hammerandcycle

Mobile Bike Mechanics in Glasgow


Cycling in the South Tyrol

Taking advantage of our family holiday to Lake Garda in the north of Italy, I travelled a bit further north with my bike for a few days to ride up the Stelvio Pass. The Stelvio is a famous feature of the Giro d’Italia race at the point where the Italian, Swiss and Austrian borders become entangled in a range of 4000m peaks. At 2670m I believe it is the second highest road in Europe.
 
That trip lived up to all expectations and I made it up all 60 odd hairpins to the summit. What I did notice though, was the fantastic cycling at lower levels in the valleys of this area, and the huge numbers of cycling tourists taking advantage of the splendidly well integrated infrastructure put in place for their use.
 
The centre of things is the town of Merano (or Meran.) The ebb and flow of political history has given this region a peculiar split personality. Every village, peak and river has an Italian and an Austrian name and there is a distinct penchant for window box geraniums that leans much more to the Austrian neighbours. Merano is a beautiful 19th century Austrian spa town with wide cobbled streets and elegant whitewashed hotels. The Passer river roars through the centre under arched bridges decorated with yet more geraniums.
 
From Merano, there is a regular train up the Venosta (or Vinschgau) valley which is the main focus for cyclists. The trains are smart and new, with special tall windows so you can look up to the peaks as you go along. Such is the popularity of this cycle route that special trucks are used to carry bikes from the lower stations because the trains haven’t the space, but it all seems to operate like clockwork.
 
Between Merano and Malles the railway climbs gently for about 70km and runs parallel to a magnificent tarmac cycle track, 4m wide and entirely separate from the main road. At various stations along the route, cyclists disembark and find their way back to Merano, which is of course all downhill. Most stations also rent a variety of bikes and many have pretty cafes alongside the path. Your afternoon can therefore be passed pedalling gently down the valley, never meeting a car and stopping frequently to rest over coffee and cake. In the final few kilometres the route emerges above Merano and drops in elegant loops to the town through sculpture gardens and waterfalls. This is the most civilised of cycling holidays.
 
I continued my trip from Merano south toward Verona for about 150km down the Adige valley. Although the splendid cycle track continues the whole way, the valley widens out and contains more industry and mile after mile of apple trees. After several hours of this totally flat and largely straight route, the monotony was becoming a bit wearing. There is the option here too to jump on the parallel train service and skip as much of it as you wish.
This is only a selection of the cycling opportunities in the area from my own experience. I know that there are further links in the network which are not hard to find on the web. Certainly Italian railways seem to have understood the needs of cyclists very well and offer a great hassle free service. Go and try it yourself!
 
 


Get ready for Spring

Preparing your Bike for Spring

If you are a Scottish cyclist then you will be an opportunist. Long spells of settled weather don’t happen here very often and if you are anxious to get out for that first ride of the year, then you will have been spending your time monitoring the weather forecast and gazing at the sky as the weekend approaches.

The rewards of cycling at this time of year certainly repay the effort. A good day in March or April is just warm enough to shed some layers of protective clothing, but fresh enough to feel invigorating as you speed through the countryside that is coming to life and filling with colour again. Early spring enthusiasm has to be balanced, however, with a sensible approach to the mundane preparations for your trip. The joy of whizzing along a quiet road rapidly turns to misery when a mechanical mishap leaves you standing in the cold miles from home with a useless piece of machinery.

So where to start? What can we do at this time of the year to prevent those nightmares happening when we are relying on our bikes the most?

Your bike at this point is probably in one of two states. If you are a hardman (or even harder woman) of the road or trail and have been clocking up the miles through the dark of winter, then your bike is probably ready to put up the white flag and collapse. Water, grit and salt from the roads make a grinding paste that eats through seals, washes away lubrication and turns metal components to a rough, rusty mess. Riding in low light conditions makes the water-filled potholes hard to spot and your battered wheels will be somewhat less than round.

On the other hand, if your bike was put away in the shed after the last ride of the autumn and hasn’t been looked at since, it has probably developed an unhealthy rusty tinge in the damp winter air. The tyres will have long since deflated and parts that used to turn are now stubbornly solid.
Whichever category you are in, the arrival of better weather reminds you that cycling is actually a great joy and the prospect of a long ride at the weekend is very enticing. Unfortunately this occurs to every cyclist in the country about the same time and when you try and take your bike in to your local shop or mechanic to fix the problems caused by winter, you find they are struggling under an avalanche of broken bicycles and there is no possibility getting it back for two weeks at least. By that time of course, the good spell will have passed and you will have a working bike but no inclination to go out in the driving rain.

