Saturday, November 24, 2012

EZ Tools? Finding What Works

I knew that I was pushing my luck, riding a bike that had just been assembled the previous day. And sure enough: 5 miles into the Vermont Fall Classic my dynamo headlight rattled loose. I was just about to rummage around for my folding multitool, when a riding companion, Vorpal Chortle, whipped out a little wrench-looking thingie with multiple heads that I'd never seen or used before. "Here, maybe one of these is the right size?" It was. Without getting off the bike, I tightened my headlight and a moment later we were on our way again.

No one thought that anything out of the ordinary had transpired, but I was stunned. This was not what tightening bolts on a bike was normally like for me. This was done without effort, and more importantly, without the usual flood of shame and anger at my helplessness.

I've explained before the situation with working (or rather not working) on my own bikes. It's not that I don't know how or don't want to learn. I can give others tutorials on bike repair. But I have problems with my hands that limit my hand strength, dexterity and fine motor skills. Even just holding some tools is difficult: They fall out out of my hands, because my fingers can't grip them tightly enough or wrap around them in the right way. In the very best case scenario, I might be able to do an easy repair (like tightening a headlight bracket) but it will take ages. I have tried individual wrenches, Y-wrenches and folding multi tools, and it's always the same story. How or why the flimsy looking Park Tool MT-1 was any different was beyond me.

Shortly after the Vermont Classic I bought an MT-1 of my own (available locally at Harris Cyclery), and can now easily handle anything on a bike that requires a 3/4/5/6/8mm allen wrench, an 8/9/10mm socket wrench, or a straight blade screwdriver. That does not cover everything, but it's a start. There is something about the size and shape of this thing that both stays put in my fingers and provides enough leverage to compensate for my lack of hand strength. The joy this has brought me is almost embarrassing (thanks Vorpal Chortle!).

Granted, this particular tool may not work for everyone. But my point is, if you are finding bike repairs physically difficult there might be something out there that does work. I am going to experiment more aggressively from now on, and maybe I will find tools for all the other tasks I still have trouble with. For instance, I might be imagining this, but I recall watching a woman use a collapsible type of lever that connects to the hub axle(?) to remove a tire in one fell swoop. Maybe I ought to look into that and try to get my flat fixing time to under 30 minutes. In the end, I would love to put together a list of "EZ Tools" suggestions, but I'm not sure how universally applicable these things are. Ultimately, we must keep experimenting to find what works for us, and for some this will be tougher than for others.

62 comments:

  1. The lever that connects to the wheel hub is the Crank Brothers Speed Lever. I have one and I love it. :)

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    1. Thanks. I thought it was Crank Brothers, but when I looked it up, it seems they have discontinued that model. They now have something that is called the SpeediER lever and it does not appear to be telescopic.

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    2. I have the Speed lever and find it more trouble than it's worth. These days I just use my hands.

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    3. I also find that using my hands is easier than the (standard) tire levers I have tried so far. But it takes me forever.

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    4. My Speed Lever broke after only a few tire changes. And it wasn't that great to begin with. The SpeediEr appears to have the same problems, judging from the picture.

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    5. It may have been discontinued, but it looks like they can still be purchased:

      http://www.amazon.com/Crank-Brothers-Speed-Bicycle-Lever/dp/B001BIZARI

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    6. HvB - what were the problems that made the older version break and remain in the new version?

      Merlin - Yup, considering grabbing one before they are gone.

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    7. The first thing that broke was the part for remounting the tires. I kept using the levers until the side for getting the tire off also started to break. They're just too flimsy, and the new version doesn't look sturdier. I contacted CB about the issue but they require you to send in the defective item before making a commitment to replace. Wasn't worth it for a 7 dollar item (especially since I'm in Canada, the land of high shipping cost).

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    8. Cheap tip - a normal wooden clothes peg can be dismantled to make 2 excellent tyre levers, it's light and storage is simple; just clip it to the chainstays. Along with a playing card to make motorbike noises :)

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    9. have not used it, but this stuck out at me as a great tire lever alternative for those with dexterity/strength challenges, as well as for use by youngsters... http://www.cobratiretool.com/

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  2. I have a hunch that your problem is psychosomatic and that the pleasing nature of the tool has something to do with the fact that Vorpal Chortle lent it to you.

