Friday 23 February 2024

The Sperrins Area as a Cycle Touring Destination



With the advent of the television programme ‘Game of Thrones’ being filmed in large part within Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland has appeared on the international tourist map. Cruise ships now regularly stop in Belfast Harbour and coaches busily shuttle tourists and their cameras on a whirlwind visit to the Dark Hedges, Giant’s Causeway and other places, now on the tourist ‘must see’ bucket list. The Antrim Glens and coast road, favourite quiet cycling routes of my youth, have been ‘discovered’ and now see heavy traffic. 



I much prefer to do my cycling on quiet roads, where I can enjoy the experience of being outdoors without a constant stream of cars and breathing in vehicle fumes. I am fortunate to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, which is relatively unknown to the wider, impatient, hum-drum world. There are lots of quiet back roads on which to cycle, with only local folk going about their everyday business. A traffic hold-up is likely to be a farmer moving his livestock between fields, or taking his cows for milking. The drawback, is the terrain isn’t flat and will involve quite a few meters of climbing in and out of hollows as the roads cross water courses. The tranquillity means you should see something of the local wildlife in your unhurried journey.


There has been efforts made by the local councils to promote tourism in the area, but there aren’t many hotels beloved by international tourists. There is self catering accommodation and bed and breakfast accommodation, a lot based on local family farms. That is not to say that I haven’t seen any cycle tourists in the area over the years. I have. However, they are usually riding their bikes on the main A5, a very dangerous, heavily trafficked road, with an unenviable reputation for traffic collision fatalities. A sure sign they are not using decent maps. Not my idea of fun, or the most relaxing way to see something of the area.

The Sperrins is the upland area of a large part of County Tyrone and part of County Derry/Londonderry. It is a mainly agricultural area, with scenic river valleys, loughs and mountains. There are 12 dedicated cycle routes within the Sperrins area plus parts of other Sustrans National Cycle Routes, including the North West Trail. Some of the images included in the post refers to Sperrins Tourism Ltd and their website, which no longer exist. All the local councils in the area have Tourist Information Offices which used to hold leaflets on some of the cycle routes. Most are now also marked on the Ordnance Survey for Northern Ireland 1;50,000 Discover Series maps. I will add hyperlinks at the end to some of the information. I recently became aware of a local farm now offering self catering accommodation which is located on NCN92 a short distance outside the village of Newtownstewart (see above).


The Sperrins as a cycle touring destination is quiet. It offers a lot of road cycling routes, but also offers Mountain Biking Trails at Gortin Glen Forest Park outside Omagh. It is an undiscovered gem, which will not last, as I suspect that it will become a lot more expensive to visit, as it becomes more popular. You can never turn the clock back. I have included some images of information, on some of the cycle routes in the area. The relevant OSNI Maps are sheet 12 Strabane, Sheet 13 Sperrins, Sheet 14 Lough Neagh, Sheet 7 Londonderry and Sheet 8 Ballymoney.


Fermanagh and Omagh District Council Sperrins Tourism

Derry and Strabane District Council Tourism

Mid Ulster Council Tourist information 

Tourism N.I. 

Ordnance Survey for Northern Ireland Online Shop

Outdooractive website 

Sawel Cycle Route

Guardian article Gold Route 

Saturday 28 May 2022

Is it worthwhile repairing old components?

