Cool Tools From the Days of Yore

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By Paul de Valera

Not to say a disparaging word about any contemporary bike shop,  but it is just my perception that “back in the day” there was more of an inclination for repairing things rather than just being a glorified parts swapper. Sure, bikes have become more complicated with a myriad of component and frame materials and the next “new standard” ever looming on the horizon. Still, there is a certain satisfaction in being able to take a bicycle that needs repair and being able to reverse the damage. And a lot of old bikes from the 60’s through the 90’s still roll through my doors all the time. Are you going to remove that cottered crank with a hammer? Do you even know what that is? At their rudiments, a bicycle has functionaly changed little in the last 100 years or so, it’s just that the details of that function have been altered. Here are some cool tools that I’m glad to possess. Several of them come in handy more often than you’d think.

First, some homemade goodies…

I usually wind up using simple homemade tools a lot in my daily wrenchings. The first one here is just a tube that I cut out of a Murray for added leverage in getting stubborn bolts and pedals off. I simply slide whatever wrench I’m using into the tube and apply Archimedes basic theory of leverage that would give even some chicken-armed roadie gain the strength of a titan. You can also use it to straighten out a bent crank arm.  I also use the bar that I bolt by back door as a big lever when faced with really stubborn stuff, which is always a fun one for people to watch. “Is it going to come out?” they ask. “Does this look easy to you?” I blurt out between deep breaths. A good lever is an asset in the bicycle mechanics’ arsenal.

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Another homemade tool is an awl that you can use to hog out the ends of a freshly cut cable, fish out a small objects, and other forms of small, detail work. Made from a spoke and piece of cable housing, I wind up using this tool all the time every day. You can make one by filing the end of the spoke into a sharp point and then sliding the housing over it. Simply bend the spoke so the J bend of the spoke catches the housing in a loop configuration. A free tool that will serve you time and time again.

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Next, we move onto some old school tools that as far as I know are no longer made. Like the Brute.

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I love this tool! It is a modified bumper jack that is used to straighten forks. You place one end on the bottom bracket and the other in the front wheel and just like a car jack, one clicks away until you get the fork straight again. You typically have to go one past where it looks straight as the metal will flex back some. Best to make sure the fork is not cracked anywhere and you can’t fix any fork that has a creased tube, but for those run into curb head-on type of scenarios this thing will save the day. I have saved so many forks with this tool; it is surprising that no one makes it still.

Flat spot pulling tools.

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Made by the Overland Inc, a company long gone as a far as know, this tool is designed to pull a flat spot out of a rim. You loosen the spokes in the damaged area and then place the fingers in the worst part and tighten the clamp against the rim. These tools work ok. I have made many a 1970’s BMX rim much better than they were with these tools. You know you can’t always expect it to be 100% again but you can make a wheel that was crooked as a politician useable once again. I’d say a wider area where the tool contacts the rim and longer handles would make a better tool but this one’s a good idea none-the-less.

Bottom Bracket Removal Tool

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Made by Kingbridge. I use this tool so much I made copies of them. If you have a stubborn or cross threaded bearing race in your threaded bottom bracket (remember those?) This tool will be essential in getting it out. How it works is you’ll have to first get one side of your bottom bracket out and then insert the tool in the shell. Then taking two wrenches, tighten it against itself as tight as you can, see the leverage bar above if you need more gusto. Then, using a large wrench you can break the stubborn shell free. Sometimes I’ve had to whack the wrench with a hammer for an impact wrench type effect or use a giant bar to break loose some Walschwinn factory installed cross threaded mess. Generally, the tool wins. I’ve near worn mine out I’ve used it so much and I gather it is older than I am and was used when I got it, such a good durable tool, if you could only say the same thing about that 1000 dollar fork you just bought…

Cottered Crank pin removal tool

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Made by Park, tool #4 I think if I can make out the number on the casting. Here’s the deal with cottered cranks: They work. They work ok. I had a 1950 Olmo with cottered cranks that I rode to the top of every mountain with some heavy ass steel cottered cranks so I know they can take a beating. There are lots, I mean LOTS of different pins and crank pin hole diameters, angles etc. being this crank interface has been used and is still in use near a 100 years or so, not 100% sure once again did not “google it”, so forgive the blurry line on that one. The tool allows you to press out the pins on a cottered crank without damaging them so you can reuse them. I have a whole box full of pins and still get bikes in with pins that are different than what I have. One just lines up the tool to press out the pin and it pops out like magic. I think someone is reproducing this sort of tool again but not sure on that. Hope you enjoyed and will perhaps look to fixing things on your bicycle before replacing them next time around.

