I have revelled in some of the silver linings of this grim pandemic, walking in the area and cycling in the glorious countryside of Harrogate, to Almscliffe Crag or Lower Nidderdale, on blissfully quiet country lanes, enjoying the unusually fresh air, the birdsong, and day after day of April sunshine. I’m excited to see many parents out cycling with their children – sometimes little ones who can only recently have learned to cycle – because the roads feel safe, and it’s great when people say that as a result of the lockdown they’ve discovered the joy of walking instead of getting into their car every time they leave home. The two things that spoil our outings are the ubiquitous litter, such as coffee cups and drinks bottles undoubtedly thrown out of vehicle windows, and occasional aggressive drivers and boy racers, who know the chances of getting a ticket are virtually zero.

What will happen after the pandemic? We’ve had this brief taste of a different, calmer and environmentally far better way of living but, whether we want it or not, isn’t it inevitable that once all the factories, shops and schools are open, we will go back to ‘normal’, our roads increasingly congested and air polluted? After all, don’t people have to earn and need to be mobile?

I believe it’s not at all inevitable. We can choose how and where we live and travel, who and what policies we vote for, what kind of society we live in and leave for future generations. There is a massive amount of discussion about all of this going on right now in webinars and online meetings among people including politicians, academics, journalists and others who believe real and rapid change for a sustainable world is not just entirely possible but also essential. The dreadful coronavirus has so far killed over 20,000 in the UK and over 200,000 worldwide. Our destruction of the environment is killing millions of people every year, including from air pollution alone an estimated 64,000 in the UK, and 8.8 million worldwide (Max Planck Institute report, 2019). We’ve made enormous adjustments almost instantly to tackle the virus, we can and must make whatever changes are needed to tackle the climate crisis and pollution.

We can all make a difference by using the car only as a last resort, choosing to fly rarely or not at all, picking up litter, not creating it, considering the environmental impacts of what we buy and consume. In my view, none of this is difficult, it’s just developing a new habit which soon becomes normal.

But it’s the politicians we elect whose decisions are crucial to determine whether we return to the old ‘normal’ or whether the changes for the better caused by the pandemic – the silver linings – become permanent. Some changes will remain in any event. Many people have found they don’t need to travel to the centre of the city every day when they can do much of their work from home, potentially saving companies a fortune on office space. Video conferencing can be a cheaper, greener, more efficient alternative to hundreds or thousands of people flying in for a conference in Switzerland, possibly to discuss the climate crisis! The government says social distancing will be the new normal for a long time to come. What now the justification for spending £106 billion plus on HS2, and billions more on new roads and propping up failing airlines? All should be reassessed from the perspective of the new reality of a post-Covid world.

Across the world hundreds of towns and cities are using the lower volumes of traffic as an opportunity to experiment in reallocating road space away from cars in favour of people on foot and bicycles. Low cost measures are being put in place to create temporary cycle lanes. Rather than just leave car parking spaces empty some authorities are coning them off to increase the area available to and needed by socially distanced pedestrians and cyclists. Cars, which previously packed Brighton’s seafront road, are now banned from using it.

In North Yorkshire green transport campaigners have long argued for this redistribution, for investment in cycling and walking – for health reasons, to reduce noise, and to improve public safety and the public realm generally. The need for social distancing makes the case more unarguable than ever. North Yorkshire County Council, the highways authority, has built no significant new cycle infrastructure in our district for several years while spending hundreds of thousands trying and – thanks to huge efforts by local campaigners – failing, to make the case for a useless relief road between Harrogate and Knaresborough, tinkering with junctions, and on ineffective ‘smart’ traffic lights for example by the Conference Centre, all with aim of catering for more traffic. The Council is spending millions on much needed pothole repairs and points out that this also helps cyclists. It does, but what people want is investment in a first class Dutch standard active travel network, and where cyclists and walkers are the primary, not secondary, beneficiaries. Harrogate Council has made the prospects much worse by producing a disastrous Local Plan which gives a token nod to sustainability while virtually ensuring that residents of the huge new developments west of Harrogate will have to use their cars for almost every journey. As a result, NYCC is spending more money on assessing a new western relief road, which would again solve nothing while destroying even more of our countryside.

So what kind of society will the children live in, the environmentally destructive one we’ve all been used to, or a ‘new normal’, something more like the lockdown without the virus, which puts the emphasis on wellbeing and quality of life, and on protecting our world?

View from the bench

One of the things I like to do is just sit for a few minutes and think. And, I thought that this might be a good time to start a “View from the bench” posts, much like my view from the saddle posts. I know it’s sad, but hey, it’s a little something to otherwise fill my time.

Headset service

Headsets are one of the things that people seem to have problems with, so during this maintenance of my headset, I’ll work through the steps needed to break down, clean and rebuild a headset.

The headset on this bike uses two sealed bearings in an integrated, other bikes use caged bearings.

So, the first thing todo is remove the front wheel. Once that’s out the way, remove the brake, and secure it to the frame of the bike. Doing this will let you completely remove the full fork, and make it easier to clean the steerer tube, and fork crown.

Now comes the interesting bits.

Start by removing the top cap, there’s a lot of parts to a headset, so make sure you have somewhere to put them all down. Try to lay out the parts in the order you remove them.

There maybe a small spacer under the top cap.

Slacken off the stem pinch bolts, and gently remove the stem and handlebar assembly, and secure it on the bike frame.

Remove all the spacers from under the stem.

But while your doing that, ensure your supporting the fork, as there is a possibility it might drop out the frame.

Now, if the forks won’t move down, support the fork underneath, and slap the top of the exposed steerer tube, and it should move down. Now push it back up, and the weather cover, and the spacer should be able to be removed. the whole fork should now slide out.

