My Brompton

Basil’s Gear Indicator

Something went wonky with Basil’s shifter during the Iron Tour; it stopped snapping back into place, and just flopped between settings when I changed gears.  Basil kept running, and his gears appeared to shift, so we just kept going.  Crazy or not, the idea of stopping just didn’t occur to me. Basil seemed fine; his shifter was just a bit floppy when moving between gear settings.

Owing to various factors, I hadn’t ridden much since the Iron Tour, but after a short ride a bit later, I folded Basil to take a photo, and that bit above fell out of Basil’s axle. I cleverly suspected this had something to do with the wonky shifter.

It turns out that this little chain and post are Basil’s gear indicator, which explained why the shifter had earlier felt so wrong; presumably, the gear indicator had been gradually slipping out for a while.  The shifter levers, of course, are what indicate which gear one is using.

As it happened, Mr. Diarist encouraged me to buy a couple of photos from the Iron Tour.  Along with a shot or two of Basil in action, it turned out that I’d failed to notice that the gear indicator had disconnected during the Tour.  A photo from the Tour documented this:

Ignorance is a bad thing.  I was distracted when I did Basil’s post-tour maintenance, and didn’t fully inspect all his bits and pieces — although how I failed to notice the significance of this is baffling.

All that trouble I had on the hills during the Iron Tour? Could some of that be laid to improper gear usage once the indicator was no longer functioning?

This necessitated an unplanned trip to New York so that Basil could be put back into top form once again.  Since I come from out of state, I emailed NYCeWheels first, and Peter suggested a good time for me to show up; there are no guarantees that NYCeWheels can be certain to be able to do quick service on short notice, but they’ve been wonderfully accommodating about doing what they can, and this time, too, they were able to work Basil in, and also get him out the door speedily.

Here’s how the gear indicator looked when Basil was returned to me after Izzy, NYCeWheel’s senior mechanic, had put everything back in order:

I was a little surprised that this issue turned up only a month after Basil’s 1,000 mile/1 609 km tune up, which he’d had on May 7th.  Was there no sign of the indicator slipping then?  Had there been no sign that the indicator was not properly engaged? Had the shifter not been adjusted correctly, or had it seemed to not need checking? Should it have been caught at the tune-up?

NYCeWheels owner Bert was in the shop when I collected Basil, and we talked it over. I still don’t know the answer to these questions, but Bert was kind enough to adjust the bill — even though I was willing to pay all of it — and I learned some valuable lessons:

  • If it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t. Stop and investigate.
  • Know your bike well! (Not just his delightful, nimble personality!)
  • Check everything when doing post-ride maintenance — don’t settle for just currying the tires and focusing narrowly on simply cleaning and oiling various parts.
  • Photograph your B from both sides, so that you get used to how he looks from either direction!

These issues are a bit difficult for me, as one promise I made when I acquired Basil was that I wouldn’t be the one to maintain him once he joined the family.  Acquiring a Brompton was part of a larger plan to teach me to relax, and to avoid being as compulsive and task-oriented as is my natural state.

The intention was that, by insisting that Basil would be strictly a vehicle for cycling, rather than tinkering or maintenance, I’d get used to the idea of simply recreating with him.  As it turns out, that’s not exactly how it works — or how it can work.

Balance:  easier to achieve on two wheels than in life.  Another lesson learned; I can’t totally abdicate from the essential responsibilities of making sure my B is in the shape he needs to be in order to continue to run well.

6 replies on “Basil’s Gear Indicator”

Chuckle, chuckle… so you’ve been riding a 2-speed Brompton for a while? Never let it be said that you can’t “do hills” because Basil has been stuck in the highest of his 3-speed hub gears! (Maybe it’s your wording but the rod & chain don’t just indicate the gear; they change the gear, by pulling on the hub mechanism. The more the rod is pulled out of the hub (while it’s still connected), the lower the gear. No tension on the rod drops the hub gears back to the highest ratio.)
Why could this have happened? Certainly various reasons (parts failure, vibration, ineffective maintenance, etc) but prevention is difficult, although being “at one with Basil” is a good thing & probably assists in sensing when something is amiss?
Admirable that you thought you wouldn’t be the one to maintain Basil, & great that Bromptons are such sturdy & reliable steeds, but perhaps… (Oh, should I bite my tongue?) …just perhaps Mr Diarist could do with a Brompton too? A mate to Basil could be quite beneficial in various ways, such as backup, an on-hand reference (assuming both don’t come down with same ailment?), company, etc. Maybe Mr Diarist would find that a little tinkering & maintenance can be an interesting & relaxing exercise?
Apologies in advance for any inference in your abuse of Basil…

Actually, I’m a bit ashamed of myself, Ian, so definately no apologies are needed on your part regarding inferences. Facts are facts — I have let down my beloved Basil, I’m afraid, and really have no good excuse. Sigh.

My Brompton-induced bliss led me to ignore the responsibilities that are mine. As in any good relationship, mere bliss is insufficient — both parties must be wiling to do their share when reality intrudes. I wasn’t, it seems, and must now ensure that I pick up my portion far more effectively!

Oddly, I’m the more mechanical one in our household, though Mr. Diarist is far more observant, and has a much greater store of common sense. I’m thinking that the sooner he has a Brompton of his own, the better — surely merely having that “on-hand reference” that you suggest would be a great boon to this oblivious Bromptonaut!

(The truth is that I was less intimidated by the 1965 VW I inherited from my parent, for which I did regular maintenance and simple repairs. It seemed a much simpler machine to me!)

I did wonder about the phrase “gear indicator” which I got from the diagram in the book Brompton Bicycle. I now wonder if I’ve mis-interpreted it?

On the plus side, I am somewhat encouraged to read your explication of what this issue meant on those hills . . . it did seem very odd that they were quite as difficult as they were. Good thing Basil isn’t really a 2-speed!

My recurring nightmare, Ian — removing the rear wheel. That’s a whole concept I’ve willfully been ignoring! (As opposed to those I’ve ignored out of pure ignorance.) I’m taking your bedtime viewing link to heart — it’s time to inoculate myself against my worst fears, and to give up denial as a way of life.

I like your mention of the corollary benefit — blog posts! And, just maybe, the blog can save some other naive Brompton owner from a similar plight.

I entirely sympathize with your interest in the perpetual machine which Basil aspires to be. However. Not so. I blissfully rode without diligent cleaning of my wheel rims and brake pads, and after three years – sudden non-existent braking in rear meant I had cracked the rear rim (grit over time as an abrasive). But – how is one to know unless asking what we don’t know what to ask? I do subscribe to the theory of knowing your Brommie. Being sensitive to how it feels in proper operation lets you know when something’s off. That takes time.

Ouch, Harry — that must have been a rough awakening! About the only maintenance I have managed thus far has to do with tires, wheels, and chain — and I’d not have known about the rims if I hadn’t seen a discussion, in passing, on a Brompton forum. It hasn’t helped that, to my inexperienced self, Basil has always seemed to roll well!

But I am finally aware that heightened sensitivity is in order — and some routine, basic checks to go along with a similar schedule for home care. I do have a copy of the Brompton Bicycle book — I should have taken its informational pages a little more seriously!

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