The answer of course is to get smart. Get the big jobs done by your mechanic before the good weather arrives. And learn enough about your bike to spot the problems early and fix the simple things yourself.

Get your bike out of the shed, cupboard or garage and look at it in good light. The following checklist will help assess its condition.
• Hold the bike upright and rotate the pedals backwards. Does the chain run smoothly without jumping or rattling? Are the chain and gears free of rust and accumulated muck? Problems are likely to be due to a dirty chain or misaligned derailleur (rear gear).
• Lift the rear of the bike by the saddle (easier with a helper). Turn the pedals forwards while changing front and rear gears. Do the changes happen smoothly, or does the chain sometimes not move onto the next cog?
• Does the bottom bracket bearing (where the pedals rotate) feel smooth? Is there any play in the pedal crank arms when they are pushed side to side?
• Lift the front and rear of the bike so that the wheels can be spun round one at a time. Sight along the wheel as it spins, looking at the brake blocks. Is there any wavering of the wheel in the gap between the blocks? Does the wheel rub anywhere?
• Remove each wheel and turn the axle with your fingers. Does it turn smoothly or do the bearings feel rough?
• Are the brake blocks worn? If the grooves in the blocks have disappeared then new ones are needed.
• What condition are the tyres in? Are there cracks in the sidewall or cuts in the tread from road grit?
• Apply the front brake and grip the handlebars. Try and rock the bike backwards and forwards, looking for any movement in the headset bearing.
• Methodically work through the bike from back to front, checking that all bolts, levers and parts are tight and secure.

Now you have an idea where the problems may lie. Whether you tackle the work yourself or take it to a professional depends on your experience and confidence, and how well equipped you are with your own tools. Modern bikes are quite highly engineered and require good quality tools to do jobs properly. If you are entrusting your life to a machine which will carry you along at speeds over 30mph, repairs and maintenance must be carried out to a proper standard.

There are jobs which can be done by cyclists of any level which will go a long way to keeping the bike running smoothly, and also build the rider’s knowledge of their bike.

• Clean the bike with hot water and car shampoo, then rinse in clean hot water. Dry with paper towels or rags, cleaning oil and muck from the chain, gears and brakes.
• Spray mechanical parts and bolts with a water repellent lubricant.
• Apply oil lightly to the chain, then wipe off the excess.
• Clean the wheels, especially the rims where the brake blocks contact.
• Pump the tyres to the appropriate pressure.
• Ride the bike a short distance, changing gears and applying the brakes. Note what is not working smoothly.
• Simple jobs like changing brake blocks and adjusting gears can be done at home with simple tools like allen keys. There are youtube instructional videos covering every job on every conceivable type of bike.
• Bigger jobs such as wheel truing and bearing replacement are generally best left to a mechanic. It will give peace of mind to know that the bike has been assessed by a professional mechanic at least once a year.
• On your first long rides, take some basic tools to deal with any unresolved problems that come to light on the road.

So remember the key is to start early. Get the basic jobs out of the way before the sun comes out and leave yourself time to order new parts and get your mechanic to fix the big things. Then when the good weather arrives you will be out on the road when everyone else is queuing at the bike shop.


Nice things people have been saying about us recently….

“Thanks to Nick at Hammer and Cycle for servicing my crunching/grinding sounding bicycle and returning a smooth running machine – collected and dropped off from my flat!” JH

“Great service!!Easy, no hassle. And my annoying noise from front wheel is fixed:)” GP

“Thank you Nick and Hammer and Cycle. My bike was picked up from work, serviced, mudguards fitted and returned to work within the day. Lightning is now running like a dream. Brilliant service, thank you” SB

“Did a grand job with my gears. Will be blogging and recommending” FR

“I can vouch for Nick’s skills. Got my wheel bearings sorted in a jiffy” AM


A few thanks

Many thanks to my, generally willing, helpers who assisted in the production of the website.

Tina Norris, ace photographer and jack russell wrangler (www.tinanorris.co.uk)

Jen Arnott, graphic designer who knows more about orange than anyone I’ve met (www.niceweethings.com)

Vicky Begg, artistic inspiration

Fiona Russell, top journo with finger on the pulse of all outdoor issues (www.fionaoutdoors.co.uk)

Cliff Brown, IT guidance

Various teenage offspring for pointing out the obvious mistakes

Thank goodness you all have bikes needing fixed or I would never have been able to afford your services.