Monday, September 20, 2004

Bicycle Maintenance in London

This weekend saw me despairing over getting my bicycle going again. Why? Well I took off the rear wheel with the flat tyre and my local shop Cycle Asylum explained how older bike tyre sizes were extremely non-standard. So mine is a 1990 Peugeot Tradition and apparently used a so-called 650B French tyre size which is now obsolete. The inference was that if I couldn't find these tyres, it was not worth trying to replace the entire wheel with the nearest matching modern standard size. In other words, I should buy a new bike. The Sheldon Brown website suggested this was all true. Note that people should quote an ISO tyre size like 35-584, instead of the totally confused system of say, 26 x1.75 (which often refer to two or more different actual sizes)

I was bawling my eyes out. One straw too many on top of feeling like a failure on the jobhunting front, and the stress of waiting for the results from the health check I had on Thursday. A French bike, using a French tyre size that was doomed. I could find nothing much on the web about what happened to Peugeot bicycles (they were sold in 1992 to Cycleurope, who has other brands like Bianchi, so soon ditched the Peugeot Cycles marque). I remember when I first bought this bike and just wanted to stare at it because it was so beautiful to me. More importantly, over the last 3 years this bike has carried me almost unfailingly. I was willing to throw money at it and do anything to keep it alive. When I think about it, everything and everybody else has in some way let me down in my mid-life menopausal breakdown of recent years, but THAT bicycle was always there for ME.

Daycock's which used to be in East Ham, where I first bought the bike, had closed many of their branches and is now called D2. I phoned them and they knew about these tire sizes, and believed they might have some of these tires left somewhere in their warehouse, if they could find them! They suggested I ring back in a week when their warehouseman came back from holiday.

I started ringing round the other bike shops. S&S in Forest Gate, never even heard of these tires (I noticed on a previous visit that they are a bunch of lads' lads of the Ignorant Laughter generation). Various others also had never heard of the 650B tire size. Evans Cycles at Waterloo said they had them.

On Sunday, I was at Evans Cycles, and I almost bought a pair of tires from them, but they were 650A tires, not 650B. Of course, the earnest middle-class adolescent in the shop did not know the difference until I asked him to find out. Upon which he agreed that it really wouldn't do.

On Monday, after talking to some more Ignorant Bike Shops That Only Sell Mountain Bikes, I finally found London Fields Cycles in Hackney, which knew exactly what I was looking for, and said they had some of these tires. Lo and behold, I turn up there, and I find more bike mechanics than sales staff. A good and proper bike shop, just as they claimed they were. They seem very big in Hackney, where the green brigade are very big on bicycles. The tires I bought were exactly the type that Sheldon Brown U.S. Prices says they keep as new Old Stock, selling at $40.00 each. The Michelin World Tour 35-584 (650 x 35B - 26 x 11/2) at £8.00 each? I will be calling these tire sizes 35-584 from now on, which is the ISO tire size designation for the 650B.

Do I love London Fields Cycles or not? Plug, plug, plug. I also picked up a spoke spanner to true up my rear wheel and an inner tube.

So I took them home to fit myself, since their mechanics were booked up for the rest of the day. Shame I didn't think about the tube valves. The Schwalbe tube he sold me, has Schrader valves, which don't fit into a Presta valve hole. And there is no point having two different types of valve on the same bike, is there? So I took the old inner tube, and patched it with an ancient cycle patching kit from my dungeon of things I've never thrown away. There were two holes, so it must have been a "pinch flat", from low tyre pressures. Although the old tyres were well past the end of their life. I fitted the old tube and new tire, and everything has held together. The new tyre is slimmer than the old ones, which must have a balloon-tyre, maybe a 40-584. That should be a good thing: a little less comfort, but better speed and better handling around corners. First time done, and it worked. If first tries worked out more often, then life wouldn't be so damn discouraging.

So my bike lives. *Touching wood*. Maybe I should give it a kiss. It's the only love in this city that is worth having in the current state of the world.

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