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    1. Thomas I assure you that is incorrect.

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    2. It's very simple. Vorpal = Your Pal. This gave you the confidence to use the tool and - voila - you did so successfully.

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    3. I don't need to be given confidence to use tools, I have confidence. I have also been given plenty of tools by other pals which did not work for me any better than my own. Tools are shaped differently and are made of different materials; for some people that means that some could work for their needs better than others.

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  3. Hey V, that Park wrench is just the latest in a century long line of similar "Bicycle Wrenches.

    They used to be called a "Dumbell" wrench. They are usually sorta' looked down on by snooty bike mechanics since most of them are far, far below the level of sweetness of that Park (It just dawned on me that maybe the name is also a pejorative against the people who used these wrenches which hurts my feelings since I carried one along with a 6" adjustable in my pocket everywhere I went between the ages of about 9 and 14 and I am CLEARLY NOT a Dummy). The old ones are very collectable, especially the ones with makers names cast into them. A lot of them had big cube-like ends with a wrench hex in every side AND the end(which was kinda stupid, like you could get a bolt off by twisting the wrench like a screwdriver (and using an actual screwdriver stuck through the other end for a handle invariably snapped the wrench in twain)).

    I can help you start a collection if you ever find yourself short of a good obsession...

    Spindizzy

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    1. Oh my god, I love/hate you for this! Just looked it up and they even make (or used to make?) them with roadster-sized spanners. Trying to figure out if there are modern versions of these things available for purchase in the US. They seem to still sell them in UK bike shops.

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    2. Pathetic isn't it.

      For every fountain pen you have I have 4 different color vintage Schwinn handgrips(no sets though, takes up too much space and you trade the redundant ones to other sufferers like yourself for the colors you lack), for every sable lining brush you have I have a dozen rusty sign writers nibs, for every... you get the picture.

      As we get older we just get more like we were.

      Spindizzy

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    3. I had and loved a cheap dumbbell wrench that was practically my only bike tool when I lived in Italy and had my first city bike. They're more useful on a city bike than most multi-tools are because they're bolt centered, not hex- key cantered. Unfortunately the metal on most isn't very good and I eventually managed to crack mine. I see them online for ridiculously cheap ( like $2) but I'm sure they'd break very easily. I'd love to find a good quality one, and would pay $20 for it. (VO are you listening?)

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    4. Bit CDO, then? (That's OCD but the letters are in order as they should be.)

      It's true. We're like children at the beginning and again at the end, though our essential nature remains the same.

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    5. Here ya go! http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/tl005.htm

      That's easy. Now tell me what is out there to prevent flats from goatheads? Even the Park T Bone wrench don't help.

      I'm rapidly depleting my stock of Rema patches.

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    6. Growing up in Germany, dumbell wrenches (or "Knochen" (bone) as they are called in German), were what would come as part of any cheap bike repair kit. I never found them particularly useful because with many nuts and screws there just wasn't enough space for the tool to fit. And these days one mostly needs allen keys anyway.

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    7. I have a couple of older "dumbbell" wrenches in my pile of tools as well, and they are handy for use on older (non-allen key) bikes. Now, does anyone else out there remember, or have, the old, flat, stamped "Raleigh spanner?" Not as truly useful as the dumbbell, but one of those things that folks of a certain age will recall being included with every new Raleigh.

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    8. Those flat spanners that came with nice old British bikes are neat in that they usually were about all you needed for basic maintenance and adjustments. They addressed every fastener on the bike larger than a spoke nipple(and sometimes those as well) and smaller than the planet gear race on the rear hub, but usually nothing else. If it was on the wrench it fit SOMETHING on the bike. If you didn't abuse them or try to make a living wielding them they got the job done pretty well for the life of the bike without destroying the flats on the nuts.

      Some of those wrenches are now "worth" more than the bike they came with. I have a set of his and hers 48' Raleigh sports in decent shape that aren't worth as much as the complete toolkit and manuals that are still wrapped up in cloths and wired under the saddles.

