Dieter Back From The Dead

Back From The Dead – Our bike shop doesn’t run like yours

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Dieter works at our local social enterprise bike shop, and we’ve talked him into bringing us a few of his more ingenious and interesting fixes, alongside whatever commentary he might like to get off his chest.

UPDATE! We just spotted that Happy Days Cycles, where Dieter works, is up for a Bike Biz award! Nice one! Voting link here if you feel so inclined…

After years working in the industry I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed my work more than working where I do now. Happy Days Cycles (another shameless plug, let’s see how many of these I can get away with!) has been a real breath of fresh air in my mechanical life. After feeling pretty burnt out on the industry’s relentless push to make last year’s parts and bikes obsolete as soon as you’ve bought them and keep you locked in to the endless cycle of consuming, it’s certainly refreshing to spend my days getting to keep stuff going however possible. 

While the shop is still a for profit enterprise we can count our motivations as far more than just pure profit. We’re a CIC or Community Interest Company, meaning that the bulk of our profits are reinvested in supporting local community projects. In our case we support the Happy Days homeless charity,  providing housing, training and recovery services to over 100 people throughout Halifax and the surrounding areas. As far as job satisfaction goes, it’s pretty high!

The other incredibly satisfying aspect of not being driven totally by profit is the fact that I can run the workshop the exact way that I want to!

Rather than being pressured to finish jobs in the quickest time possible, usually by just replacing worn or broken parts with new (A totally understandable way of working if your livelihood depends on it), we’ll delve into the old parts bins and find that derailleur cage for your 8 speed Alivio mech, or that cotterless axle and looseball BB bearings so you don’t have to replace the period correct BB in your fixie. Or we’ll strip, clean and grease that fork on the £300.00 hardtail that was never really built with service in mind. None of these jobs create as much profit for the shop as just selling a replacement part would, but it provides a priceless customer interaction that you’ll never get online.

It also serves as a great way of training our fabulous rotating cast of volunteers, stopping them from becoming mere parts fitters and moulding them into proper nuts n bolts mechanics.

We take donations of bikes and parts from the local community which we then service up and sell on again to that very same community. Often we’ll receive the very same bikes we’ve sold someone as a starter bike back as a donation once again when they’ve inevitably caught the bug and decide to upgrade. Knowing that I’ve helped ignite that passion for cycling in someone is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job and only fuels my relentless enthusiasm for getting more people on bikes.

So in more ways than one the shop is a physical representation of the snake that eats its own tail!

That relentless enthusiasm for cycling as a whole, but particularly for the people who ride, is the most important thing to endear people to a shop. In the unending battle against the internet behemoths, a bricks and mortar store’s most important weapon is the personal experience that can’t be bought online.

Here at Happy Days Cycles (#2), I’m afforded the opportunity to take time to repair parts where possible. Or to help out that local kid whose bike is always smoked because they spend every day shredding it and have zero funds to repair it, or my personal favourite our ‘sponsored rider’ Robert. The hardest rider in Calderdale (TM), he’s a 64 year old Audax rider who rides 8-900 km a week in the summer, and gets through parts faster than the average person gets through a loaf of bread. But he absolutely lives for his bike and it’s an absolute pleasure to keep it going for him, especially whilst being regaled with the tales of his adventures and intertwined misadventures in his own inimitable style.

Which brings us to this week’s case studies, some of the smaller jobs and hacks I’ve done since starting at Happy Days Cycles (#3). Jobs that maybe don’t warrant a full article but I really liked them anyway.

Dieter's Toolbox
A toolbox that says ‘yes we can’.

The toolkit at the shop when I started was somewhat lacking, a lot of it had been bought with budget in mind rather than longevity. Not a problem for the hand tools, as I brought my own, but for stuff like the shop compressor we need something built to stand up to the rigours of daily use in the workshop. As you can imagine a German discount supermarket brand compressor and its related fittings are potentially not the ideal items for use in a busy workshop. In fact when we started it had been out of use for a while as it had been “smelling of fire” when switched on.

Draining it for the first time in its life was an experience. I was not at all prepared for the pint of rust tinged water that completely overflowed the small container I’d put under the tank, coating the workshop floor in a rather fetching shade of orange. Replacing a bit of damaged hose and tightening every nut and bolt on the thing worked wonders. As did bolting it to a secure mounting on the floor, even if my patented folded up inner tube sound/vibration dampeners left more than a little to be desired… My new plan for dealing with its deafening roar is to just fit it upstairs and run the hose down through the ceiling, I just need a free day and a real big drill.

