True Meaning of “Mountain Bike”

Annoyingly, my much-loved Peugeot single-speed bike got nicked the other day. I am still nursing hopes of its return, but in the meantime, I need a bike. Well, i have Deb’s bike, actually on loan from Alistair. But it’s a bit granny for me. Thin tyres. I decided to have a go at restoring my 1980s mountain bike.

It’s a World Rider, made in Timaru, I believe. I bought it from Lawrence Blackburn in about 1990, and he’d got it well-second-hand. It’s made of steel, with alloy castings. An early example. I always thought you could drive a truck over it. Ed rode it into a parked car and bent the forks, but he turned them backwards and bent them back by slamming the front wheel into a wall. Amazingly a couple of years ago, the handlebar snapped without provocation. You could still ride it, and Ron did. Unfortunately, it got vandalised and both gear changers got smashed off, but the tyres were still really good and the wheels were only slightly buckled.

I was ready to take it to the “super shed”, in the hope that someone would take pity on it. I had a bike that was ideal for my requirements. But then I didn’t. My old bike was a former multi-gear mountain bike, stripped down to a single speed, which is all you need for around town in Christchurch.

By removing the front gearshift mechanism, I got the chain to stay quite happily on whatever front sprocket you put it. The back one was more problematic. The springs kept shifting it back to the outer sprocket in the cluster, which had lost its grip on the axle and just turned without turning the wheel. The rear gear cable was fortunately still fixed to the wreck of the gear-shifter, however, so with some non-stretch cord, I manged to contrive a string gear shift. You can change gear by untying a knot and tightening or loosening an adjustable hitch. It works just fine for getting the chain in the right place on the right gear.

That left the problem of the broken handlebar, and the general rustiness. I took it to the mower and bike place around the corner. They were dead helpful and found a $30 handlebar that didn’t quite fit. Its main problem was that it was worth six times what the bike is. They wouldn’t weld it, which is understandable, I suppose, but the handlebar actually still kind of worked because the stay piece was intact. I’d ridden the thing to their shop hadn’t I? It was pretty wobbly.

So on the scrounge for a second hand handlebar, when in one of those quiet or distracted moments that invite flashes of inspiration (perhaps I was planning the camping trip we’re taking next week), I realised that manuka would be ideal. It’s a little irregular, but then so is the bike. It could hardly make it more out of balance when, if you let go the handlebars for a second, it skews strongly to the left. Manuka is particularly hard and strong. I have made many walking sticks, a shovel handle, a hammer handle and a mallet out of it, as well as tent poles (a whole set of internal ones, once – another story), and components of several urban washing line systems. With a manuka handlebar, the rust would look totally in-keeping. And, I happened to still have, carefully dried, two fine straight stems of young manuka, that I harvested en route to one of the major camping missions of the nineties.

I selected a suitable section, by looking at it longways and fitting it to the head-clamp (whatever you call that bit). I sawed it off, and clamped it in and could ride the bike straight away (holding onto the old broken handlebar with the brakes on it). The brake levers and even the hand-grips came off the old bar quite easily. Getting the brake levers onto the manuka was a bit tricky. They have cast grips with not much flex in them. Holding on the the tip with a rag, I used my Opinel knife as a spokeshave and thinned down both ends of the bar. Then I got slightly impatient and whacked the casting on with a mallet, using a 20mm ring-spanner to transmit the blows once it went down over the end of the stick.

Amazingly, the first one didn’t break. It didn’t even need its screw done up. The second one was on the thin end but was still a bit tight, or perhaps had a manufacturing flaw. Anyway, there was still the screw, so it clamped on quite well, even in two pieces. The two original yellow hand grips (a nice touch, I think) fitted on easily, and the job was done.

A quick tweak of the brakes, adjust of the seat, and pump of the tyres, and I’m away!