      Spindizzy

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  4. I have early onset arthritis and experience many of the same problems working on my bike as the author describes. Velouria, pease do report any tools you find that work for you.

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  5. Don't worry about slow tire changes. With a bit of fumbling the best of us often stretch it out to ten or twenty minutes. That would make for a useless shop mechanic, but in the field it is different than in a shop.

    Recently I installed a set of new Challenge Parigis on 25mm wide rims no tools and minimal muscle. Worn in I know they'll pop off and on any rim without tools and with no muscle. The wider Grifos go on and off any rim merely by locating the bead carefully. Haven't seen one of the new Eroicas yet, suspect they'll be easy too.

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  6. Do you have connective tissue issues, lovely Velouria?

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  7. It is a thing of mercy to find a tool that your hands love. I have an open-end wrench that I call my "favorite" too.
    I think it may be the many ways your fingers can wrap around all the tools sticking out at ends that make this one fit.
    Congrats on the discovery.

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  8. I must have bought a dozen of these over the years to equip my own bikes and to give them as gifts. They're simple, inexpensive, well designed, U.S. made and they work great.
    Park Tools are the gold standard of bikey tools.
    Recently, I picked up a Crank Brothers multitool which has a few more options. Works great, too.
    MT Cyclist

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  9. What does shame (2nd para original post) have to do with it? Organic disorders are simply facts. Arguing with facts goes nowhere.

    To persevere and carry on in spite of organic disorder is entirely commendable. Riding bike is excellent low-intensity prolonged hand exercise. None better. You are doing all the best things you could possibly do. Continue riding and you will inevitably discover tools and technique.

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    1. Organic disorders are facts, and so is vanity : )

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  10. I have small hands and they don't have much strength so I don't wrench much. I carry tools on longer trips, though I hope I don't have to be put to the test of using them. I also carry a small air canister for tire inflation. Carrying every tool you may need makes for more weight so I take what I may need for tires and saddle adjustment, mostly.

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  11. You are fortunate. Many of us with handicaps are less so, bless you.

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  12. The issue with that particular tool is that sometimes you need to access something in a tight spot or weird angle, where that tool simply will not work. I bought a bike to keep at my Dad's house in NC and picked up one of these tools, because the shop had nothing else. But then I needed to move the brake levers, and there is simply no way to reach the brake lever fixing bolt! Fortunately the local auto-parts store had metric allen keys!

    The tire lever is a speedlever by Crank Brothers. I had not realized they had stopped making it. I must stock up on spares. The ability to use it depends much more on what tire and what rim you use. Some tire/rim combinations, I can remove with my bare hands, some with this lever and some require gorilla levers. I try to avoid that last one!

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    1. Sorry for serial commenting, but I should clarify my judgment above: The Speedlever works fine for easy to mount tires. But for those I don't need tools anyway (working at a community bike shop helps building finger strength and mounting technique....). So maybe for Velouria the Speedlever would actually work.

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  13. I've been using the MT-1 for around two decades; for day rides, there really is no reason to carry any other multi-tool. You can even keep one on your key ring. Best of all, they can be had for about $10. The MT-1, a Swiss Army "Classic" knife, a pair of tire levers and a spare tube and pump are all you need for any ride that doesn't last more than a few days or take you far from urban or suburban areas.

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  14. I like that tool, and need to get another one (I seem to have lost mine). Velouria, your hand issues exacerbate the problem but, trust me, multi-tools suck. They are short/stubby, so any bolt tightened with a long wrench is now damn near impossible to loosen with the lousy leverage available from those things.

    I always ride with some sort of decent-sized bag on every bike I own, so I bring a Rivendell Mark's Toolwrap with a set of good, long allen wrenches. Life is too precious to spend working on a lovely bike with crappy tools.

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  15. Most folding multitools are designed to either look "cool" once folded or to compete in the ever more tools in a smaller, lighter package war. Thus they are rarely designed with any kind of ease of use in mind.

    As with "good grips" kitchen tools, there is a big need for tools that have good 'user interface design' for lack of a better term.

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  16. You're on your own with the tire levers.

    Rattling = loc. tite.

    -- merely some guy on the internet not worthy of a cult of personality.

