Projects for Rainy Days

I think most people must have a mental list of books they want to read, films they want to see or maybe things they want to do. If my experience is anything to go by I’d assume that most cycle tourists have a mental list of things they need to do to their gear. It’s tough on a bike, on panniers, tents and stoves being rattled across rough roads in all manner of weather. So there is always something or three that needs attention. Most days I’m cycling I find myself involved in some sort of maintenance task. If I’m not cleaning and tightening my chain, I’m figuring out what’s gone wrong with the stove, the bike computer, any number of bicycle components or gadgets. If I’m not doing detective work on the latest click or squeak, I’m picking glass shards out of my tyres or sewing up the developing hole in my clothes. There are some tasks that cannot wait while others fester in about fourth or fifth position on the list, like those books you’ve wanted to read for years but never seem to find yourself picking up. Sometimes it’s just hard to find the time, motivation or materials you need for a task.

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The past couple of weeks I’ve been stationary in Cajamarca, Peru. But stationary should not be confused with sedentary as my life has been a blur of projects and my pencil tip hot from crossings off my list. Settling into a comfortable and relaxed homestay in a quiet neighborhood well out of the city centre I’ve fallen into a quietly productive routine. I’ve gotten things done and simultaneously been absorbing the rhythms of life in a northern Peruvian city. The most dominant of which is presently the afternoon rains. The rainy season is what’s keeping me here. Waiting for the seasons to tick over is necessary for the high altitude routes I’m planning on riding further south and the perfect excuse to take time out to attack some more sedate tasks. It’s mid March now which gives me another four to six weeks of rain. I won’t be staying in Cajamarca that much longer though. Just about all the tasks I wanted to complete have now fallen from my list and the itch to get back on the bike is becoming increasingly unbearable.

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So what are those project I’m going on about? Well the first one might be obvious to you. Refining, redesigning and updating this website. It’s different now, there are more pictures and I hope all the content should be more accessible. In line with this redesign I also have a new website address. Gone are the cumbersome days of velofreedom.wordpress.com, the sleek and sophisticated days of velofreedom.bike are here! The wordpress address will still work but the primary address for this site is now velofreedom.bike, with an optional www. prefix. I hope you enjoy the changes.

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Otherwise I’ve done the usual thing of taking Shermy completely apart. Everything that can be has been dismantled cleaned inspected greased, oiled and reassembled. Brake pads have been changed, brake cables cleaned, tyres swapped, saddle tightened and everything else thoroughly serviced. These are jobs I enjoy. Given the time, I get a buzz out of playing mechanic and gain enormous confidence from knowing the condition and workings of my bike inside out. Neither do I mind sewing, which is good as it has become a vital skill over the past four years. I find it strangely calming to sew and quite rewarding too. Through just a couple of hours meticulous sewing between the teeth of a zipper a wilting frame-bag has been resurrected and a weight lifted from my mind.

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I’ve been out and about too, scouring the city for a replacement popper fastener for my bar bag, a new bag for my stove and various other bits and pieces I needed for a rack modification project. For those of use who tour with panniers, taping bike racks is an annoyingly necessary evil. It’s a tedious task but one that can cause quite serious rack damage when neglected. On rougher roads panniers get thrown around on their fixings and where they contact the rack they cause significant wear. The solution is to tape the contact points so the tape wears instead. I’ve looked into other solutions than tape but they’ve fallen short for whatever reason. So I’m still taping. There will always be wear but it can be reduced by trying to limit the amount of movement in the pannier. With Ortlieb panniers like mine, ensuring that they hook over the rack snugly is a good starting point. I just got around to employing a simple and effective solution to this problem…

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Anyone who rides Ortlieb panniers will be familiar with these pesky little pieces of plastic. In theory they’re a good idea, designed to click into the pannier hooks like this…

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… so that the hooks fit snugly onto the pannier rack. However, once the hooks have bent a little with use the inserts drop out and get lost. One solution is to glue them in. But even that is prone to failure as the inserts get bent up, like the one on the left above. For long tours I’ve found this to be a problem. Without these inserts the pannier hooks fit loosely onto the rack and the pannier jumps about a lot.

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The extra movement in the panniers causes more wear on the tape protecting the rack. And ultimately on the rack itself…

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When on the road the simple fix to worn tape is just putting more over the top. This works for a short while but eventually there is no choice but to re-tape. Removing the old tape can be a hell of a job and one of my least favorite. So I set about bulking up my racks so I’ll no longer need to use the hook inserts and ultimately so the panniers will move around less as I ride.

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It’s a simple plan that involves securing some tough 15mm plastic water pipe over the points on the racks where the panniers hook on.

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The first stage involves cutting sections of pipe down to size.

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Then the pipe has to be cut length ways so it can be clipped over the rack.

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The welds on my pannier racks mean that each piece of tubing has to be a slightly different length. So I file down the tube until it fits in place perfectly.

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In all I cut six lengths of tube, four for the rear rack and two longer ones for the front. All but two pieces need the ends shaped to fit around welds and joins.

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The tubing is tough and rigid so it’s a tricky job clipping it onto the rack.

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Once the tubing is in place small hose-clamps can be used to ensure the tubing keeps its shape and doesn’t split apart over time.

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I use one clamp for each of the shorter pieces of tubing on the rear rack and two on each of the longer lengths used on the front rack.

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The final step is to tape over the tubing.

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Adding a layer of tape ensures a better fit into the hook, dampens any noise from movement, helps keep the tubing together and improves the look considerably.

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And that’s it, a protected and Ortlieb adapted pair of racks.

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Now the pannier hooks fit neatly over the rack. It’s important not to try and make the fit too tight as some space is needed to allow the hook to release on removal.

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