Brompton H6L… Delights and disappointments

I’ve been commuting on my Brompton H6L for nearly eight months and have covered somewhere in the region of 1,500 miles.

By and large, it’s been a very satisfying marriage. The bike has performed admirably and has the capacity to surprise and delight with its nimble ride and ingenious fold.

However, the Brommie has not been without problems and in this post I’ll set out the some of the more negative aspects of my Brompton ownership and offer some advice for riders who may be considering taking the plunge. Continue reading

Thorn Club Tour ‘upgrades’

Update October 2013: This bicycle has now been sold.

Over the last couple of weeks, my Thorn Club Tour has been going through its annual service. This involves cable checks, hub servicing and the like… and I’ve taken the opportunity to make one or two upgrades.

Chief among these have been the brakes. I had been running some pretty basic Shimano cantilevers that were salvaged from my old Dawes Galaxy. These had been OK, but the bike merited better.

I have now fitted Shimano R550 cantilevers, which are a marked improvement. These were very easy to install and configure, although I did find the springs a little slack on the rear set, yet too tight to mount on the third hole of the cantilever bosses. A little bit of gentle ‘realignment’ with some pliers soon remedied the issue, though.

Other changes include a new Deore chainset. I have no reason to ‘upgrade’ to XT or other variations here. Deore has been solid and reliable in the past and I see no reason why this won’t be the case in future. The new ‘set is supplied with an external bearing bottom bracket. Although I was initially sceptical of this technology on my Audax, it has proved to be very reliable.

Finally, I have added a layback seatpost to provide a bit more cockpit flexibility. This is a ‘Zoom’ post supplied by SJS Cycles. It offers a slightly more stretched out position, which I now prefer after making one or two tweaks to the Audax.

Anyway, here are some pics and the spec:

Frame: Thorn Club Tour 620S, Reynolds 725 tubing
Forks: Reynold 531st
Bars: ProLT 44cm (c to c)
Brake levers:  Tektro RL340 black
Shifters: Shimano Dura Ace 9 spd bar end
Stem: Ritchey adjustable
Headset: FSA Orbit XLII
Brakes: Shimano RL550 cantilevers
Rims: Rigida Sputnik
Hubs: Deore LX 36 hole
Spokes: Double butted Sapim, plain gauge ‘strongs’ on drive side
Tyres: Panaracer Pasela Tourgruard 35mm
Crankset: Shimano Deore M590 22 32 44
Front mech: Deore
Rear mech: Deore
Chain: Sram PC971
Saddle: Brooks Champion Flyer B17
Seatpost: Thorn Zoom layback, 400mm, 27.2mm
Racks: Tubus Ergo front, Tubus Cargo rear.

Thorn Club Tour: Cutting a fork steerer tube

Thorn Club Tour

With rain and wind lashing the window when I awoke this morning, it seemed a good day to spend in the garage and cut the steerer tube on my Thorn Club Tour forks.

I’d purchased a dedicated tool for this job, the SJS steerer cutter clamp, and all I needed was a decent hacksaw.

Reading the cycling forums, cutting a steerer tube is one of those jobs that requires a deep breath before you start. It’s pretty final: get your measurements wrong and you’ll need a new set of forks.

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Time to hit the workshop – SJS Cycles steerer cutter

SJS Cycles Steerer Cutter Clamp

Christmas is only two weeks away and that usually means a little ‘project’ over the festive break. With (most of) the DIY done for the year,  I’ll get the opportunity to cut the steerer tube on my Thorn Club Tour forks.

As is the norm when it comes to buying tools, I check to see if something is available on the Park Tools website, and then see if I can find a cheaper alternative. I’d like to be in the position to fill the tool box with Park’s finest, but my pockets aren’t deep enough.

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If it ‘aint broke…

Cycling is synonymous with technology. Advances in components allow the moderately fit to ride a mountain bike up the side of a house while cycle tourers can tumble down a mountain pass with four week’s supplies on board and be confident that they’ll be able to stop.

Frame materials have moved from mainstay steel to aluminum and carbon in a bid to shed weight. Wheels have lost spokes, saddles have shrunk and handlebars have morphed in accordance with ergonomic study.
Manufacturers’ devotion to product development is mainly geared to the racing community, where weight and energy transfer are paramount, and to those ‘normal’ cyclists with deep pockets who seek to emulate their heroes in the peleton.

I don’t fit that mould (I’m far too ungainly and ugly) and, consequently, my tastes are a little more prosaic.

I prefer my bikes to be steel and I like my wheels to be handmade and have 36 spokes. I want my components to be reliable, tough and easy to maintain.

This ethos extends to all kit choice, but this pragmatism does not displace genuine affection for one or two items.

The first has to be my Brooks saddles. I have two B17s, a black standard issue on my audax and a Champion Special in rather natty green on my tourer.

Both are now well broken in and sublimely comfortable. I am lucky in that my backside fits an out-of-the-box Brooks pretty well so I don’t suffer during the break-in period. I know it’s agony for some folk, though.

In the two years I’ve had them, they’ve required no maintenance save for a bit of proof hide, mainly on the underside. I’ve also dabbed a bit of 3-in-1 oil on the front bolt to stop the well-known squeak.