Check the fork to see if the bearings came out with the fork, or if the stayed in the frame.

Now, remove the bearings, from both the top, and bottom, taking note of which way they came out, and which one was top and bottom.

Now, get a rag, and clean up.

  • Clean the top bearing seat
  • Clean the bottom bearing seat.
  • If sealed bearings, wipe off the old grease and dirt, but don’t use degreaser. Spin each bearing in your fingers feeling for any play or grittiness. Replace if any problems
  • Clean off the fork steerer tube, and crown race.
  • Leave all parts to dry out.

When your ready, it’s time to reassemble.

Start off with a liberal amount of grease to each bearing race, top and bottom, and the crown race. Use a good quality grease, the grease both lubricates the races, and protects the bearings from dirt and water. The headset gets absolutely soaked by the front wheel, so a good waterproof grease is the best option.

Now, slide the first bearing onto the steerer tube in the right orientation, and seat it into the grease. I like to take the grease that presses out and smear it over the bearing. Now, taking the fork, slide it back into the frame, making sure the bearing seats correctly.

And, this is where having everything to hand really helps. As your holding the fork in place, slide in the top bearing, and the bearing spacer. I like to smear a little grease on the top of the bearing, just to give it a little more protection. Add the weather cap, spacers and put the stem back on the steerer tube. Rethread the top cap, along with any spacers needed, don’t tighten it, just enough to hold the whole system to get her.

Now take a moment, and clean up any grease that’s squeezed out. Reattach the brake, Put the front wheel back in and finally center up the brakes.

It’s time to tension the whole assembly. Take the bike out of the work stand, nip down the top cap just a touch. Apply the front brake and rock the bike forward and back. What your feeling for, is play in the headset. So any knocking you feel, tighten the top cap by a very small amount. Keep on repeating until you can’t feel any play, or feel any knocking. Check that the whole system can be rotated, with no binding.

If a video, is easier to follow for this, I’ll let the excellent GCN explain it in this video.

Once your happy with the tension, center your stem, and tighten your stem bolts, double check your bars are still straight, and go ride your newly greased bike!

I will update this with pictures the next time I do a full headset service.

Raspberry Pi

I’ve gained another raspberry pi for the home network. I’ve been thinking what I can do with it.

I tried running a squid proxy, and to be honest, it’s just not worth the effort. Most websites now use HTTPS, and a result of which will not be cached or scanned by the proxy. And the overall speedup of the network was non existent or very close to minimal benefit.

So, I settled on running a OpenVPN server, so I can access the whole network when away from the house. This makes things more secure as I no longer have to have the CCTV system open to the internet, and I can use it to route around other networks I don’t trust. Which is pretty much all networks not under my control. I’ve also used the box in the backup scheme. It now takes the archive from its primary location, and copies it to a NAS, and once a month runs a scrip to compress it to a tar.gz and copy it to another NAS on the system. This gives me 3 copies of the data, plus my copies on Amazon S3. So all that data should be pretty safe.

The NAS boxes are connected only when data is being copied, and disconnected when done to avoid any nasties corrupting the backups between updates. I’ll update the scripts I use and publish or update my previous post on the back up later.

Now, I just need to get each of them mounted via NFS to my main desktop so I can work on the scripts without having to SSH to them.

What a time

So, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. I’m not going to lie, I’m finding it hard. Work at the moment, is to be perfectly honest, a massive drain on my mental resources, and watching people and their behaviours is troublesome.

The other day, on a ride I had a guy launch a tirade of abuse, because I didn’t say thank you for him stopping and letting me through a gate. He was on the phone, and headed off to my right into a car park, out of my vision. I just thought he was just stopping to do his phone call. It wasn’t until I was about 15 yards away he started ranting about manners. I just rode off, as I wasn’t in the frame of mind to deal with him.

Work is a nightmare, having to get ready for limited reopening, after dealing with a nightmare series of events for online ordering. I’m really not looking forward to the store reopening, let alone dealing with the great British public, and with 70% of the workforce furloughed the work is tiresome and mentally draining.

But my bike has been my saviour. But with a horrible clicking noise I couldn’t pin down. Not surprising since it’s been in the garage, unused and forgotten since the back end of October. So, a little maintenance was obviously in order.

However, I got a little carried away, and broke the bike down to frame level, cleaned and checked each and every component. Jockey wheels removed, cleaned and oiled, derailleur front and rear cleaned and re indexed, both wheels dismantled cleaned, regreased and retensioned. Front chainrings removed, cleaned and bottom bracket replaced with the superb Hope bottom bracket.

So, all in all, a bit of maintenance nirvana. Taking it out for a short ten mile test, no annoying clicks clunks or other noise. Bikes are amazing machines. They are so simple, but they give you so much in return.

So, if your feeling a bit down, like many people in these troublesome times, try a cycle ride. It’s good for the mind, body and soul, and try not to let your work, or lack of it get too you, it’s not the most important thing in your life, don’t let it be.

Too Google or not to Google

For the longest time I’ve been an android guy. Recently however, that changed.

I was in the market for a new handset, and it was between the iPhone 11, and the Pixel 4. I watched the keynote from google, and there was nothing for the pixel 4 that really grabbed me, I was underwhelmed. There was nothing on the handset that really grabbed me as a must upgrade feature.

Couple that with Google’s need to grab all the data they possibly can, as evidenced by my piHoles constant DNS blocks from the android handsets, I decided to go down the Apple hole. Which I will be honest about, is not a decision I regret.

Apples stance on privacy is the polar opposite of google. That’s mostly the fact that stood out to me, and weaning my data away from google wasn’t that hard.

iPhones and Apple hardware does indeed have its issues, and a slight learning curve, but I’m an Apple convert.