One of the fundamental problems in restoring old bikes is trying to source the period correct components to go on your frame. As the years slip by with ever increasing speed, the availability of the components you seek, seems to diminish. Occasionally, you may find the part you are looking for may turn up, but damaged. I have a frame belonging to a clubmate, that I know from over forty years ago. It lay rusting in the clubroom, having been used as a complete bike for riding rollers. Sweat had taken it’s toll on the paintwork, the frame had been stripped of all of it’s original components, but I had the frame refinished in original colour with original pattern transfers/decals reinstated. The restoration became moribund, because of the difficulty in trying to source period correct parts. It is my intention to build the bike up with parts sold by the late Ron Kitchin. The original owner was a big user of parts from ‘Everything Cycling’.
I had a large flange Normandy front hub from the 1950s/1960s, with the round holes in flanges, but I only had a damaged suitable rear hub. The flange was bent inwards from having the chain derail off the largest sprocket and wedging between the freewheel block and the flange. The flange was also heavily pitted from the incident. I have searched in vain for more than five years to find a better example without success. The one thing in favour of the damaged example, was the bearing cups in the hub are perfect. I asked a friend back in 2019 if he could repair the hub. The reply came back in the affirmative.
Now in fairness, it has taken a while, but my friend had just moved house and has been fully occupied renovating the property, back into a home for him and his family, in addition to all the other work, he has had on his plate. A recent visit, resulted in him showing me the tooling he had made to repair the hub. My friend explained that he had mulled over the problem of repair, analysing how best to tackle the repair, resulting in the best chance of success. Any way, I called with him a few weeks later and was presented with the repaired hub. The damaged right hand flange has been straightened, and the damage aluminium has been welded and ground back. Although some evidence of the repair is visible, it will not be visible, once the hub has been built into a wheel and a freewheel block fitted. Importantly the repair will not be visible from the usual viewing position at the back of the flange. One caveat. I don’t know how durable this repair would be for everyday, frequent use. However, for use on a vintage bike, probably doing no more than thirty miles on a vintage run, it should be more than adequate. The satisfaction is that this had made a damaged part useable once more, as well as a problem overcome in the journey to putting an old frame back on the road.

Saturday 22 January 2022

1992 Trevor Jarvis Flying Gate



The history of the Flying Gate frame goes back to the Baines Brothers from Yorkshire in the 1930s. They came up with a frame design which shortened the bicycle wheelbase, but did not have the more usual problem of toe overlap on the pedals/cranks. This was because the more accepted practice to shorten the wheelbase, was to shorten the fork rake and steepen the frame head angle which did indeed shorten the bicycle wheelbase, but created toe overlap. Why do I say more usual practice? Well track bikes for racing on a banked track were built this way, where large steering movements were unlikely to happen and be affected by toe overlap. By steepening the frame head angle, also made the bike much more responsive. Fine on a relatively smooth cycle track, but not great on unmetalled or rough road surfaces. 



Another advantage of the Baines Brothers unique frame design was that the National Cyclists’ Union, which regulated cycle racing in the UK in the 1930s had a very strict amateur policy. No advertising, no sponsorship, and riding grass track events, which were largely part of local community events and therefore unregulated by the NCU, offered prizes of goods or cash, which if the NCU found out would have the rider declared a ‘Professional’, i.e. riding for financial reward and lose their amateur status. The majority of riders rode these events under false names, as the events were reported on in the press. This ban on advertising even extended to coverage in the cycling press. H H England who was the editor of the ‘Cycling’ magazine at the time, was an ardent supporter of this policy, so even photographs published of riders competing in events, did not easily show the make of bicycle they were riding. 



By developing a unique frame design, the ban was circumvented, because everyone could easily see what the machine was. It also stimulated demand for these machines from other cyclists who wanted to ride what the top time triallists of the day were riding. The British Best All Rounder competition was started by ‘Cycling’ in the early 1930s, in which riders had to try and get the fastest times in open time trials over various distances. ‘Cycling’ magazine got competition from a new publication in the late 1930s, ‘The Bicycle’, which also featured coverage of continental road racing, massed start road racing being very much frowned upon by H H England and the NCU. This difference of opinion was ultimately to lead to the formation of the ‘break away’ BLRC and mass start road races promoted by Percy Stallard, a situation not resolved until the two organizations merged to form the British Cycling Federation, now British Cycling.



The Baines Brothers eventually went out of business and Flying Gate frames stopped being made. In 1979, engineer, Trevor Jarvis bought the rights to manufacture Flying Gate frames from Baines Brothers and started to build the Flying Gate frames again. Trevor initially built the frames in Burton on Trent, but later moved to Tenbury Wells. Each frame Trevor built is unique, as the frame lugs are all hand cut, each set differing slightly. Trevor trained others, Firstly Jeremy Cartwright and then Liz Colebrook, with a view to have them take the business forward, but due to circumstances beyond his control, his plans to retire were frustrated. I understand that position is now changing. I know that Trevor regarded Liz Colebrook very highly and she built some very nice Flying Gate frames. Liz built a pair of forks for me for another bike and she is a very good framebuilder and skilled artisan.



