23 July, 2011

Tourist Visa Forces Lifestyle Mod

Okay, so here I am in the UK. Because I'm an American here on a tourist visa, I am not allowed to work for money, and even volunteer work could put me at risk of being told to go away, and furthermore could make life difficult for anybody who decided to employ me.

So I'm here, and some days I get a little bored. I'm a mechanic. Not just a mechanic who fixes thing for pay or for a good cause, I fix things because I have an innate need to fix things (cue the superhero theme background music). I fix things not too put food on the table, not to pad my wallet, not in hope of recognition or fame, but because I must. Keep your vile monies! I MUST FIX MACHINES!

So I was wandering around the place where we are staying, having run out of little mechanical things to fix around the house, and I came across a small pile of dilapidated bicycle parts. After a bit of a rummage, I realised that there were a lot of interesting parts around, and that with a little work, a ridable bicycle could probably be built. I started with this old Peugeot Esprit road bike frame, which I liked because it was huge and because it reminded me of an early 1900's bicycle:

And this old Puch ladies bike. It had obviously been sitting outside unused for many years--there was a lot of rust, (the chain had a big spot that was rusted solid, for example), but there were some things I really liked about it, like the three speed rear hub and the drum brakes:
"Wait a minute!" I hear you saying, "Three speed hub and drum brakes?? Don't those date back to the early Iron Age?" Well, yes, such technology is more or less obsolescent, but it has two redeeming features: 1.) internal gear hubs and drum brakes are quite reliable, and 2.) they require very little maintenance.

Normally, I hate working on bicycles, because they tend to be loaded down with all kinds of fiddly little bits that are fragile and always seem to be in constant need of adjustment. I find bicycle caliper rim brakes to be a pain, and deraileurs to be a serious headache. In fact, these things have probably historically been among the biggest barriers to me ever owning a bicycle, (the fact that Ukarumpa is all steep hills doesn't help either).

So here was my chance to build up a bike that had none of the things I hate most about bicycles; how could I not build it? Naturally I didn't have any tools with me, but in the saddle bags of one of the dead bikes in the junkyard, I found a 10-way combination wrench/spanner, and that was enough to get me started. Over the next few days I collected a number of other tools, mostly really cheap junk, but hey, I don't know yet where to get good tools, and I'm not exactly swimming in cash.

So the Peugeot frame ended up with the wheels, control cables and levers from the Puch, as well as the handlebar grips. Other bits and pieces come from other bikes. The Puch also happened to have an old Brooks B66 leather cruiser saddle on it, (to buy it new would cost $150-$200 USD), so I snagged that as well. It was a bit moldy from sitting out in the weather for so many years, but it's still more comfy than what was on the Peugeot frame.

I knew I wanted a simple bike, and I knew that I wanted a sitting-up riding position, so with these goals in mind, I removed the mudguards/fenders, lights, luggage carrier, and brake calipers and those horrible deraileurs and all their associated controls from the Peugeot frame, and installed the drum brake wheels (which appear to have stainless steel rims!) and the Brooks saddle. The drive chain came off of one of the other bikes out in the junkyard. I couldn't figure out how to get the handlebars off, (the bolt that holds the stem in place is rusted up tight and I can't get it to move with the tools I have), so I just flipped them over and made do. I stuck the handlebar grips from the Puch onto the ends of the bars.

None of the tires in the junkyard were any good. The local supermarket had 20", 24", and 26" tires/tyres, but the Puch rims are 27", so I ended up having to order some new tyres on-line. The supplier accidentally sent me 26" tires, so while waiting for him to get his muddle sorted out, I went ahead and put a rotten old set of tyres on with new tubes, (mistake).

I wanted to be able to ride at night, so I put a headlight and tail light on it. I happened to have a rear wheel mounted dynamo/generator as well as a front wheel mounted generator/dynamo, so I went ahead and installed both of them, the rear one powers the rear light, the front one powers the headlight. Simple and reliable, no fragile wires running all over the frame.

Here's what it looks like today. I was out riding it last night and again today, but while I was stopped and talking to somebody, the rotten rear tire let go and the tube blew out, (sounded like a pistol shot, which oddly enough made me miss the days when I used to be able to go out and shoot in the backyard in Tennessee), so the rear tyre is flat in this photo:

So now I'm gaining a bit of a reputation as a bicycle mechanic, but the truth is that I'm pretty much only interested in building things that are simple and reliable, which means that deraileurs anyway are pretty much out. I might be able to do something with rim brake calipers, but ugh! I still don't like them.

