installed one of my Smart 7-LED rear lights under the saddle. The hard plastic trolley wheels soon made way for a pair of Brompton's excellent Eazywheels, and I added my otherwise spare carbon fibre bottlecage to the stem. Before very long, I took the homemade aluminium rack that I'd built for my P-38, I prior to its Blackburn EX-1, and fashioned it into a frame to take a second pair of Eazywheels at the back of the bike. The Brompton rear rack would have done, at the expense of even more weight; my frame wasn't designed to be structural. Now the folded bike could be rolled along with aplomb.

For 500 miles and more that was my bike. But those S-type handlebars while fine for my hi-NRG commuting were just too low down for more than 15 or 20 miles at a stretch, and something had to be done. A sidenote in an edition of Velovision had shown the adjustable riser, ostensibly for tandem stoker bars, and JD Cycles the only apparent stockist. Having hummed and hawed for months, they were out of stock when I actually wanted one. At long length I found one on the ThorUSA site, and at even longer length found one on the eBay arm of Practical Cycles in Lancashire (where both Hope Technology and Carradice reside). And from the sale at Edinburgh Bicycle I came out with a carbon fibre riser handlebar. The big changeover wasn't quite that easy, because all of the cables on a Brompton are fairly specific in their length: too short, and the bike doesn't fold properly; too long and the pedal or the crank or your foot will catch on them; put them on in the wrong order and the bike doesn't fold properly... With the riser and the handlebar, two brand new gear cables and two brake cables, plus four lots of housing, it was a day of measure, test, check, measure, check, cut, and four times at least. But it all came good in the end, and with the handlebars cut down to the same width as those of the Dahon, and my original Onza bar ends installed at last, I was in business!

And then while riding to work one day, I had my first flat tyre on the bike. Naturally, it was the back tyre, and I hadn't rehearsed the procedure for removing the wheel. It wasn't terribly far, so in the interests of saving money by not catching a bus or a taxi with my bike, I trudged home and went out on Victoria instead. It turned out to be a tiny arrowhead-shaped piece of grit that had gone through the Schwalbe Kojak's tread (if you can describe a slick tyre as having 'tread').

The rear wheel process turned out to be very easy once I'd looked at the pictures in the owner's manual and ignored the text -- after all, it wasn't rocket science: second gear, bike upside down, remove the hub toggle chain, remove the window nut, fold the wheel, detension and unship the chain, remove the tensioner whole, loosen the axle bolts, wheel out. The only picky bit is setting the cable tension on the gear cable, which is simple with a torch: in second gear the end of the screwed rod lines up with the end of the axle, as you look through the little window nut.

But 676 miles later, today I was finally fed up with the notchy, self-centring steering, the gritty front wheel bearings, and the rattling fork hook. So I took everything apart, replaced yucky brown grease (where there was some) with shiny black Castrol Moly Grease, and put everything back together. The headset's locknut washer decided to rotate as I tightened things up, which didn't help matters, and the cones on the front axle were seemingly either gritty and tight, or rattley and loose, but I bent them to my will in the end.

Next stop: tweaking the cones on the rear axle, and eliminating the monumentally annoying rattle of the Brompton 3-speed shifter!