The Flying Gate in the Springhill Cycle Collection was purchased from the estate of the original owner over 15 years ago. It was returned to Trevor for some minor work and re-enamelled. The parts fitted are largely what came on the bike, but the handlebars, stem and saddle were changed from the 1950s components to more contemporary components to the age of the frame. The original wheels had Argentinian Savedra hubs (Campagnolo copies) laced into Wolber Model 58 rims. The rear axle is bent and there is a lot of wear to the cones. As the thread is unique, (a bit like Zeus), standard Campagnolo cones will not fit and are not deep enough if they did fit. I will have to get new cones made and use a 10mm x 1 metric cro-mo rear axle to cut the costs down. It is my intention to eventually refit the original wheels to the bike, once the problem is sorted. The current wheels were built by me, using 1990s threaded hubs, stainless steel spokes and Chrina rims. It is a lovely bike to ride and a fantastic addition to the collection.



Original parts

Shimano 105 headset

Shimano 105 rear derailleur

Shimano 105 front derailleur with fixing bracket

Shimano 105 brake callipers

Shimano ‘Golden Arrow’ downtube levers

Stronglight 100LX chainset 48/34T

Sachs-Maillard 7 spd block 12 – 28T (12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 23, 28T)

Sachs chain

SR pedals/red resin toeclips

Black/Orange mudguards

Gearing in inches
































Sunday 19 December 2021

Storage in Shipping Containers


I was watching a Youtube video on a channel I subscribe to and the content creator was discussing the subject of shelving and storage in a shipping container. He had several 44 foot containers in which he stored vehicle parts, tools and materials. For those who don’t have buildings in which to store materials, the shipping container offers a good alternative. The initial problem when loading them up with your valuable bits and pieces is vertical storage. Most items end up on the floor initially. It was a dilemma that I was faced with. 



My problem was where to get information about bike storage etc, in a 20 foot shipping container?

Searches online at the time didn’t deal with the topic, so the solution had to be custom made. The first job was to measure the internal length and height of the container. I decided on building wooden shelving, 8 foot long by 2 foot wide, by 7 foot nine inches high. This would allow me to cut all the timber to size, build the shelves outside, but assemble them inside the container. I used 18mm OSB for the shelf surface and all shelves had cross member bracing, for corner uprights and one upright at the back of the shelving unit at 4 feet. I built two shelving units which gave 16 feet of shelving, the shelf spacing being determined by the size of the plastic storage boxes. These were placed along one side of the container. I did not finish the top shelf on the second unit as I intended using it for storing rims and some matters needed to be worked out.



I also had a small space left between the shelving and the container door in which wheels were piled. Not an ideal solution, so I again I gave this some thought and decided to build a 3 shelf unit in which to store wheels and tyres. I did this during the summer of 2021, so determined to use as much spare/scrap timber as I had lying around. Any new timber purchased would have to be the minimum because of the current very high timber prices. I initially built one shelf to test and prove the concept, before embarking on building more shelving and assembling the shelving. Once the concept was shown to work, I finished the top shelf of the 8
foot shelving for storing rims, before assembling the wheel shelving. 



My wood working skills are basic to say the least, but I am satisfied with the shelving. It will hold all of the weight entrusted to it and it is sturdy. I am pleased with the wheel storage unit and would like to build a bigger unit as it is a tidy way to store wheels and tyres. It does the job I want and also used up a lot of timber which was lying around. It has organised the container much better and has allowed me to get my work bench out of a damp shed into the dry container. The work bench will get a make over in the spring, with a new top and a machine vice fitted. All the necessary timber is in the container as well, so once spring arrives with drier weather and longer days I will get to work and get the job completed.



Saturday 27 November 2021

650B Project - Part 1


This has been a long time in gestation, due to circumstances. I love riding the 1960 Goeland Randonneuse. It is a lovely bike to ride, but it is over 60 years old and not getting any younger. The components on the bike, which add up to the sum total of ride experience and satisfaction are finite. Once worn out, they are no more. Therefore the bikes use has to be rationed, as I want it to live on, once I depart this mortal coil. I am only the caretaker, for my allotted time.



