July 22, 2007

Open secrets

It's here! My new frame arrived just a few days after I last wrote, a courier company man turning up at the door with a surprisingly long cardboard box. All the way from California in fact, festooned with customs documentation and mailing labels and an interestingly spelt address, but they got the postcode right fortunately. The exchange rate was rather nice to me, but don't ask how much the shipping was...

So I already had a ton of parts all ready to go, a pair of wheels I'd built at least a month earlier, and...no headset tools. Being the happy DIYer I am, I thought I'd probably just get hold of some steel tube in the right size and bang the parts in myself, rather than paying the bike shop to do it for me. A headset isn't quite like a cartridge bottom bracket where you screw it in and everything lines up because it's all one piece. The two headset bearing cups have to be exactly lined up with each other, and the bearing piece that fits onto the fork crown also has to be exactly right. I started out not being able to find any metal tubes that were the just right match for the crown race bearing, until I had a brainwave and pulled out the main seatpost from the little Helios. It was almost the right size! But it wasn't exactly the right size and my bearing started to go squint as I hammered it on, and then it stuck. Now that was a slight problem, because although it was steel, any squintness might permanently put it out of round. So I hunted and hunted all over again, and eventually I got silly and tried the steerer tube from the forks of the Rockhopper, which were still sitting in the garage having been turned into a makeshift wheel truing stand at some point. Well wouldn't you know, the "Avenger" sized steerer was an exact fit over the "Standard" steerer of the new fork! So I sawed it off and filed it all nice and square and...it wouldn't slide all the way on. The tube was butted inside! Ok, so I'll file out the insides a bit, I thought. Well good quality Tange cro-moly tubing is tough stuff! I resorted to using an internal grindstone on the electric drill, which seemed promising until the grindstone broke. No biggie, there's a spare one, so I had another go and was making progress. Then that grindstone broke off too. I had one more spare so I carried on and tried a different movement with the drill. By the end of the afternoon I finally had a drift tool that would work. Of course, the tool was three inches too short but I was able to use the Helios' seatpost as a secondary drift. A bit of preparation with a hammer and screwdriver straightened the bearing out a bit, and then it was all systems go. It was the tightest interference fit crown race bearing I've ever seen. But it went on eventually, to my relief.

After that I wasn't going to take any chances with pressing the bearing cups into the frame though, and my new headset press made light work of the task. It cost at least as much as a shop would charge to fit a headset, and since Annie needs a new headset at some time as well, it made sense to buy the tool. "Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten", said the uncompromising Henry Royce.

The rest of the assembly went very easily, for the most part. I did have to file off some of the paint from the frame's dropouts so that the axles would actually fit. I had some gear cable housing spare, plenty for the build, but when I came to trim it to the right lengths, it was like trying to cut through armour plating. My wire cutters couldn't do it, my pliers couldn't do it, my electrical wire cutters couldn't do it, and I blunted a chisel trying as well. Come on! So I spoke to the guys in Edinburgh Bicycle's workshop and asked what cutters they were using, and decided in the end to buy the same: Park Tool's CN-10. Wow, talk about power! They'll last me a lifetime too.

The Lightning P-38 owes its design to their short wheelbased X-2 streamliner originally, back in the early 1980s, and is a more rider-friendly evolution that hasn't really changed in 15 years. It was one of the fastest bikes on the track at one time, especially in its F-40 guise, until lowracers came onto the scene and wiped the floor. But like the Windcheetah or the Brompton or the Moulton spaceframe, the P-38 was fundamentally right from the start, and good designs only evolve over time. It's not as aerodynamic as a lowracer or even some of the highracers like the Challenge Seiran, it's not full of carbon fibre or jawdroppingly light, but it's acceptably light, made of proper 4130 grade steel and it's very stiff. The riding postion is also more closed than most. For that reason, it's still regarded as one of the best recumbents for hillclimbing, and I have to say, I spend a lot more of my time going up than down. My Speedmachine is no slouch on the whole, but hauling 13lbs less metal up a hill should be nice.

There's no suspension on the bike, but in line with recent trends away from super narrow tyres, I've put bigger tyres on it than I'd usually use; it has a mesh seat rather than solid fibreglass, and the padded seat base is actually a cantilever and flexes when you sit on it. There are no disc brakes, because the bike was never designed for them (discs put huge torsional forces around dropout areas) but the v-brakes I've selected are well recommended by the people throwing themselves down mountains. The mesh seat should let my back breathe much better when I'm riding, since a) I practically create my own weather when I ride, and b) "sweaty back syndrome" is well recognised for recumbent riders. I kept an eye on the weight of all the components, but I've not gone too light where it matters: I know from experience that I need strong wheels, and that means touring rims, good tyres and more than a handful of spokes. With my basic LED lights fitted, I weighed the bike at 27lbs, compared with Speedy at 36lbs and the Speedmachine at 40lbs.

This does mean that Speedy is going to be leaving me. I've been its custodian for four of its 13 years and it's brought me into contact with a lot of cool, likeminded people. Like my friend Liz, they're people who are genuinely a bit offbeat at a basic level, rather than people who like to run against the grain as an occasional diversion from normality.

My remaining task is to be able to ride a bike again, but fingers crossed, I'm making some progress.


Sophie said...

It looks lovely! Maybe I'll ask you for a shot next time I see you...

Becky T said...

Hi Sophie! Maybe I'll write a bit more about this later, depending on how I feel, but I managed two whole miles this morning. Then spent the rest of the day nursing my dried-out throat. But the bike is fab; it's quick handling and copes with the roads here very nicely.

Hey, let me know if you fancy grabbing a coffee sometime, or a Gatorade, or whatever it is bike messengers drink. :)

Sophie said...

Hi Becky, great to hear you've been out on your bike - that's a really positive development. I know I'd be going crazy being separated from my bikes for so long. Let's hope that a little exercise can help promote healing. Keep on riding if you can!

Meeting for a coffee would be nice (I do have a serious caffeine habit) Feel free to drop me a line - my email is sophie_tgirl at hotmail.co.uk

Hope you're still making progress,