I can’t imagine cycling distance on anything else and the only reason I don’t replace the perch on my hack Kona is that I fear someone would steal it when it’s locked up.

Other products that rank highly are my Caradice panniers, bar bag and junior saddlebag. The fact they are not waterproof means little to me – rucksacks are not watertight so using drybags is second nature.

The cotton duck is incredibly strong, the mounting system on the panniers is simple but rock-solid effective while the saddlebag on my Audax will swallow cake, repair kit, wallet and waterproofs without need for a rear rack.

More than all that, what makes my heart swell about both Brooks and Caradice products is that they are made in the UK. Brooks saddles are still manufactured in the West Midlands – Smethwick – while a very nice lady in Nelson, Lancashire, made my bags. I know this because there’s a little label inside them that tells me so.

I also know that if either of them let me down, these companies will deal with any issues swiftly with the minimum of fuss.

Not a scrap of carbon or titanium in sight, just simple stuff that works really well.

Creaks, squeaks and clicks…

Working on bikes is all part of the pleasure of owning them. I’m no mechanic, but having three bicycles gives me an excuse to disappear into the garage of an evening and,for want of a better expression, have a tinker.

Yesterday evening was bike repair heaven. I put the Audax on the work stand and got busy curing an annoying click that I’ve had since I bought the bike and a creak from my Brooks B17.

The click was cause to send the bike back to Thorn who found no problems. I put it down to my heft and lived with it. However, what was once a minor creak/click when climbing out of the saddle has degenerated into a regular, infuriating accompaniment to every pedal stroke.

The click led to a nervous tick and I thought it high time I dismantled the bottom bracket to see if I could find the problem. I hoped it would be something associated with Mr Shimano’s external bearing rather than a crack in the bottom bracket shell or something equally onerous.

After an hour with a wrench or two and some grease the bike was soon back together. Out on the lunchtime run today peace descended.

Given my limited mechanical ability, my success did prompt the question of what the folk in Bridgewater actually did when the bike was returned. No matter, the Audax is now even better than when I bought it.

And the Brooks creak? To be honest, this wonderful saddle could squeak and grind every pedal stroke and I would still use it. Now 4,000 kms old, it’s well broken in and, well, perfect.

Shaking the Web for an answer, I discovered that many a Brooks owner gets ‘the creak’ at some stage of their perch’s life. Numerous cures can be found, particularly from the CTC crowd, ranging from a bit of three-in-one on the nose bolt to immersing the saddle in a vat of warm lard (well, not quite, but many an extravagant suggestion has been offered to break in these wonderful saddles).

I opted for the former, and my B17 is silent.

So, the Audax is now in stealth mode and all fellow riders will now hear is the clattering of my lungs and the click of my knee joints (and the swearing at motorists).

Let’s get high

Saturday ended up being one of those zippedee-dooh-dar, it’s-great-to-be-alive days.

Folk who know me will attest that these days don’t happen for me too often… I’m a bit of a misery guts, you see.

Thorn Audax 600L high on the Holmfirth passHowever, not only did the day dawn bright, the roads were clear of snow and traffic. It appeared that there was enough of the white stuff around to give the hills around my way and Alpine flavour and keep cautious motorists in front of the telly (let’s hope they weren’t watching the test match… ouch).

Other reasons for my good vibe? I was back on the bike with little discomfort in my back and I managed 40 miles with no stress. Seeking to capitalise I gave it a real work out and climbed the pass to Holmfirth.

This is not a steep climb, as such, but it can be challenging psychologically as it seems to go on forever.

The final bit of good news is that I have nearly rid my Thorn Audax of that annoying creak. I fitted my Brooks B17 on the bike for this ride (as I’m trying to break it in before the LeJOG) and this appears to have cured much of the noise.

So, it could have been seat/seat post related, which would explain why the guys at SJS cycles could not detect any problems (the bike was not supplied with a saddle).

Maybe the Brooks gives me in a better position on the bike and improves my ‘style’ – i.e. I pedal more efficiently and smoothly when riding with it. Who knows? The bike’s a pleasure now, though, so here’s hoping.

Miles for the fortnight (due to back problems): 105.

Click, creak… arrgh!

I love riding bikes, and nothing serves to solidify the experience than a sweet sounding transmission.

I’ve got a tiny problem, though, with my Thorn Audax Mk3. I’ve had a metallic creak/ticking noise occurring every time I press on the pedals (not always when standing and pressing on… a change in pedal pressure due to acceleration will create the noise).

It’s been all the way back to Thorn in Bridgewater for a diagnosis and two people there have taken it out. One couldn’t detect a problem, the other thought it was chain related.

I appreciate their efforts, but it’s hard to nail these problems when you can’t be there in person (a disadvantage of buying remotely, of course).

I love the bike, though, and I can live with it (just) but another session in the garage last night isolated the problem to the bottom bracket area after trying all the usual suspects again (bars, stem, seat post, saddle, cassette tightness, pedals, skewers and quick release).

Removing the chain, I can create the noise by pressing down on the pedals when the cranks are horizontal. This would suggest looseness in the BB. I’m going to get a torque wrench and tighten the bolts as its an external BB.

I’ll let you know how I get on.