William Blake, 4th July 2013 – 5th July 2013

So I’ve been doing a different kind of riding over the last year or so, and needed a bike that could handle it. Basically I do a pretty high mileage, but often need to carry a load of stuff too. So I decided that I needed a tourer / audax bike, which would then supplant a couple of the others in my stable.

But I wanted something that had a certain look to it – that would remind me of the Dawes Galaxies that I used to covet in the early 80s. Ideally that’s exactly what I’d have got, but then I spotted this little gem on Ebay:

1985 Raleigh Granada

The opening price on the auction was £50, but it was for collection only and the vendor was in Cornwall. So I sent them a message and asked if they’d be prepared to post it to me if I sorted out a suitable box. They replied that yes they would, but then crucially didn’t update their listing with this information.

So despite having almost 30 people watching the item, I was the only bidder and got the bike for £50 + £28 postage. That’s a 531 frameset for less than eighty quid, with a bunch of other components thrown in. Other similar bikes that I’d been watching had gone for £300-400. Bargain!

Despite its claimed low mileage, it was clear that the bike needed some serious TLC, and my plan was to upgrade a good selection of the components. Indexing shifters, a nine-speed casette, 700c wheels instead of the 27″ ones, stuff like that.

The first step was to modify the frame so that it’d take a modern wheel on the back – 700c road wheels now have 130mm spacing, compared to the 125mm that this bike had. The beauty of a steel frame is that this sort of modification is possible – just don’t try this with a carbon or aluminium frame:

Opening the rear triangle

The key to this is to go gently – just turn the jack’s screw by hand rather than using the handle. You also have to take the frame past where you want it too – it springs back. Open it up a bit, release the pressure, measure the results, repeat. In this case, I had to open the frame to 155mm, for it to spring back to 130mm.

I then had it powder coated by a local company, and it came back a lovely royal blue, with a hard, glossy, uniform paint finish. I highlighted the lugs with white paint prior to re-assembly.

I swapped out most of the original components (apologies to any purists reading – if it upsets you that much, invent yourself a time machine and go back to whatever golden age you think you’re from), and ended up with a bike that’s probably the equivalent of a modern Dawes Galaxy Classic, or even the Pashley FW Evans tourer (though not being a Pashley means I don’t need to display HGV markings). The main differences would be that I’ve used some slightly blingier components, but have stuck with a double rather than tripple chainring. I’ve never really understood people’s obsession with tripples – just grow bigger muscles!

As my bikes are named after dead posts, this one is William Blake:

William Blake – departing for maiden journey

William Blake – Front wheel

William Blake – rear wheel

William Blake – head-on.

SO the plan for the bike’s maiden trip was a ride into Newcastle, where I was leading a ride for work later in the day. First though, as part of the H&S risk management, I’d ride the route that I planned to do later, to check for any last minute changes – road works, fallen trees. That sort of thing.

I was riding with a group of work colleagues on a traffic-free cycle path when disaster struck. I was alongside another rider chatting, when he mis-shifted a gear, and his foot slipped off the front of the pedal, which then struck him in the calf. The effect of this was that he lost control of his bike, and of the next few (several, many?) seconds, all I have is two flash frame images in my mind.

The first is of him landing almost on top of my handlebars as he tripped, and the next is of foliage and a tree trunk. After that, I’m staring at the sky, with the other four riders in our group looking down at me.

Fortunately, I don’t think I hit the tree straight on – as my bike swerved to the right from under me I wasn’t quite going where it led any more. So when the bike hit the tree, I was off to one side, and only hit it with my right arm, left shin and knee. The bike’s sudden stop spun me off to land flat on my back on the grass next to the path. I’ve seriously tweaked a muscle in my back, wrenched my neck a bit, collected an assortment of grazes and an embarrassment of bruises. But other than that, I was fine.

The bike on the other hand is less good. Either the impact, or my sudden ejection put a serious dent in the top tube:

Dented bike – not so bling now

We found this while checking the bike over, and as it’s a steel frame assessed the bike as damaged but ridable. So we continued on the rest of the ride, before I turned back to Newcastle with a colleague who was one of the marshals for the afternoon’s trip. I planned to carry on as normal and lead this ride. But over the next couple of hours it became clear to me that I was not in the right frame of mind to be responsible for a dozen or so members of the public. So I excused myself and passed over responsibility to the ride’s deputy leader, before heading home.

On Saturday, I measured the dent. It’s right in the middle of the top tube, and compresses it by about 30%. The tube is now curved, and the whole frame is a little out of alignment. I took it into a local bike repair shop (i.e. to see someone who knows their stuff, but would have no vested interest in just selling me a new bike), and their view was that although cosmetically the dent could be rolled out, filled & re-painted, they would never fully trust it. On a fast descent, or hitting a big pothole, who could tell how it would behave?

So their recommendation is that this is now a dead bike, and as it is, I shouldn’t even be riding it.

Looking on the bright side, I walked away from a crash with a tree. But I’m bloody annoyed about the bike!

RIP William Blake, 4th July 2013 – 5th July 2013

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Posted in Bike Culture
5 comments on “William Blake, 4th July 2013 – 5th July 2013
  1. Ow, but that hurts, especially as you did such a lovely job of the bike. Will you go for another bike of the same type or will you leave it for a while?

    By the way, two questions about rennovating a bike like that. Are there brake handles available for drop handlebars that work with V brakes, and where did you get the barend shifters from? I can’t find any that are under a hundred pounds.

  2. KarlOnSea says:

    Haven’t really decided about the bike yet – it may be reparable. There’s a local guy who can replace the tube, respray, and even put the original decals on the bike… at a cost, and a curent lead time of >12 weeks. (So much for the summer…). And I’d still have the agro of taking it to pieces & re-assembling it.

    If I went for a replacement, I’d probably look at the Surly Disc Trucker, or maybe the Dawes Galaxy Classic. Though in truth, both have distinctly modern-looking shapes, that I was hoping to avoid!

    I’m pretty sure you can get brake levers in this style for V-brakes. In fact, here’s an example on Wiggle.

    As for the bar-end shifters, they’re popular with TT riders, so carbon ones tend to be expensive… But 9-speed Dura Ace is listed on Wiggle at £59 (the RRP is apparently £75), or you can pick them up on Ebay for a LOT less.

  3. Claire says:

    Poor William. Hope your back is alright McCracken !!

  4. Richard says:

    Wow – what a lot of effort to go to for only one day’s use. If that were me, I’d be more gutted than if I’d just trashed a brand-new £1000 bike!

  5. Its a shame about the damage on such a great bike – hope you get a chance to repair it. It might not be as costly as you think if you shop round enough.

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