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Progress report

April 1, 2013

For the past few weeks my bike has been making exactly the kind of crunching clanking noises you don’t want to hear.
It’s never been the quickest of cycles, but more Bromptons and fixies had been passing me on my way to work. The downward stroke on the left pedal felt slack and a little wobbly, but the bike seemed to be surviving.
Until Tuesday…
On Tuesday I started my cycle home, noticing that the wobble in the pedal was more pronounced as I made slow progress past Russell Square. Turning towards Tavistock Square I noticed thick oily smoke billowing from the chainpit.
The clanking became worse, the wobble untenable. At the last moment I threw myself to the ground as flames erupted from the bike, flaring brightly as the central gears exploded in a furnace of sparks and smog and loose cogs.
It seemed unlikely that I’d be able to cycling the smouldering ruins back home, so I walked the ruined bike back towards Evans Cycles in Holborn.
‘Looks like the crank shaft’s gone,’ was the early verdict. On closer inspection: ‘The ballbearings have gone. And the cogs.’ Pause, then in a conciliatory tone ‘I think we can salvage the saddle.’
And so, for four tube journeys, the bike was in a workshop. Cue a Dirty DancingFlashdance-style welding montage.
While I ran a little too hard round the Serpentine (felt great at the time, but stiff ankle the next day) a man in an Evans uniform forged a new set of pedals over a coal-stoked fire with a hammer and sparks and sweat. While I was on an all-day presentation training course trying to convey a range of emotions to a complete stranger through the prescribed phrase ‘Are you talking to me?’ the same man was coated in grimy oil in a pit under the bike, fitting a blade-sharp set of front cogs.
Spent from the exertion of projecting, whispering and shouting a poem at complete strangers in the style of a barber’s shop quartet, I returned to Evans in the hope that my bike would be ready.
And – at long last – it was.
The cycle home was fast and smooth as I adjusted to the feel of the bike. I mean, the seat was familiar, but the rest of it… The bike was quiet and efficient and the chain was taught and the pedals stayed engaged for the full rotation.
I overtook a man in a suit on a Boris bike, an elderly gent on a Brompton and a hipster in ironic trousers on a single-speed and all was right in the world of cycling.
[NB Some events may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect. Also, may have been corrected in my reference to mid-80s welding-based movies.]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2013 5:48 pm

    Mine fell off last year. One new axle, a handful of ball bearings and a dollop of grease later and my bike was back on the road and feeling slicker than ever. Bloody terrifying though. I can’t believe yours fell off while riding!
    Cost of materials to fix it: less than a fiver
    Hire of tools and bike stand at the London Bike Kitchen (90 mins): £18
    Smug feelings from learning how a bottom bracket owrks and what exactly a ball bearing does: priceless.

    • April 1, 2013 6:25 pm

      There are few things less confidence-inspiring than wobbling along the road with a taxi breathing heavily down your neck…

      I’d never heard of the Bike Kitchen before – that sounds great. Just checked out their website ( – the courses look particularly good. I could definitely do with knowing how to make essential repairs. Much as the cost of getting my bike fixed will be earned back within three weeks of tube-free travel, it was a good £75 more than your bill of repairs!

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