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March 20, 2011

This is the story of a bicycle, my bicycle. It’s a ruby red coloured touring bike called a Sierra and, in bike years, is much older than me and has seen more of the world. It’s my bicycle now but it was someone else’s once. This story starts for me only a few weeks before last Christmas but began for well known Adelaide Cyclist Margaret Day 25 years before.

Listen to the podcast (if you can’t see the player click here. [Mp3 – 12MB])

Margaret is known to many in the Adelaide cycling community for her many years of enthusiasm for cycling locally, he 36 years or so of involvement with The Bicycle Institute of South Australia, and touring to many fantastic locations around the world – many on this ruby red Sierra. In late November the Bikes For Refugees group held one of their occasional garage sales to sell off some bike surplus to their needs with he process going to buy parts to fix bikes up for use in the refugee community. I went not wanting or needing to buy another bike but when I saw the Sierra in my size, it’s un-missable generator powered front headlight I was interested. Jeremy Miller, Chair of BISA, said “that’s Margaret Day’s custom made touring bike, it’s seen a lot of miles pushed through those pedals”, my interested was caught, then he added “it’s your size too”. How would I walk away now.

I had been reading Robert Penne’s book ‘It’s All About the Bike’. It’s the story of one journey to design and build a dream bike and I thought about how much passion might have gone into getting a custom made bike and then riding it on some amazing touring adventures. I did actually go away to think about fitting another bike in my shed but contacted Mike Brisco from Bikes for Refugees, also a long time BISA member, and said I wanted to buy the bike “to save a piece of Adelaide cycling history” from being turned into a fixie or just being used by someone who didn’t appreciate the what building a custom made bike means.

This podcast from Adelaide Cyclists and The Bicycle Institute, SA is a bit of a selfish one from me. I wanted to tell this story and record Margaret telling the story of the bicycle and her involvement in cycling in South Australia with The Bicycle Institute and her touring the world by bike.

Listen to part 2 of the Podcast (if you can’t see the player click here) about Margaret’s recollections of cycling in Adelaide in the 70s and 80s and thoughts on how far, or not, we’ve come.

Today Margaret and her husband still ride. I don’t want to assume but their energy belies their ages.. Since 1996 when the Sierra was retired from world touring they chose to ride Bike Friday folding bikes on their trips – including from Adelaide to Perth across the Nullabor. As you’ll hear they are very excited proponents of the US designed and made Bike Friday which worldwide has quite a cult following.

Part two of the podcast is our conversation about cycling and Adelaide, her work with The Bicycle Institute, SA and her thoughts on more than thirty years of advocacy and has there been any changes or progress.

About the Sierra. I neglected to ask Margaret what year it was made. She told me later by email it was 1993 by Sam Pearson at what was known as Pulteney St Cycles. Since acquiring the bike that after a bit of a clean up I realised was in perfect working order, I’ve replaced the handlebars that were too narrow for me with some donated randonneur bars (thanks to Sam Powrie) and with them new brake levers (Tektro Campagnolo copies) to replace and new bar tape. The saddle is now a Brooks B17 Narrow(thanks Jim Woods). The lights front and back are Sanyo dynamo powered. The dynamo being under the bottom bracket and switched in to touch the rear wheel under the rear stays. It did work but soon stopped and thanks to some explanation from Andrew Yip I worked out the generator was kaput and, again, thanks to Sam Powrie I replaced it with a new one. During the heavy rains a few weeks ago the noise from the bearings got very loud and they certainly weren’t rolling so well so a repacking of the read hub and bottom bracket’s grease was needed and what a difference that made. New cables were a given but I held out doing the gear cables for a few weeks and when I did I couldn’t believe the difference it made – these being friction bar end shifters not indexed. I’ve taken off the warning arm as well. Finally I put Michelin World Tour 27X32 tyres in on which are quite a fat tyre but suits my commutes down Linear Park. Still to be done: I want to replace the mudguards with some new matched ones — replacing the half and half patch up job as you’ll hear in the interview.

As for the paintwork. It seems obvious when restoring a bike you’d get it repainted but I am resisting doing it. Firstly because the decals can’t be replaced easily but making it all shiny and nice makes it more likely to be stolen and as it is my main commuter bike that gets ridden to the city etc this is not what I want to happen. There is a clear lacquer than can be sprayed on the frame to protect it from more knocks and rust but that would still mean stripping it down so again a job for the future.

How does it ride? Really nice. It’s different but, I assume being a tourer with quite a relaxed head tube angle, the steering is heavier than other bikes but I figure when you are touring you don’t turn that often. Steel is the real thing. I can accept carbon and alloy for road bikes designed for speed but for a commuter or tourer I cannot see why you would buy any other frame material. My tyre choice and pressure determines how it rides as well and it does go quite quick albeit quite heavy, especially with the added weight of panniers or a child on a tag-a-long. It is a 7 speed freewheel that geared quite low with Shimano Exage STX RC early mountain bike derailleur. The small chain ring is a 24 so it’s ridiculous on anything but My Everest with panniers but the middle and large chainrings are good and the bike runs very quietly because one of the problems with older bikes is the creaks and noises and these noises would drive me crazy!

See you out on the road sometime on one of our casual rides with the Sierra.

If anyone knows anything about Sierras, Sam Pearson or Pulteney St Cycles drop me a line. I did happen to see another Sierra, a blue ‘racer,’ on Frome Rd a couple of weeks ago.

Photos from top: As it was, the un-missable headlight, new bars, tape and levers, down-tube decal, the Sierra today. See a gallery of photos here.

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