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    1. Eh, not always. Proper use of star washers is generally superior to loc-tite to prevent fasteners from rattling lose.

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    2. In this case it simply was not tightened well to begin with.

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    3. All kinds of solutions: lock rings, star washers, blue loctite, RED loctite, super glue, jb weld, zip ties...

      It all works, but modern parts that require it tend to come with blue loctite. A cleanliness/efficacy thang.

      Here's a brainwave that will be resoundingly ignored yet again (it's one of the 7 days, right?): for metric fasteners use a drill with proper bits calibrated for the right torque.

      Long lever on tire lever. Use your dslr as a hammer to move it. Talc/dry lube stuff. Pre-stretch the bead. Use tires with looser ones. Use a smaller/different marque rim. Blah blah blah.

      I should get paid for this.

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  17. I really like that MT-1 on the road. It would be even better if the four side-pointing Allen bits would point slightly forward (a few degrees). That would leave more clearance for the other end when working in confined spaces.

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  18. I have a cane creek speedy lever that worked on a tire that had rendered several other tire levers useless. Too bad they discontinued it rather than made it more durable. You can try these Park TL-5 which don't require fine motor skills, just don't launch one into your face.

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  19. It takes a lifetime of handling tools to use them well. No one sits down in front a piano and expects to make music right now.

    If you can't get started you don't get the thousands of hours of practice it takes. Well, you finally got started. Practice. A lot. Continue to work on theory. Continue to find technique.

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  20. I like simple, minimalist tools and looked at the Park MT-1 but it does not have Phillips or Torx screw driver heads, both of which I need for my bike. I really like the Topeak Ratchet Rocket which has everything I need, fits into restricted spaces and is beautifully made. The downside is it takes a few seconds to choose and fit the correct bit, plus it only works in ratchet mode which can make "back-and-forth" adjustments a bit fiddly. http://www.topeak.com/products/Tools/ratchetrocket_lite_10bits

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  21. A well-tuned and fitted bicycle turns us into something like ergonomic perfectionists, which is a good thing. A tool which is durable, a pleasure to hold and to use and to look at, and also effective, is rare, yet we are right to seek it or demand it. My J.A. Stein tire lever is strong, beautiful, and a joy to be held, yet is just too harsh on rims to use regularly, and ends up being knocked off the pedestal by the more common but more useful Pedro's yellow levers. The Kool Stop tire bead jack almost makes the cut, and has the added bonus of being made in the Netherlands, but just doesn't seem to offer an obvious advantage over simple, durable levers. If all tools were like the Craftsman 44400 bottle opener, or that well-tuned and fitted bicycle...one can dream.

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  22. I'm sorry to hear about your difficulties. I notice the multi-tool is essentially a long lever, which might be helping you. An idea popped into my head that if you are lacking strength in your fingers/hands, perhaps you could utilize a strap that wraps around your wrist and hooks to the end of your tool. Then you could utilize the strength of your arm in these matters.

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  23. I rather like the Park MTB tool. Admittedly, it's a little bulky but it has one feature that sets it apart: the tyre levers. They are much wider than regular levers so that even the most stubborn tyres pop off the rims pretty easily.

    However, I've still never worked out what that star-shaped key is for.

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    1. The star-shaped key is for bike components that happen to be weird, like campy road brakes or for disk brake stuff.

      Topeak Alien II multitool has levers too, but I never used them. It doesn't have a knife, which may be a plus for some.

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  24. I liked the Speedlever until it broke while I was trying to force a particularly tight tire off a rim and the shards tore up my palm. I use Pedro's tire levers now and am pretty happy with them. But I don't think they'll help with your hand/speed issues.

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  25. Forget the Speedlever. With the larger width tires you use, just get a Quikstik. They're only $4, rediculously easy to use, easy to hold and you only need one of them (not three like tire levers). I can get pretty much any tire down to 23mm wide off the rim with it but its a lot easier to get under the bead on 28s and 32s. I highly recommend it.

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  26. Sorry, it's Quik Stik (two words), not Quikstik. GET A BUNCH!

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    1. Oh we have this. I do not find it as glorious as you describe though.

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    2. I've used them instead of tire levers for years. What didn't/don't you like about it?

