Posts Tagged ‘Shimano’

The key to preventing bike thefts

October 31, 2013

I’ve had an idea how manufacturers could help prevent thefts of their bicycles. It’s not going to happen now, but I think it could happen in the future. To explain, I’m going revisit the recent past.

A few months ago I wandered into a shop which sold only electric bikes. The owner’s enthusiasm for his products was tempered by a smugness which I thought was unwarranted. Thanks to his bike’s motor, he could get from his shop to central London within 10 minutes – but then so could I, and I can enjoy the exhilaration of riding a bike rather than the tedium of operating a clunky electric machine. He pointed out all the bicycles in his shop were fitted with a disabling system (which I presume contribute to their two grand price tag). It’s basically a small electronic card that fits into a slot on the handlebars and it functions in a similar way to a car key: without it, the bike won’t start. He said that as a result of the disabler, he had only one bike stolen in the past seven years. Well, none of my bikes have a special electronic key, and I haven’t had one nicked for more than a decade. Maybe knowing where you can’t safely leave your bike unattended is more worthwhile than having an expensive anti-theft device.

I doubt electric bikes will sell particularly well in the UK over the next few years. Apparently they’re the coming thing in China, the Netherlands and Germany, but these are countries that each have had their own cycling cultures for generations, so I suspect a lot of long-term riders are converting to electric when age or its attendant infirmity or injury prevents them from using regular bikes. Countries such as Britain that have recently caught the cycling bug may take longer to convert. Here in London, some of the Barclays hire bikes will go electric for a trial in a hillier part of the capital, and I imagine they will prove popular with the more, shall we say, leisurely rider who doesn’t want to sweat it when the road heads upwards. But realistically, how many Londoners would end up spending the price of a decent second-hand car on an electric bike of their own if they could use one for £1 a pop?

The disabler, though, is a useful idea. I wasn’t aware that such a facility existed – and neither, I suspect, did the thief who threw the shopkeeper’s bike into the back of his van, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken it. Surely what we need is a gadget that can fit onto the next generation of ordinary, pedal-powered, mass-market bikes; that way, every thief would know about them, and its presence would act as a disincentive to theft because the bikes would be much harder to sell on without that “key”. But what would that thing be?

I think it already exists. It’s the electronic groupset. Take the battery out of the slot for Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 and my Ridley Excalibur is not much use. Yes, you can still ride it in whatever gear you left it in, and I’m not suggesting we all buy expensive, Di2-equipped carbon bicycles to go down the shops or get to work. But the prices of electronic groupsets are coming down as their popularity increases, which means, like all kinds of consumer goods, it is probably only a matter of time before they make it into the mainstream. So maybe we could one day see an ordinary commuter bike that a thief couldn’t easily sell on because the bit that makes it fully operable is in the pocket of the owner. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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A wheel hassle

May 10, 2013

Freehub remover

I recently attended a bicycle maintenance course at Look Mum No Hands!, where I was taught many workshop-related secrets by an affable anarchist named Digger. I wish I could tell you those secrets, but sadly I can’t, because I’ve forgotten most of them. What I do remember, though, is Digger’s insightful response when I told him it was my dream to one day remove a cassette and chainring.

“What you need to do,” he concluded sagely, “is dream bigger.”

And Digger’s right, of course. To experience a fulfilling, meaningful existence, a human being must aim for an achievement far greater than the removal of a drivetrain (even though doing so allows you to give it a good scrub and get the whole thing looking extra sparkly-clean, which is always nice). Nevertheless, I am pleased to say that thanks to Digger and subsequent research on YouTube, I was able to take the sprockets off a wheel last week and transfer them onto a brand new one (the chainring business will have to wait for another day). It’s literally half a dream come true!

The path to realising your dreams is often paved with cobbles, and so it proved with my cassette-removing odyssey. Firstly, I went to a hardware store on North End Road run by an idiosyncratic Cypriot who refused to sell me an adjustable wrench until I took off my bicycle helmet and sunglasses. “I can’t see who you are!” he complained as I reluctantly removed my prescription eyewear – which, ironically, prevented me from seeing him.