So I guess I'm a bit of a bicycle rider now. Worse things could have happened to me, I suppose. I haven't ridden very far yet, mainly because I didn't trust my tires, but once my new tyres and tubes get here and are installed, I look forward to riding farther.

I'm thinking of brush painting my bike all black to enhance it's "I found this in my great-grandad's barn" look.

08 July, 2011

An Unexpected Move & How to be Large and Drive a Microcar

So, our first place here at the Wycliffe Centre at Horsely's Green was alright, we got the lights sorted out, we were adjusting to the weird fold out sofa bed, etc., the only fly in our ointment was the living room furniture--it was apparently designed for normal people rather than large men and heavily pregnant women, so we asked the housing folks if there was any chance of getting a either a.) a different bed so that we could use the fold-out one as a sofa in the living room, or b.) a larger and more comfy sofa. The next thing we knew, we were being moved out of the Fraser A flat and into the Moffat B flat! Moffat B is a bigger flat and is more comfy in some ways, though it lacks the high-ceilinged charm of the old flat. Anyway, we're happy.

In other news, here's an illustration of how to Be Large and Drive a Microcar. Yes, according to Wikipedia, the Mazda Demio is considered a micro-car, so that explains why I have to drive with the sunroof open so that I don't bump my head on the roof. Truthfully, I only bumped my head on the roof for the first couple of days, then I found a knob on the side of the seat that adjusted the seat height. Naturally, I adjusted the seat height all the way down and got myself some headroom, though I lost some legroom. To compensate for the loss of legroom, I switched to driving MK style, (a style I prefer anyway), barefoot, right big toe controlling the throttle. NOW we're getting somewhere! I admit it, I am becoming a little fond of the old Demio. It is surprising how much stuff can be crammed into this car, though the rear suspension becomes overwhelmed fairly quickly and then the car feels all squirrelly on the motorway.

This is only the second car I have ever had that had a sunroof, and the first one I ever had we bought just the day before we left the US a couple of weeks ago, (there just happens to be one on the old Explorer we bought). Sunroofs are great!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the reports from Ukarumpa continue to be encouraging! It seems as if maybe the local criminal element really has experienced a change of heart. We have seen photos of huge amounts of food that have been given to our co-workers there as an expression of apology for the past several years of stealing. Here's hoping that we can go into the future as good neighbors in the Aiyura Valley, with a mutual respect and understanding for each other.

02 July, 2011

Back in the Green and Pleasant Land

So we landed in England a few days ago. Our flight from the US was delayed by two or three hours as the plane was struck by lightning on its way to the US and needed to be carefully inspected before it could be cleared to fly back to the UK. So we had some extra time to say our tearful good-byes to my folks before leaving.

Anyway, we landed at Gatwick and were met by Clare's parents, who were excited to see us, especially Levi, who they haven't seen since they met us in Australia in October of 2010 for a short holiday.

Jet lag wasn't quite as bad this time, it's only a 5 hour time difference from the Eastern US.

For the first couple of days we stayed with Clare's folks in their house. Dad gave us a car to use for the time we are in the UK:

After leaving the in-laws, we moved to the Wycliffe UK headquarters at Horsley's Green near High Wycombe. Here's what the front of our flat looks like:

History buff that I am, I asked about the history of this building and was told that it was one of several originally built here in 1940 as a place for Londoners to send their children to during the Blitz, (like some of you, I immediately thought of the Pevensey kids from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe!) After the war it was turned into a what would probably be called a "juvenile detention center" in the US (!) so the place has had a colorful history even before Wycliffe acquired it.

Our flat is old, but reasonably comfortable. I like the high ceilings and I was pleased to see how many radiators there are scattered around the place, as we will still be here when it starts to turn cold outside. There seems to be a problem with the wiring as only one of the lights works, but when we told the maintenance people about it, they immediately came over and started working on it. Unfortunately, even though they were here until after 10 pm they weren't able to fix it, though lots of progress was made determining where the problem ISN'T! :) Anyway, they got us some nice lamps to use in the meantime, so all's well.

We have lots to do here in the UK, including having a baby! I think that I am actually glad that my visa won't allow me to do any work here, (including volunteer work).

Meanwhile, back in Ukarumpa, we are getting some very encouraging reports about the security situation there--apparently a group of people who have been directly responsible for much of the criminal activity in our area have decided to turn from their old ways. They have issued a very impressive apology to those who they have wronged, including a huge gift of garden food! Perhaps the tide has turned and we are at the beginning of a time of greater peace? Only time will tell, but the outlook seems promising to me right now.