So thoughts turned to creating a modern replacement around seven years ago. My personal circumstance changed through divorce, in which I suffered a significant financial hit. The gyno-centric government lottery which passes as a justice system is not equitable. So buying a new Alex Singer 650B Randonneuse wasn’t going to be an option. I looked to see what if any 650B frames were available off the peg and saw that Bicycle Quarterly, Issue 49, Autumn 2014, reviewed the Cycles Toussaint Velo Routier. This offered possibilities, however Jan Heine in his review of the frame commented on the ‘stiff fork’. 


I am not the fit young sylph like figure of my youth. I suffered numerous physical injuries during my service to my country, not least a back injury, so being somewhat heavier, a sturdier tubed frame is not such a problem for me, but stiff forks which affect the ride of the bike are an issue. The first task was to order a Velo Routier 1 frame from Canada, which after a suitable delay because of customs, duly arrived. I then had to gather up the funds to order the Toei fork blades, fork crown and brake pivot bolts for the MAFAC Raid brakes I intended fitting to the bike. Once these parts arrived, I then had to get a frame builder with a fork blade mandrel to bend the straight fork blades to the necessary fork rake. I ended up speaking to Trevor Jarvis of T. J. Cycles, who agreed to bend the fork blades and build the replacement fork. I sent the original forks to use as a pattern. I also had to send the front brake calliper and TA front rack to make sure all would fit correctly, when the forks were brazed. 



I also wanted to build the bike up with as many French or European components as possible. I also decided from the outset, that I wanted nothing larger than an 8 speed cassette on the rear hub. My reason for this is durability. Having grown up in an era when a 5 speed freewheel would last for years and chains generally were replaced every 3 years with an average mileage between 27,000 to 36,000 miles of use, modern ultra narrow gearing systems above 9 speed are not durable compared to the past. So the cassette would be Shimano pattern. The possibility exists of making up a custom cassette using sprockets from several cassettes to get the gearing comfortable. I also determined that I would use a triple Stronglight chainset on the front with Sachs vintage derailleurs. The rear derailleur would be able to handle the 8 speed cassette. Old proven technology which works. The gear levers would be downtube friction levers from Simplex, again vintage parts which work. 



I would use parts from Gilles Berthoud, MAFAC, TA, Stronglight, Sachs, but handlebars, stem, pedals would be Japanese and the seat post Taiwanese. I would use Gilles Berthoud stainless steel mudguards/fenders as opposed to alloy. The bike would be fitted with a Schmidt SON 28 dynohub and Busch and Muller LED lights. The front light would be the best output available at 100 Lux. The rear mudguard would have to be drilled to take the rear light and also need painting detail as per the original French bikes used to have. There is a slight difference in paint colour between the frame and the new forks, but I really don’t care.



After having the forks built, the next jobs in order of Priority, were getting the mudguards painted and building the wheels. As already stated above I was putting a Schmidt hub in the front, but the rear hub was more of a dilemma. The options were Ambrosio, Hope, Royce or SunXCD. The SunXCD was the only large flange hub. All of the other hubs have annular bearings and the Royce hub was my preferred option, not cheap, but good quality. In the end I opted to try the Sun XCD. Wheels would be 36 hole spoking, built 3 cross. I had initially sourced Pacenti 650B rims, but deferred using these in favour of Belgian Exal MX19 rims in 650B size. Spokes would be Sapim 14 gauge double butted stainless steel.



Tuesday 9 June 2020

Some thoughts on cleaning heavily rusted steel parts using electrolysis

The one problem that anyone who undertakes to restore any kind of old machine or tools is rust. The problem, if there is a lot of corrosion, is how to get the thing disassembled without doing any damage. A penetrant is usually the first option such as WD40, or my preferred choice Brunox, then Plusgas. On the scale of escalation, according to the severity of the problem, is heat, using the gas axe. But what happens if that doesn't work? How do you get things apart without destroying it completely or partially to get the part required?

I have to say that YouTube for me has been an education, in mostly how not to do things. There is the odd pearl amidst swine, but the majority is mostly how not to go about doing things.  The go to tool seems to be the wire wheel in the bench grinder to clean anything rusty, the vlogger's confidently grind away any patina and finish in their quest to 'restore'.  I am not a fan and it is not an approach I advocate or use. That is not to say a bench grinder with a wire wheel does not have a place in the workshop, as it most certainly does, but it should not be the tool of first resort.