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    3. Matt: I love the Quick Stick myself and have one in every saddlebag, but downsides are: (1) if the bead is very tight it can be hard to work the thick working end of the QS under it; and (2) It usually requires good hand and arm strength, once you've got it under the bead, to shove it further around the rim; and (3) it don't help lift the last little inch of tight bead back onto the rim.

      M1: I Dremel the little screwdriver off; the only bikes that carry this tool are fixies, so no derailleur limit screws to worry about.

      That T-Bone hex wrench: It's pot metal, so beware. I'd have used it for rear axle bolts but for having one break on me years ago.

      Lastly: I saw another set of instructions swearing to all and sundry that really, you can get any tire off any rim with your fingers if you know this technique. What gives? Modern hook bead rims usually do't have troughs -- I've never been able to do this (except with the tires on my 622 SnoCat SL rims that practically fall off on their own once you deflate the tubes. (I'd be scared, except that they never see more than 25 psi, and usually much less).

      Last lastly: for stubborn tires (new-out-of-box 23 mm Michelin Pro Race 3s onto semi-aero Sun ME14As): Specialized Pry Babies. I have gradually broken my stash and am now down to 2 or perhaps 1 1/2 pair, but they will get under any bead without pinching the tube. (Well, you can pinch the tube with them but you have to try hard.)

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    4. Sorry I thought I'd replied to this comment but I see that I didn't. There is nothing wrong with the Quik Stik; I know that lots of people find it useful and I think it is my husband's preferred tire lever. But for me, it does not make things any easier that a regular lever.

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  27. One issue with the M1 tool is, in certain applications, that nice pointy screwdriver is heading right for your paint if you are not careful. Watch your seat stays if you use it to tighten or loosen a seat binder bolt, for instance.

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  28. There are some real advantages to not being too strong.

    I just pulled a 128mm hub wheel out of a 122mm rear fork. Beautiful rear forks. Heavily reworked Campy 1010 dropouts. 45-year-old chrome perfectly polished no trace of corrosion. NOS Super Record hub freshly built into NOS MA40 rims w/db 15/16 DT spokes. Shopbuilt wheels from by any measure one of the top stores in the country. Doesn't fit in the frame? Shove it harder! Chain won't clear? Don't think the problem through. Add another washer! Shove that wheel even harder!

    All this can be undone, there is no real damage. But sheesh, guys with the big strong hands do get to where they're the man with a hammer who sees nails everywhere. If you first understand how it works, and then think through the best way of getting er done, that best way most often does not include any forcing or bending or jamming. The best way is usually easy and simple.

    Bicycles are intended to be used by everybody. Whole populations. Only a few tasks require specialists or apes. The more you understand the bike the easier it gets. 99% of the big hands guys who like to let you know how helpless you are don't have a clue, they just force the pieces together.

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  29. I've got one of those...

    I have other multitools in my saddlebags on my bikes, and other tools (patch kits, chain links, chain tools, etc.), but I slip this particular tool into my pocket before I go out for a ride, as it handles most things I need to tweak/adjust...

    Nice tool....

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  30. Vorpal Chortle, hey? Clearly a Lewis Carroll scholar. I assume everyone knows that vorpal and chortle were two words invented by Charles Dodgson, one of which entered everyday usage, and one of which didn't.

    I've made a pilgrimage to the church at Daresbury, Cheshire where Dodgson's father was rector in the 19th century, and seen the font in which Charles was baptised. I'm also familiar with Preston Brook, where Dodgson Senior ministered to the barge people who were almost shunned like gypsies by polite society. That said, I could never quite get Alice in Wonderland. I feel it would have been difficult for a juvenile reader even in the 19th century.

    Another point of interest is that, in the introduction to the book, Carroll describes this idyllic golden summer afternoon which served as the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, yet meteorological records show that there was rain that day.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say was that I have, in my tool box, a spanner (wrench to you Americans) which my mother got with her BSA roadster in 1937, a gift for her 21st birthday. This fits the front and rear wheel nuts and the seat clamp nut, and is not some cheap thin pressing, but a solid thing made from cast steel. It lasted out her cycling career, and will probably last out mine.

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