My kingdom for a piece of grit.

25 February 2012
It's funny how you come to rely upon a bicycle.
The classic secondhand Dutch stadfiets that I bought nine months ago quite suddenly went wrong and stopped a couple of days ago. Alright, it had made some odd noises for a few days, but you just ignore those. Which you shouldn't. Ever. And then 500m from home the back wheel became very difficult to turn, and I just made it back, to the amused looks of some wondering what the cacophany was.
The back pedal brake had failed, jammed hard on. These terugtraprem are normally super reliable, being completely enclosed and with no soft surfaces to wear. They're actually an excellent design concept, simple but clever too. Sheldon Brown's or Park Tools websites have good details. They're particularly suited to flat terrain with moderate and intermittent braking demands, and so many bikes in Nederland have them.
I was a bit concerned about fixing the problem quickly. "Why?" might be a reasonable question - I have another bike. My concern was my need to travel to Utrecht Centraal in three days time, for a regular train trek to Eindhoven. And the problem of bike theft in urban areas is so large that no way was I going to leave a smart bike locked up in the city centre for several dark hours. My stadfiets on the other hand looks worthless, like the rest of the bikes on the streets. Even though Utrecht boasts a fenced and manned free bike park with TV surveillance open 24 hours a day, I am maybe mildly paranoid about leaving one smart bike glistening amongst a load of apparent junk. The bike park is impressive - dual height, electronic occupancy counters, maybe 60m square. And there are thousands of bikes outside that don't make the enclosed spaces. But machines are still vulnerable there.
So I had this problem. Without really thinking about it, I had become reliant upon a piece of technology to transport me predictably from my place of work to the station. There was a bus option, but noticeably longer once you factor in the walk to the bus stop. The bike was door to door - or here, door to end of platform. No contest. Thoughtless as I am, I also leave this vital technology outside in all weathers, let it be knocked around by others, and rarely stretch to the luxury of oiling the chain. If I'd been more attentive, maybe the dilemma wouldn't have happened. I'm devouring all the humble pie I can find.
So this evening I've fixed it, and suddenly all the background mental planning of "what to do if" just fades away. The local bike shop had helped out with good advice and quality degreaser - and thrown up an interesting point. The unit in question is made by Shimano, and the shop mechanic said they had a special manufacturer's lubricant for it, but they weren't allowed to sell it to the public. They could lubricate it for me, but that was it. Your guess is probably better than mine as to why. But whilst all the web pages recommend grease, the Shimano stuff is a thick oil. The mechanic said it worked well, but without public availability grease is likely to stay the preferred - and second best - choice, leading to apparent poorer reliability of Shimano parts. Prohibition frequently leads to unwanted consequences. 
And the problem? It looked like a piece of grit had wedged in the mechanism, probably due to insufficient cleaning of the secondhand parts. I reckon the angst to weight ratio of that piece of wayward matter was the greatest I'd seen for a while.
(ref Loss of a kingdom...)