One of the methods I use to get heavily rusted parts cleaned or to get apart is to use electrolysis. It is the best method I have found to clean back to bare metal, where you are not trying to preserve the original finish. It is a simple, inexpensive and non destructive method to clean corrosion off steel and cast iron. It doesn't work on aluminium. You will need a tank for holding the electrolyte solution. I use a plastic hot water header tank sold in plumber's merchants for use with a central heating system.  It is big enough for most bicycle parts. It will hold the warmed electrolyte without reacting to it - IMPORTANT. The power supply is an old car battery charger, the non-smart type, which doesn't know a battery is not connected to it. If you only have the smart type, connect it to a battery, but take your power feed from the battery.

The type of electrolyte you use is important for two main reasons. The electrolyte allows the electric current to flow through the solution which facilitates a chemical reaction to take place. A by product of that chemical reaction is the release of gas, which is why electrolysis needs to be carried out in a well ventilated area. The electrolyte consists of a liquid and an additive. Most hot plating processes use an acid as the liquid. You can use acetic acid (vinegar) with table salt. It will work, however, two caveats. Firstly, if the metal is pitted by rust before you start, using an acid electrolyte will make the pitting worse, because, although the method is quick, and will do the job, it is aggressive. Secondly, table salt is Sodium Chloride. If you use salt in the electrolyte, the process releases Chlorine gas. Yes, that's right, the stuff that was used to gas troops in the First World War, so it is damaging to your health. A very good reason not to use it in my opinion, as there are other and in my opinion, better methods to achieve the goal.

The electrolyte I use is washing soda crystals, an alkali  These are much superior chemically to baking soda, which is much less effective.  Washing Soda is an alkali salt which does not appear to corrode the metal aggressively during electrolysis. Using this method also releases gases, which are oxygen and hydrogen. An explosive mixture! So you have to do it in a well ventilated area.

I suspend the part to be cleaned in the electrolyte solution. I use steel wire, NOT copper. I found that the flexible plastic coated wire sold in garden centres is ideal. The plastic has to be stripped off the wire wrapped around the part to make a good electrical contact. A portion of the wire at the other end has to be bare metal for the battery charger to connect to. I use a piece of scrap wood (a non conductor) which is wider than the tank to suspend the part from.

You will also need a piece of sacrificial steel in your tank. This is needed as it will attract all the rust particles.  I would recommend that it has a flat surface and secondly that you use as big a surface area as you safely can. DO NOT allow the sacrificial steel to contact the part you are trying to clean.  I welded up a frame which fits around the sides of my tank, which is removable for cleaning. (You can use one or more sacrificial pieces, wiring them in series if you prefer.) Cleaning the sacrificial electrode is an important point, as heavily corroded parts will need a longer time in the tank.

You connect the black lead to the part to be cleaned and the red lead to the sacrificial electrode. Once you turn the battery charger on, you will see bubbles coming off the part. I usually set the charger to work on trickle charge. If the charger has an Amp meter you will see the needle move up the scale. As the sacrificial electrode becomes contaminated with rust off the part, the amperage will fall. Turn the power off before removing the part from the tank to check progress. If the part still has surface rust, remove the sacrificial electrode and clean off the accumulated crud.  The wire wheel on the bench grinder is good for cleaning the metal after the crud has been scraped off, before you put it back into the tank. The surface of the part will go black as the rust is removed. This is an inert chemical coating replacing the rust, which will clean off.

The electrolyte can be left in the tank for re-use. The plastic hot water header tank has the option of a lid, which is useful for covering it after use. I remove the sacrificial plates before covering up the tank after use. You will have to periodically replace the sacrificial steel electrodes, but you should get a lot of use from them before that happens. Cleaning them after use is also important as the process works better when the sacrificial electrode is clean.

Once you are happy that your part is thoroughly clean of rust, it will need washing in warm soapy water. Brush the part using a brass brush and then clean it with WD40 or Brunox. Electrolysis will take off any plating or paint as well as rust, so electrolysis will get your part back to bare metal.  If you use it to clean any cast iron such as old tools, once you have the part cleaned with WD40/Brunox, wipe the cast iron part over with boiled linseed oil on a bit of kitchen roll. Make sure it is evenly coated and put it near a radiator or other heat source to dry. It will seal the cast iron ready for painting and should ensure the porous cast iron doesn't start to rust under the paint. I was told this by an old man who maintained machinery in the workshop during his apprenticeship nearly 70 years ago. I have found that cast iron I had media blasted and immediately primed, then painted has all rusted from below the paint over time. Boiled linseed oil was a component in both old paints, varnishes and of course Japanning laquered finish.

