Thursday, 15 May 2014

Bike building

A bit of sanding, polishing and painting has been taking place recently at Langsett Towers, and the result looks like this:

This old Carlton was made in Worksop, one of the unlikely stars in the bike building universe. It is a bike which I very definitely Should Not Have Bought. Carlton spent years building incredible, dazzling bikes painted the most amazing colours which must have looked all the more incredible in post war Britain, a country which The Langsett (Sr) tells me was actually beige. Pop your sunglasses on and have a look at the beautiful Carltons on Classic Lightweights and you'll see what I mean.

Then, towards the back end of the 1970's, Carlton produced the charmless, pillarbox red Grand Prix and garnished it with some dodgy, faux Art Deco decals. My own particular Grand Prix came from a beautiful bit of Shropshire, tucked away behind Birmingham. It had had every possible kind of abuse inflicted on it. As a result it was a scratched, faded pink, rusty, bent, battered cycling disaster area. I responded to its terrifying air of neglect by hiding it in the back of the cellar.

Eventually I buckled down to the job of getting it working and looking a bit better again.

Then I stopped. Then I started - and then stopped - again. In fact, totting it up on my fingers, I think I did this for about three years. Until last night, when I stood back and realised the Carlton was a working bike again.

Even with a new coat of paint, the Carlton's no racing rarity. But seeing it in the evening sunlight reminded me that even humble bikes have their moments.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Inferno: renaissance

As you'll know if you call round here frequently, The Langsett's awkwardly coloured, heavy-but-fragile British Eagle Inferno recently did itself a mischief while climbing a Welsh stream.

Back home, Kate came to give me some advice. "Daddy's bike is rubb-ish and he's going to cry because it's broken!" she sang happily. This was a pretty accurate summary of the situation. In the bike cave, I took the back end of the Inferno apart and stared in slack jawed horror at the chewed up drop out. I didn't want to take the bike to the tip. But I also didn't want to spend any money on repairing it. Or any time. Or any physical effort. I just wanted it to carry on working without getting all mardy until a sudden financial windfall allows me to replace it with something amazing and totally bulletproof.

I did some half hearted searching on ebay to see whether I could get a similarly free replacement. I actually found another British Eagle in a white and fluorescent orange paint job with a similarly fiery name - it might have been called a Conflagration or something - but I wasn't able to bridge the gap between what the seller wanted for it (£90) and what I was prepared to pay (£0). So in the end I called Phil at my local bike shop, Eddie McGrath Cycles. I gave him a full blow-by-blow account and asked him what he thought.

Phil sucked his breath in.

"I wouldn't go riding it up a stream again. " he said.

He thought about it a bit more. "Don't worry about it.", he said, "It'll probably bend back with a bit of heat. The main thing is to stick something in the derailleur hanger so it doesn't go all wonky." He was as good as his word too. A couple of hours later, the bike was back together and not working any more badly than it did before its brush with the rocky Welsh stream.

I noticed some extra bits of rust and scratched paint when I was putting the bike back together, but to my mind these just contribute to the badass aesthetic of the Inferno. It is a bike that wears the evidence of its frequent chaotic passage through undergrowth and mud proudly, and I like to think it commands respect because of this.

By coincidence, The Langsett and family visited friends in Yorkshire over the weekend, including all star engineer and generally top lad Rick. Rick lives at the top of a lovely hill in a scenic bit of the Yorkshire Pennines. His engineering job is at the bottom, and Rick's decided to get ripped by cycling to work and back. "So I set a limit of £25 on ebay and had a look to see what I could find." he said. "And I got this..." He showed me a picture of the bike on his phone; it was a very fresh aluminium Claud Butler mountain bike, more or less never used. It cost Rick exactly the same as it cost me to have Phil straighten the Inferno's drop out.