On the trail of a bracket, I found my joie de vivre

Glancing back through the archives, it seems to be me that these columns have been getting a bit grim lately: what happened to the joie de vivre, the idea of cycling as personal liberation?

Put it down to the time of year, but now the clocks have gone forward I've retrieved my shorts from the back of the cupboard and, after a very nice ride in Norfolk last week, cycling seems like fun again.

The other thing that has perked me up is a new purpose in life, courtesy of the Hackney rubbish disposal service: leave anything on the pavement outside your house for more than 15 minutes and, no matter how mouldered, irreparable or stinking, it will be removed by somebody who thinks they can find a use for it.

In this case, my wife happened to make the 15-minute window on an ancient roadster that our neighbour Clive had given up to fate: he'd taped a misleading label to the bike, advertising it as a possible bank holiday project. Actually, this one is going to be made roadworthy on a bank holiday in the same sense that Wembley Stadium is going to be ready for the FA Cup.

The biggest problem is that there is no bottom bracket, the bit the pedals revolve around. This shattered a few months back, and despite his best efforts, even trekking to Cambridge to find a shop that specialises in that sort of thing, Clive couldn't find a duplicate. So the first job is to sort out what kind of bottom bracket it will take. Ideally, this means finding out what make it is; but it has been repainted at some point in its long life, and there are no decals, badges or serial numbers to help identify it.

The first stop is Sheldon Brown, the guru of West Newton, Massachusetts. His website, www.sheldonbrown. com, is widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive and authoritative source of technical information on cycling anywhere.

Following the link on his homepage to Old Bikes, and from there to English 3-speeds, you find yourself whirled off into dizzyingly vast new realms of knowledge, website after website crammed with scholarship on a level of obscurity far beyond anything I'd dreamt of.

The one fact I'm reasonably sure of is when the bike was built. The Sturmey Archer three-speed hub is stamped with the characters K7, worn but still discernible. K was one of Sturmey Archer's early models; and 7 means it was made in 1937, the last year the K was produced.

I'm somewhat less confident in asserting that it is not a Raleigh - important because, while most bikes used British Standard nuts, screws and whatnot, Raleigh made their own parts, not interchangeable with other makes. The best clue may be the pump-holder, which is placed behind the seat-tube, under the saddle - not an arrangement I've seen before.

Enough: I can feel the obsession swelling within me. Time to pull those shorts on and start riding.

cycling@independent.co.uk

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