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Tales from the Workshop: something old, something new

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Photographs: Jon Denham

Old and new. Vintage and contemporary. Glories relived through a restored machine and the old rider made young again with something new and defiantly modern. The life of the bicycle mechanic is nothing if not varied.
Something old
The rise and rise of the retro race provides interesting material. A 1965 Carlton Pro, bound for the Flandrian pavé for an edition of the Retro Ronde, has been the most recent vintage patient at the surgery.
The Carlton had been restored beautifully by the painters and it was my job to re-assemble the bike and get it ready for the Belgian cobbles. Most of its components were straightforward to work with and adjust, if you reset your expectations, given that all the gear was the best part of 50 years old, but wrestling with the Mafac Racer centre pulls and coaxing Velox cloth bar tape over the gear cabling and those fragile ‘half hoods’ made me appreciate working with modern equipment.
The Carlton’s wheels were another reminder of how far today’s technology and materials have improved. The alloy used for the rims is softer than you’d imagine possible and given the age of the wheels, I decided to walk away rather than endlessly struggle to correct a few small deviations.

The main challenge of the day however was to overcome the refusal of the Campagnolo Rally rear mech to engage with the bottom sprocket, so hub spacing and re-dishing had to be tackled. This was one gear certain to see lots of action on the “bergs” of the Ronde.
Once the bike was built, I could run through everything and try to fine-tune exactly how much pull was required on those non-indexed gears to coax the chain across all five (yes, count ’em – five) sprockets. I finished by setting up the brakes with much more travel than would be considered the norm today, but it meant that everything involved was in “full swing” by the time the pads hit the rims. All good then, and judging by the grin on the customer’s face, he was more than a little happy to see his project finally ready for action.
…and something new
Another client had a project to bring us bang up to date. He’d decided to give himself a slightly belated 70th birthday treat, so between us, over a couple of visits, we thrashed out his exact frame design requirements before placing the order.
It’s always a tiny bit nerve racking when a new, custom-built frame finally arrives on your doorstep as you don’t know exactly what is inside the box until you pull out the staples and slice the packing tape open. As you carefully remove the bubble wrap to reveal all, suddenly the secret is out and you hope that the customer will be thrilled.

We mulled over build options for quite a while and finally decided to raid his “new-old stock” parts collection. He had a fair few boxed 10v Campag components sitting around at home and a crafty plan to fabricate some MKIII shape 10v Ultra-Shift levers. This meant we could rationalise the fit across all three of his other bikes. As the build came together and the pile of parts in the corner became a heap of empty boxes, the outline of the new machine took shape.
Each phase of the build was photographed and uploaded to Facebook so he could see how it was all coming together, but the proof is in the riding as they say. On the day of collection the new owner was unfortunately feeling a bit under the weather, but setting his eyes on the partially completed Legend 9.5 seemed to cheer him up a fair bit.
After a couple of hours tweaking the fit and tidying up the cables, I managed to persuade the bike’s proud new owner to take it for a quick spin around the block. The smile on his face as he whizzed down my road was the icing on the cake. To see a 70-year-old man with a new bike as happy as a child on Xmas day is something to savour. A few rides later, I received an email waxing lyrical about the ride qualities and citing the bike as having “medicinal properties”. Good stuff.
After the tales of woe and the introduction to many of the TEGI phenomenon – described in my last contribution to 1.cc – it was nice to have some builds that went relatively smoothly and had such a positive outcome.
A bicycle mechanics’ life is rarely straightforward even if they’re only tasked with carrying out PDI (pre delivery inspections) on boxed, partially assembled machines. Unforeseen issues often test the patience of the most saintly Cytech-qualified individual.
That said, for me, despite all the ups and downs of each job, it is the expression of joy on clients’ faces that makes the memory of the scraped knuckle, broken finger nail and sweating brow as you wrestle with some unforgiving internal cabling conundrum, disappear in a flash.
I’m very lucky to do be able to what I do for a living and never lose sight of that fact. I hope that something of that spirit is captured in these Tales from the Workshop.

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