Bike swap nightmare


Returning late home from Glastonbury festival on Monday night I was looking forward to assembling my bike (aka The Captain) ready for my departure to France on Thursday 4th July. Unable to load my bike onto a peak time train to London I would travel to meet John the night before where the first off peak train the next morning from High Wycombe would get us there on time for our Eurostar departure. We were due to meet friends in Epernay, East of Paris, from where we would begin our journey to Lecce in Southern Italy.

Given the last trip had involved around 11, 000 km through Africa I had decided that it was about time my Rohloff hub had a full service – not just the oil change. Not normally one for preventative maintenance  – I usually go for fixing when broken – given the specialist nature of my gearing I decided to do the sensible thing. Before leaving Africa I organised taking both my wheel into the bikeshop in Edinburgh and the rest of my frame to a local bike store. Job done.  In fact, it was John’s bike with a broken frame that we were most concerned by.

I dropped the wheel off on May 30th and waited for my cousin to collect the frame. Rohloff apparently take around 10 days to complete a full service though I was aware my location in the Midlands, the bike shop in Edinburgh and Rohloff in Germany would make for some challenging logistics. Time quickly moved on and as Glastonbury was approaching so I made a couple of chase up calls. I was reassured all was good and the wheel was in transit. By now John’s bike had been rebuilt with a replacement frame , collected and was set to go. All I could do was sit and wait – both for the wheel and much the same with my frame though I knew that would be in hand.

It was Saturday, in a noisy field, when I would get the call to arrange payment and final dispatch. My wheel was due on Tuesday – the same evening my frame would also be returned. With just two days before departure it was at last coming together….or so I thought!

Tuesday would be a busy day as unpacking, packing and goodbyes were scheduled in. The wheel arrived at 1pm ish and it was in checking this over an hour or so later that I first got a hint that there may be difficulties ahead. Even to my untrained eye it was obvious the new sprocket was very different to the old one which was now lying in a small plastic bag in the bottom of the box. Still determined to remain calm I simply measured the length of the teeth against my old fitting and in seeing they were the same I trusted the manufacturers and mechanics involved would have still fitted something that was okay. I was afterall paying for a top of the range gearing system.

I was out for dinner that evening and so it was not till my return that I would find out that I would now need to collect my frame the following morning. Oh well, at least I had a wheel. I would begin my journey from the bike store instead following day.

At 930am I loaded in panniers etc to my mothers wee car and was ready for the off. The local mechanic had never seen a belt drive before. No surprise really, few bike stores have. I felt proud of The Captain, with around 19,000km under his belt so to speak, I assured him my hub gears and belt were easy to piece together as I assembled the back wheel. After all, they usually were.

But they didn’t fit.  Was it me? Was there just a slight difference with my new system I was unaware of? No. I was not stupid. They were incompatible. I was definitely not doing this wrong.

Immediately I called the bike store in Edinburgh, called John and then cried. This was not a great situation and we were all now working to find a solution. John called Germany (no answer). I left a message with my friend Cath (maybe she would swap my Brompton folder for her tourer) and the bike store called back with details of the nearest mechanic who may have the right tools to swap back my old sprocket (just one hours drive away). Other than buying a new bike there was not much else I could do.

First, however, I would need to get my bike home. Without a wheel I really needed it to fit in my mothers car. Having first taken home my panniers I then removed the front wheel and with the passenger seat all the way forward and panniers reloaded I was good to go – to Leamington spa!

After a few wrong turns and a quick sandwich we arrived at John Aitkin cycles. Cath had also now returned my call and a back-up plan was in place. I was still hopeful my sprocket could be changed.

The guys at John Aitkin were great. I was not booked in, they have never met me before yet they did all they could to help. Unfortunately it transpired the only place with the right tool were the suppliers….in Cambridge. I simply could not get there in time. I left my bike in Leamington ready to be fixed by the end of August when I would be in the UK for three days. For now, all I could do was call Cath and collect her spare wheels. I finally cycled away at 7pm to catch a train to Wycombe – my ma then also driving home after a long day. Exhausted on arrival, it was straight out for a relaxing beer with another friend I had been due to meet 4 hours earlier. John and I left the next morning for Epernay arriving just in time for a fabulous evening meal with friends.

So, I’m now riding “Bob” – named after her new milk man. A Specialized Rockhopper he’s the bike Cath rode from the UK to Hungary. After a painful first days ride he now has higher handlebars, a new kickstand and padding on the bar ends. Fortunately I had remembered to take my Brooks saddle (now well worn in) and John lent me some pedals – I was travelling with only sandles and clip-in shoes!

The Captain is apparently getting a belt upgrade to match the new sprocket (thanks to the Edinburgh Bike store) and while I still have questions of suppliers and mechanics regarding the mistake I’m still riding. Here’s hoping my new bike  and experienced traveller Bob knows the way. Surely Alps d’huez can’t be this bad!

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