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.