I have used the boiled linseed method on cast iron and found it to work very well. If cleaning old cast iron, any paint residue will likely be lead based paint. Not something you want to inhale as dust through sanding or using a wire brush in an electric hand tool or bench grinder. Once the boiled linseed oil has dried, it will take paint no problem, I generally give the item two coats of boiled linseed oil allowing each to dry before the next application. The item should not rust once coated and will stay stable if there is any delay in painting it.

Monday 21 October 2019

' Cycles de France ' Book review

I saw a post earlier this year on social media about a new book published called
' Cycles de France '. The book is obviously written in French and only available from the co-author Patrick Munoz. The front cover image whetted my appetite as the quality of the images were comparable to the book ' The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles ' by Jan Heine.

Firstly, the book and dust jacket are beautifully printed. My copy came wrapped in clear plastic inside the cardboard packaging. The book is hardback with an attractive dust wrapper. The end papers in the book are of heavier paper and the book itself has 194 pages. Philippe Montagne is responsible for the text and Patrick Munoz for the superb photographs.

The book is an illustration of high quality hand made French bicycles. The book starts with bicycles from the early 20th century and then progresses to the work of the artisan builders. The book is roughly divided equally between the Paris constructeurs and those from the regions. Of those, the constructeurs from the Lyon region form the largest group outside Paris. The book is interesting because of the number of aluminium frame bikes which are illustrated. However, probably the best known early brand of aluminium bike to the english speaking world - Caminargent, doesn't feature. Instead the authors chose to have an earlier steel frame Caminade illustrated (pages 20-21). I found that very interesting and shows the author's approach to avoid cliche.

So, the authors illustrate the aluminium frames of Nicola Barra, Paris and the work of regional constructeurs Andre Sabliere, Andre Marcadier, and Raymond Clerc. The book features three lady's bikes. Two 'mixte' frames, a Hugonnier-Routens in steel (pages 58 - 59) and a Velo Barra in aluminum (pages 82-83). The third bicycle is a 'Dame Anglais' by the Paris constructeur Cycles Innovation (pages 56-57). I know this style of frame is unusual, as the Springhill Cycle Collection holds a very rare Andre Bertin 'Dame Anglais'.

By far the biggest number of bikes illustrated are those of Rene Herse, followed by those of Nicola Barra and Alex Singer in third place. What did surprise me was, only one example of the work of Louis Moire - Goeland and nothing of Oscar Egg's work. Surprising given his cycling history that the work of this Parisien constructeur is absent. Perhaps the authors have been constrained by space?

The racing scene has not been ignored. Two track bikes and three road bikes used by professionals feature. The bike used by an amateur J Anquetil built around a Barra frame is also featured. Of the professional bikes, the one I remember the best is the Gitane Profil. I recollect Bernard Hinault riding it in the Tour de France. The frame was made from specially drawn Reynolds 531 tubing which was not available to the great unwashed. Given the involvement of Peugeot, Helyett, LeJeune and Liberia in the professional peloton, no examples feature. The Mercier ridden by Joop Zoetemelk was actually built by Bernard Carre, confirming many of the stories from my youth.

The book cost 60 euros plus postage. I was given the option of regular postal delivery or having my parcel tracked at extra cost. I chose to have the parcel tracked to ensure delivery.

Do I think the book is worth the purchase price? A resounding YES. I have highlighted a few omissions I was surprised at, but, in fairness the authors have a very rich vein to tap and that wealth of material out of necessity has be constrained by the limitations of size and cost of their book. A further question would be, are there any bikes featured, which do not deserve to be in the book? The answer would have to be, NO. So the authors have done a good job. I would love to see a second volume, by these same authors, featuring more constructeurs not covered in this beautiful book. The French have an amazing cycling history and their passion for both the bicycle and the sport covers many disciplines. That variety is accurately reflected in this volume. It is a tribute to both authors that this book is a jewel for anyone interested in French bicycles. I can heartily recommend this book.

If you wish to order a copy of this book, email Patrick Munoz at:-