Things to do if you have some spare time…

It seems like people may have a bit more time on their hands in the coming weeks and months, and whilst the temptation is to fire up Netflix/Iplayer/Youtube or do some DIY I thought it might be a good thing to share some relevant bike stuff to help while your time away. Most of this is aimed at bike nerds and vintage bicycle enthusiasts, but is probably relevant no matter what type of bicyclist you are.

Some interesting writing on the internet.

Keith Bontrager tells it like it is.

Keith Bontrager, aka The Professor, wrote a number of really interesting columns for a UK mountain bike magazine called MTB Pro back in the early 90s. Some of these themes were expanded on in something called ‘Keith’s rants’ that were on the Bontrager website up until (I guess) Trek pulled it. Keith is a very clever man who understands physics, and the technology of bikes, but also the softer side to that, the ‘why’ people ride, and how technology can affect the feel of a bike. I can thoroughly recommend reading through these rants via the wayback machine here:

Keith’s rants

Jobst Brandt on bicycles.

Jobst Brandt was a thorough bike nerd, designer and most of all advocate for actually riding. His at times outspoken opinions were smattered across the early days of the internet via message boards and the following index is a deep but interesting collection of his contemporary writings about, well, everything. In particular his views on technology and it’s worth may appeal to the sort of retrogrouch that thinks carbon forks are evil and eight gears at the back is more than enough. You probably wouldn’t have found this if that isn’t you though, click the link here:

Jobst Brandt archive

Learn a new skill.

True and build a wheel.

There are a number of mechanical things on bikes that are simple, and others that can take a little more time. I suspect top of the list of things people wish they could do on their own bikes but think it’s a big job are truing/building wheels. It’s not easy, or straightforward, but if you have the patience and some time it is well worth learning it. I have built a few wheels, and I learnt the basics from Zinn and the art of bicycle maintenance, I was lucky that at the time I could do this whilst working in a bike shop with experienced wheelbuilders and the correct equipment to hand. To be honest you can get an awfully long way with a basic spoke key and an improvised truing stand from an upturned pair of forks (you can even keep them in the bike!). Once you have done some theory and practised it will be another super useful skill that may even get you out of trouble out on the trail or on a tour.

There are some very detailed books (yes, whole books) dedicated to building wheels and maybe now is the time to actually read one if you are that way inclined (you’re more likely to finish it than Ulysees) but the information in Zinn’s book, or the Park Tools book should be plenty for most home mechanics. Equipped with a set of calipers and one of the online spoke calculators you can even sort out your own spokes, rims and hubs and get set building your own wheels.

Wrap your bars.

I have to admit that wrapping drop bars always seemed like magic to me, I’ve done it about 50 times now and I still wouldn’t say I was particularly good at it. In reality it’s really not that hard if you take your time and it’s quite satisfying to know that you can just change the look of the bike when you like, I always have a box of garish 90s bar tape at hand to cheer up the commuter bike!

Polka dot?

Read a book.

Any book? Yeah, why not, it’s better than staring at a screen (I get the irony of that), but specifically a bike book. They can be informative, inspirational or just set you off down a new eBay saved search wormhole. Here are some books I have enjoyed over the past couple of years.

I have linked them all to places you can still buy them that aren’t Amazon to save you some legwork too.

Japanese steel by William Bevington

Japanese steel is a large format hardback and is more of a flick-through-whilst-day-dreaming or reference book really. It contains some wonderful pictures by Scott Ryder of some impeccably built Japanese bikes and Marques include Bridgestone, Miyata and 3Rensho. If you are a fan of high quality steel bikes from the 70s, 80s and 90s this is for you, there are some great detailled shots and some useful hints and tips on identification as well as a timeline for each company.

Japanese steel

Journey to the centre of the earth by Richard and Nicholas Crane

Journey to the centre of the earth sounds suspiciously like a Jules Verne novel rather than a book about a bike tour, but it’s a wonderful account of a huge undertaking with minimal kit. Cousins Richard and Nicholas Crane set out to travel from the coast of Bangladesh to the furthest point from the coast in the World, via the Himalayas in a time when borders were hard to cross. They take less supplies and spares with them than I carry for my commute and have some close calls with nature along the way. A great read.

Journey to the centre of the earth

The custom bicycle by Michael J Kolin and Denise M de la Rosa

The custom bicycle is primarily a guide to having a bike built for touring or road riding, and it’s 40 years old. Though things have moved on and you are unlikely to be using a book like this as help getting a bike made it has a really good section on various European and US builders including Mercian, Condor, Cinelli and Jack Taylor. There are also a number of very geeky chapters on tubing, bike set up and riding technique too. If not quite indispensable it’s certainly interesting reading.

The custom bicycle book

Plan your next big ride or tour.

Some say that the planning is half the fun, and whilst it looks like none of us are getting out for a big ride or a long tour any time soon you can do some of the planning. Maps are still available online, and there are a number of great resources for putting together something a little more off piste too – I used gravel maps recently and it was pretty good. Get some friends involved, find some pubs you’d like to visit and even use it as justification for some bike upgrades or a new bike altogether, it’s good to have something to look forward to.

Vintage bike S48O - bar bag with real maps

Write down your frame numbers and bike specs.

I know this sounds dull, but if like me you have ‘a few’ projects it can be really hard to remember what you need for those projects resulting in you ending up with enough bits for another whole groupset. Another side to this is insurance, if you have a detailed list of each bike’s frame number and build kit it will make life much easier in the event of the worst happening. I strongly recommend you do not add up what you paid for them though!

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