The compressor itself is a pretty solid unit for home use but the little tank does struggle to keep up in the workshop and it’s reeeal noisy when it’s recharging. The schrader air gun that comes with the compressor is definitely not designed with heavy use in mind and as such gave up the ghost a few weeks ago right in the midst of a tricky tubeless set up.

Our workshop track pump’s presta valve adapter had bitten the dust a few weeks earlier, thankfully we had another broken pump with a working head. A quick switcheroo had been made and two broken pumps became one working pump and a small selection of spares squirreled away for further bodges.

Anyway, back to the broken compressor adapter. After my initial panic at the prospect of having to seat the unseatable tyre with a track pump had subsided, my bodging brain kicked in.

Back from the dead

I retrieved the old track pump head that now only worked for schrader valves – not a problem for the compressor though as we have a sweet little presta adapter that slots right in.

Back from the dead

A quick chop and change was to follow to end my recurring nightmare of poor valve connection and two handed operation.

Back from the dead
Back from the dead

Nice snug fit, and by snug I mean I had to whittle the end of the hose to a point to get that compression nut on!

Back from the dead

A thread full of grease helps the medicine go down.

Back from the dead

Like it was made to fit.

Back from the dead

There it stands in all its glory!

If you’re one of the many who own one of these compressors and using its terrible schrader air line adapter upsets you even half as much as this one does me, then I would fully advise that you do this hack yourself. If you don’t have a broken old pump to cannibalise for a head then go and see the folks at your local bike shop and sweet talk them to see if they’ve got anything kicking around. We’ve definitely got a few old bits a pieces of pumps knocking about at Happy Days Cycles! (#4)

Next on the list of weird little jobs that I liked is this wheelchair tyre.

Back from the dead

When this was brought in for a puncture repair we were shocked to see that both front tyres were worn almost right through. The wheels also had cracks in the plastic as well as some nicely seized bearings to finish of the trifecta of reasons to need new wheels. Not something we generally stock, we were left with a good bodge being our only option to keep this customer going whilst we sourced some replacements.

In our ever growing stabiliser basket we had a set of stabilisers for adults (I know, I know…) that just happened to have the same 8″ wheel size.

With creative use of a few 608 skate wheel bearings and a few washers a very temporary fix was made whilst we waited for some new wheels to arrive.

Ready to roll! With caution!

The stabiliser wheels certainly wouldn’t have stood up too well to the pavements of Sowerby Bridge long term – they were only on for two days and the soft rubber “tyres” were pretty gnarled. But the customer wasn’t off the road for a minute so we’re all happy at Happy Days Cycles (#5!)

Last up this time round is these budget suspension forks on two matching bikes that came in for service, both with a matching patina of rust coating the stanchions. The customer was asking about the possibility of converting them both to rigid forks as he’d given up hope for these.

I did a bit of research for compatible rigid forks, 27.5in, disc compatible with a 1 1/8 th steerer and options were pretty thin on the ground and what there was available was way over the customer’s budget. We didn’t have anything compatible in our second hand fork selection at the shop so the only option that was gonna work on budget was to save his current fork.

After applying a judicial amount of elbow grease with a bit of steel wool, a light emery cloth and some oil, 10 mins work to drop the lowers off, clean up the internals and grease them up, and these forks felt like, well they felt like forks that had been through the wars, but at least there was some noticeable cushioning there!

So, there it is! Three jobs where most shops would have just replaced parts with new, three (four if you count both sets of forks) parts saved from the big scrapheap in the sky, and three customers and one ranty mechanic with smiles on their faces! If that’s not the true spirit of Back From The Dead I don’t know what is!

HAPPY DAYS! cycles… (#6)

(other CIC’S and community bike projects are available and also kick ass! I can personally recommend The Bikes College in Leeds as good people doing GREAT things in a very similar vein to us here at , ahem, Happy Days Cycles (#7) There’s also a litany of others spread across this rock Brexit has trapped us on for all but three months at a time. So have a google and find your closest one, they may even have their own eccentrically ranty mechanic who’s dying to sort that problem with your bike that no one else wants to look at! )

Read More From Dieter…

Back From The Dead 1 – How to Fix a Broken Maxle

How To Buy a Second Hand Mountain Bike

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