Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Bikes are back in town!

Adults and children's bikes all in a line in the barn, ready for holiday use

I'm delighted to be finally able to take the photo above, showing all the bicycles we have ready for use in our French holiday cottage - it's been a long time coming.

Over the years as I've seen reasonably priced bikes at car boot sales or our own children have outgrown them, I've been accumulating bicycles and taking them over to France for use by our holiday guests. A few years ago we had so many that I had to buy a bike rack for them all (another ebay purchase), and things were looking pretty good at that stage. We have 3 adult bikes, 3 children's bikes of different sizes, 3 smaller children's bikes with stabilisers, two scooters, a child's seat for one of the adult bikes and a Wike bicycle trailer that two children can sit in and be towed behind one of the adult bikes.

Then about 3 years ago when we were over at the Gite I found that one of the adult bikes (the orange one) wasn't riding right. In fact it felt terrible and when I tried to change gear the whole dérailleur mechanism jammed up solid, requiring some emergency roadside repairs.

When I got back to the Gite and inspected the bicycle properly I realised that the dérailleur had been damaged somehow and it was bent out of alignment and several teeth on the cogs were missing. No time to fix it there and then so I put the broken bike in the second house and made a note to buy a new dérailleur when we returned to the UK.

And this then started the long saga of trying to get the bike back on the road again which went something like this ...

Bought new dérailleur off ebay, took it over to France, fitted it, then realised that three of the bike wheel spokes were broken. Measured them, and when next in the UK bought some new spokes. Took the spokes over to France, fitted one of them, then realised that I needed to remove the freewheel unit in order to fit the other two spokes. Returned to the UK and bought a freewheel extractor which I then took over to France.
Had trouble getting the freewheel off, meant I had to clamp the axle in a vice before I could remove it, so in the process damaged the thread on the axle so when I removed the freewheel unit and fitted the new spokes, I couldn't tighten up the axle nuts to put the bike wheel back on the frame.
Took the wheel back to the UK, bought a new axle (and some axle grease), fitted it all back together, checked the wheel was OK, and took it back over to France.
Fitted the wheel to the bike, everything looked OK, so took it out for a test run and on the first hill the dérailleur dive-bombed into the wheel and came apart all over the road. Retrieved all the bits, including newly broken bits of dérailleur, and took the bike back to the Gite to work out what was wrong with it this time.
Realised that the axle was missing half of its ball bearings so hunted around for a French bicycle shop (for a nation obsessed with the Tour de France they appear to be few and far between in my bit of Brittany), eventually found one, and bought some ball bearings. Returned to the Gite and realised that the wheel hub was actually broken and it wasn't repairable.
Back in the UK bought another wheel off an ebay seller that was local to me, arranged for Liz to meet him at a nearby Tesco, but he never showed up and despite several emails via ebay we never managed to complete the transaction. Some weeks later found another ebay seller that had both a front and back wheel for sale so ended up buying both so I had a spare ready for the next bike 'challenge' !
Took the new wheel(s) over to France, fitted the rear one, it worked OK, took the bike for a test run and success at long last, everything worked perfectly.

For the next week I rode the bike most days, usually when we took the dog for a run, and the wheel behaved itself but by the end of the holiday I'd noticed that the pedals and crankshaft had developed a definite 'clunk' at one point as they went round. Fearing the worst I bought a cotter-less crank removal tool from the hypermarket in Loudeac, then when I removed the dust cover off the crank shaft I found that it was simply the crank nut that had come loose and it was easy to tighten it back up with my socket set. The bike is now working perfectly - hurrah!

All of this kind of underlines the difficulties in maintaining a Gite (and in this particular case the bicycles at the Gite) when you're not physically living onsite and have to keep on shuffling back to the UK for replacement parts. All in all whilst it probably was only a few hours of repairwork to the bike I think it took an elapsed duration of couple of years to get the bike back up and running. Of course if I'd realised earlier on that the wheel was damaged and needed to be replaced, then I'd have taken the easy route out and replaced it straight away ... but 'hindsight is a wonderful thing' as the saying goes.

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