September 01, 2006

Should I have bought a new bike?

Imagine my shock and horror when I turned my my city bike over and saw this:

With rust holes like that, I thought, it won’t belong before the bicycle collapses. It’s no use trying to claim on the five year warranty on frame and forks as it ran out a year ago. And a repair might not be very cost-effective. Not only must the rusted down tube be cut out and replaced, but the whole bicycle re-sprayed since the new steel won’t be painted and the heat from the welding will burn the paint on the steel which isn’t replaced. On the other hand, my bicycle isn’t one of those toy bikes which sell at a hundred pounds or even less, a replacement of similar quality might cost £500 or £600.

I considered the purchase of a new city bicycle. Were I to buy one I’d want one with a full chain case. A chain case protects not only the right trouser leg from greasy dirt but also the chain from rain and salty water. The latter, one of the most corrosive chemicals that you can find outside of a factory or laboratory, is common on main roads in winter, a result of the practice of throwing salt over the roads in an attempt to prevent ice formation.

I asked in a couple of cycle shops about bicycles with full chain cases. One man just shook his head, another mentioned Pashley. A local firm (Stratford). Yet Pashley only a give a five year warranty on frame and forks, while my touring bicycle has a fifteen year warranty. Their city bicycles also only have three gears and have a rather old fashioned styling:

Pashley Princess-Sovereign

While I’m always a bit wary of the latest technology, I’m concerned that something that looks like it came out of the 1930’s will have the reliability of a vehicle built in the 1930’s. I understand, for example that the Sturmey Archer three speed gear has remained unmodified since 1937.

Consequently I’m rather drawn to bicycles made for the Dutch market. In the Netherlands cycling is still an activity pursued by a large number of people for practical purposes such as commuting or shopping. The argument that utility bicycles made for sale in the Netherlands market have kept up with developments over recent decades seems plausible to me.

They have more modern styling and 7 or 8 speed gears:

Azor Highlander

Gazelle Esprit

There’s a retailer in Oxford for Gazelle, who appear to offer a 10-year warranty against material and manufacturing defects on the frame and forks.

Still talking with my cycling mates, I was persuaded to try a repair. That did mean taking all the parts off the frame and forks which took me five hours. I’m awaiting the results…

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  1. Chris May

    If the repair fails, why not just buy a new frame? For a few hundred pounds you could get something pretty nice, I’d have thought – since you’ve got all the parts off already it’s not going to be any less effort to rebuild onto a new frame.

    Incidentally, that hole looks to me as if it may have been caused from the inside out, by water getting into the frame and pooling around the bottom bracket, rather than from the outside in. In which case, I’d recommend getting a can of waxoyl when you get the frame back, and spraying it liberally into the frame to give a good coating on the inside.

    That gazelle bike has a very slopey seat tube; your weight would be a long way back. I think it might feel like riding a Raleigh Chopper again. On the plus side you could wheelie all the way to work :-)

    01 Sep 2006, 11:06

  2. If the repair fails,

    I’m taking it back to the repairer Lee Cooper, who has a reputation to maintain.

    As the bike cost £400 when it was new, I stand by the argument that it a knife edge thing whether to repair the frame or buy a new bike.

    I’m taking the repair option partly to be environmentally correct, partly to save a trip to a retailer some distance away and partly to discover how long it takes me to strip a frame & forks. I am considering having my 13 year old tourer resprayed.

    I’m pretty sure that the rust came from the inside. I’ve bought a tin of Carplan Teroseal. My current idea is to temporarily block up all but one hole, fill the frame with the Tetroseal and then let it drain out.

    That gazelle bike has a very slopey seat tube;

    Certainly the traditional design of utility bicycles leads to a much more upright riding position than straight handlebars let alone drops. When I first rode a “sit up and beg” I was impressed by the enhanced view and the generally more dignified riding position. Also swept back handlebars are extremely stable – useful for those who tend to drift when looking over their shoulder or have drunk some wine or beer.

    Looking carefully, I’m not sure anymore that there is much of a difference in shape between the three bicycles shown – I think the engineering differences might be more significant (no fear of plastic from the Dutch) and as regards choice of colour.

    01 Sep 2006, 12:10

  3. Goodness, bike prices have soared since I left the Netherlands! It seems cheaper to me to fly to the Netherlands, buy your bike, and send it here (or ride/drive it here!) – not sure how convenient that is though. More importantly, I don’t think any of the Dutch bikes depicted would leave you unharmed going up or down Kenilworth Road. Holland’s flat landscape and bike lanes are perfect for these bikes. England’s faster changing landscape and traffic situations require you to be more flexible and to react more faster hence all those differences (handlebars, saddle) you summed up seem more like setbacks to me than advantages. Good luck with the old bike though!

    01 Sep 2006, 12:36

  4. Goodness, bike prices have soared since I left the Netherlands!

    I think you may have a point there. Gazelle NL quotes e499 for a 3 speed Esprit, but Cycle Heaven charges £390, which is 16% more. And at least one Dutch retailer appears to only want e399 (£270).

    I don’t think any of the Dutch bikes depicted would leave you unharmed going up or down Kenilworth Road

    Kenilworth Road is not a typical city road.

    I’ve been cycling around Coventry on my tourer while my city bike is under repair. The tourer is faster. But it’s not so convenient:

    • No stand – awkward for short stops at shops
    • Drop handlebars – not so stable after a bottle of wine at a dinner party
    • Down tube gear shifters (ok I know gear levers can be positioned closer to your hands nowadays) not so good for roundabouts

    My theory is that cycling in Britain has been reduced to a hard core of rather sporty people, who are prepared to sacrifice comfort for performance.