Paul is the proprietor of Atomic Cycles, publisher of Chicken Head Records Zine, promoter of the Coaster Brake Challenge and purveyor of cruiser bits at genuinebicycleproducts.com. This all takes place around the San Fernando Valley in southern California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Peddling through Beijing

Words and photos by Matt Moir

Pundits and politicians from all over the globe like to talk about the metaphoric rise of China. Cui, a 51-year-old bicycle repairman, has had a front row seat.

On a hot, humid June afternoon, Cui is sitting on a toolbox under an oversized beach umbrella. Tools are spread across his section of sidewalk near a busy intersection. Cui is the proprietor of a sidewalk bicycle shop in southwest Beijing.

“The area has changed so much. Business is,” he pauses, “OK. Before I came to Beijing I was a farmer in Henan, but I didn’t make a lot of money. It was seasonal work and it wasn’t consistent.”

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In a typical day, Cui helps seven or eight customers. He charges 20 yuan (about $3) for a tune-up, and earns about 20,000 yuan per year. It isn’t a lot of money—only about $3,000—but it’s enough, for now, to support himself, his wife and two children.

But can businesses like Cui’s survive in modern China? Beijing and other large cities across the country are rapidly modernizing, and more Chinese are embracing a North American-style car culture. The reality is that Cui’s enterprise and other makeshift bicycle repair shops face an increasingly tenuous future.

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China was one of the 20th century’s great cycling societies. During the 1950s, a bicycle—along with a watch, a radio and a sewing machine—was considered one of the “Four Big Things” for young families to own. As recently as 1986, 63 percent of the population used bikes as their primary mode of transportation, according to the Beijing Transport Research Center.

Today, China has the world’s second largest economy and a middle class more than 100 million strong. Beijing and its car-clogged streets are now home to the most billionaires (100) in the world, and even a cursory tour of the city reveals an obsession with luxury goods.

Bicycles don’t really fit into this materialist landscape. Research indicates that less than 14 percent of Beijingers in 2013 used bikes as their primary mode of transportation. In fact, the attitude of some newly wealthy young people toward bikes might be best encapsulated by the now-famous quip —“I’d rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle”—uttered in 2010 by a young woman on a television dating program.

It’s in this difficult climate that entrepreneurs like Li attempt to eke out a living.

Li operates a sidewalk bicycle shop beside a looming, four-story high school in south Beijing.

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The 40-year-old native of Hunan province used to manage a traditional bike shop in a different part of town, but the government bulldozed the plaza in which the store was located to make space for development. Because Li is a migrant from a different province, he was not offered any compensation by the Beijing government when he lost his job.

He was, however, given the opportunity to choose a location for his own business. He chose a stretch of sidewalk outside the school because he thought students would ride their bikes to school everyday. He didn’t realize that most of the students lived in an on-campus dorm.

Li says he usually works 13-hour days “rain, shine or snow,” and that he “doesn’t mind” breathing Beijing’s notoriously poor air, day after day.

Customers, however, are becoming increasingly scarce.

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“Business is not good. There are more cars and taxis and people don’t ride bikes as much as they used to. And the government doesn’t subsidize my business,” says Li, who also has a wife and two children to support. Beijing’s obsession with modernization has pushed sidewalk and street vendors from the city center to the city’s periphery. There is a sense among locals that these small businesses, whether bicycle shops or food stalls, don’t fit with the image city and federal officials want to project for China’s capital, but some experts see vitality in sidewalk entrepreneurialism.

Zhixi Zhuang is a professor of urban planning at Toronto’s Ryerson University. She considers a thriving street vendor scene as an opportunity to build a sense of community in China’s increasingly dour urban centers but questions whether city planners see things the same way:

“They are surviving right now, but when it comes to the future for those street vendors or small retailers, it goes back to that big question: How do governments see the value of public space? Do they want everything very tidy, very bland … only a symbol of the administrative power or government authority? Or do they want to see people there and enjoying themselves?”

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On a sweltering afternoon in late June, Cui tinkers away on the brakes of bicycle that looks like it saw its best days a generation ago.

While he works, he answers questions about the future of his industry and his country. Asked if he thinks working sidewalk bike shops will exist a decade or two in the future, Cui simply shrugs.

“This type of work can’t last forever,” he pauses, “but in China, anything is possible.”

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