A bigger problem occurred after I purchased a chain whip and lockring tool from a branch of a well-known bike shop chain near Southwark Bridge. The lockring tool didn’t fit. This is because it was actually a freehub remover (you can see it in the photo above resting on top of the cassette instead of slotting in). To spare their blushes, I won’t name the shop that doesn’t know the difference between an FR1 and an FR5. Although you don’t need to be a brain surgeon (see what I did there?) to work out who they are.

So after a delay of one day caused by being sold the wrong tool, I set about removing the cassette. Pull the chain whip clockwise around the cassette, turn the wrench anticlockwise, and behold! With one little tug, you have begun the process of liberating the cassette from its wheel-bound home. It’s piss-simple. As with most things cycling-related, I should’ve done this years ago.

Shimano Ultegra 10-speed sprockets removed

The next step was to lay all the sprockets and spacers out in order and clean them – the most satisfying part of this whole process – before attaching them to a Shimano Dura-Ace C24. (Yes, Campagnistas. First came the Shimano shoes, then the 10-speed Shimano electronic groupset, and now Shimano wheels: I am ‘turning Japanese’ in a way that is almost as unsightly as the activity described by that euphemism.) You’re probably dying to read my review of the C24 wheelset, so here it is: they’re very responsive but not as smooth as Ksyrium Elites, and the levers are what I imagine the ‘RELEASE BOMBS’ switch on a fighter jet’s control panel might look like.

Shimano Dura-Ace C24 quick release

That’s about it, really.

I’ll draw a veil over what happened next. Suffice to say, I am grateful to the ever-helpful Pearson Performance for being open early on a Saturday, and I didn’t realise the C24s are built for 11-speed when I bought them.

The important thing is, I achieved my sprockets-removing goal. I can now dream bigger.

So I’ve bought a new bicycle…

March 22, 2013

…and it’s green. Like a laser beam.

Merlin Excalibur seatstay

It has a computer brain.

Merlin Excalibur brain

And it’s adorned with a reference to the director of Blade Runner.

Merlin Excalibur top tube

So basically it’s a robot bicycle from the future. A Tron bike. A carbon fibre Terminator. An X-Wing on wheels. The Ridley brand is steeped in the heritage of Belgian cycling, but this looks like the sort of bicycle Kraftwerk’s robotic doppelgangers would ride (if they didn’t have aluminium poles for legs).

Merlin Excalibur profile

I’ve been interested in this particular Ridley Excalibur since Pearson Cycles tweeted a photo a couple of months ago. There are a few reasons why I decided to buy one: the price tag is quite attractive; I wanted to reward myself for being a very good boy money-wise throughout this financial year; and I wanted to try a carbon bike, especially one crafted in the traditional way – by anonymous factory workers in the Far East. More importantly, The Green Machine looks like it couldn’t give an anodised nipple what I or anyone else thinks of it, and that appeals to the obstinate side of my nature.

As a new owner in the first flush of joy, you’re not going to get anything remotely objective out of me at this stage. You may recall that bit in the Alan Partridge Christmas special, where he repeatedly presses the eject button on a CD player in a branch of Tandy (overseas readers: Tandy is, or was, Radioshack) and marvels: “Nice action… very nice action… that is a very nice action.”

Well, that’s basically me dicking around with Shimano Ultegra Di2 during the past couple of days. Changing gears electronically has its own peculiar fun, mainly because it’s so… soft. Light. Gentle. I’m enjoying it immensely, although it will probably be only a matter of time before I yearn for the manly clunk of the 2006 Chorus groupset on my Merlin Cyrene.

I rode up the small climb in Richmond Park against a headwind, and it feels noticeably zippier and more responsive than the Merlin. My emotionless android bicycle does not fear bad weather – but sadly, being human, I do. So I won’t be taking the Excalibur out if it snows or pisses down this weekend. You’ll just have to wait until next week to see it.