    Of course the real hard-core cyclists with plenty of money have many different bicycles – folding, road, mountain, city…...

    01 Sep 2006, 14:37

  5. Dismantling the bike took me five hours, re-assembling it 11 hours. The financial cost of new down tube and respray was £95 plus £6 for a 400ml spray can of Waxoyl.

    Then there were the costs in time and money of getting to the repairer in Ryton. If I’d bought a new bicycle all the other parts would have been renewed as well.

    Against that, choosing a new bicycle takes some time especially when local retailers don’t appear to sell the sort of city bike I want. I suppose a replacement bicycle would have meant a journey to Oxford (45 straight line miles away) or York (108 straight line miles away).

    23 Sep 2006, 10:36

  6. Sue

    I am just contemplating a respray and overhaul of my trusty tourer – but local bike shop from whence it came seem mighty reluctant. I am glad to know I am not the only person considering a respray. I am sure I can get most parts off my bike, but I believe that if I don’t replace them within the hour, I will forget how they go on! And it is sooo grubby it needs a serious clean, but I fear my husband will do his nut if I try to clean it on the patio/decking, kitchen sink or bath, and I think it will kill the grass and definately be brought in on pussy cat paws if I use any other part of the garden!

    Any general tips on the above?! (as you are just going through all this)

    19 Oct 2006, 21:55

  7. A few “brain storming ideas”

    • Clean a bike on the road using a bucket and sponge – squeeze water from the sponge on the bike, let it soak for a minute before wiping.
    • Be careful to avoid getting water in the bearings – hoses are for patios and large expanses of sheet steel on cars not for bicycles
    • After getting the dirt off and allowing it to drip dry, put it on newspaper and prepare for dismantling
    • Take plenty of images using a digital camera – good for checking how things really were put together
    • Some hardware shops (B&Q?) sell close fitting plastic gloves (like surgeons use?) which are useful when handling chains (and painting!)
    • While the frame is away getting re-sprayed you can clean the chain, cogs etc.
    • A bicycle re-sprayer won’t mind taking off the last few bits for you e.g. bottom bracket and headset bearings.
    • Transfers cost extra.
    • There’s enamelling or there’s power coating. The former gives a finer finish but costs more and isn’t so robust.
    • Any protection on the inside of the tubes will be destroyed in the process of re-painting. So after re-painting ensure that something like Framesaver or Waxoyl is sprayed inside to protect against internal rusting
    • Don’t forget that if the paint is showing its age, perhaps everything else is as well and a new bike might not be such a bad idea.

    19 Oct 2006, 22:31

  8. Martin Locke

    Is this blog still alive?

    24 Nov 2006, 17:00

  9. Yes. So far i’ve done 400 miles on the re-assembled bike. The fix and re-spray seem ok.

    24 Nov 2006, 17:07

  10. retail goon

    I work for Cycle Heaven, York. Costs about £40 to ship a Gazelle around the UK – dunno what the shipping costs from Holland are, but £100 doesn’t sound so far off, and you get a year’s free servicing if you buy them from us (not so useful if you live in Warwick I suppose).
    We get people from all over the place to buy Gazelles – maybe one a month wants to take them back to the US.
    Yes, the riding position does look weird – but as soon as you get people to actually take it for a test ride, they usually fall in love – it’s very comfy & good for traffic.
    They are a bit heavy – good for York where it is flat, but if Warwick is hilly I’d recommend a Cannondale Urban instead.

    30 Jan 2007, 18:41

  11. I’ve been to York three times, I’d say the “Warwickshire” city & towns are only slightly more hilly than York. Nothing like Leeds or Bristol

    30 Jan 2007, 21:05

  12. Mike McD

    I am writing from the US, way up north in Coastal Maine. You are lucky to have repairer
    in the UK willing to replace rusted frame tubes and respray the frame. Here in the US
    there would be no question, it would be time for a new bike.

    I am familiar with the roads and countryside in Warwickshire, I used to travel there on
    business and regularly stayed in Warwick and in Stratford on Avon. I would call that flat
    country compared to most topography in Northeast USA.

    Have a pint for me at that little pub on the back street in downtown Warwick, the pub
    with the 6 foot high ceilings, don’t remember the name but I do remember sitting in
    garden enjoying my drink.

    25 Feb 2007, 00:23

  13. I must admit I don’t actually go to the town of Warwick very often, the University is mostly in Coventry.

    I think the main reason Warwick University has the name it has was that Coventry was considered by many as part of Warwickshire when the university was started in 1964. Also half the land was controlled by the county and half by the county borough of Coventry.

    In 1974 there was a local government re-organsiation leading to Coventry and Birmingham being split off from the more rural parts or Warwickshire and joined with the urban parts of Staffordshire to make the West Midlands county. However nowadays, there’s a case for saying that Coventry has more to do with the towns around it than with Birmingham.

    Other UK universities set up at about the same time are named after the county they were in – Sussex, Essex, Kent.

    26 Feb 2007, 16:36

  14. kristiann boos

    hi there, just wondering if anyone can help me with this. i just tmoved to London and am trying to find a bike, which is expensive in these parts. i just got in touch with a guy that has a dutch gazelle for 50 pounds. it needs new tires which will be another 40 pounds. is this agood deal?

    07 Mar 2007, 17:31

  15. Whether that’s a good deal on the bike depends on its condition.
    I bought a Schwalbe Marathon HS348 tyre for £18, they are as puncture resistant as you can get. I think you can get pretty good tyres for £15 each.

    07 Mar 2007, 21:14

  16. The London Cycling Campaign has some useful info on buying second hand. They even have a list of shops specialising in second hand sales – useful for those who don’t know much about bicycle mechanics.

    08 Mar 2007, 11:49

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