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Assembling the "Asia-mobile": the Rolls Royce of bikes
17 April 2007 Hervé Bonnaveira

The best way to learn about the art of bicycle maintenance is to put one together yourself – or at least watch and help as it’s being assembled.

A lesson in mechanics at the atelier of a made-to-measure bike specialist

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Maître Paul dans son atelier du vélo

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Une chaîne qui vous donne la liberté

As much as flash cars don’t do anything for me, I have a weakness for beautiful bikes: classic, racing or touring, all the “prototypes;” reclining bikes, tricycles, tandems and triplets. The Rando-cycles atelier - 5, rue Fernand Foureau - 75012 Paris – is an essential address for all bike fanatics.

Still, it’s difficult to believe that each week this workshop produces a bike that will proceed to circle the world. Bike frames hanging off the walls, wheels piled up on empty boxes or only part-unpacked, a jumble of forgotten screw-drivers, bike keys of all sizes and dismembered bike seats, welcome to the atelier of Paul Domela, not the best-organised mechanic of his generation.

The mess of Paul’s workplace contrasts with his meticulous work as a mechanic. A somewhat bear-like appearance and rough manners hide a charming person, and if he’s so often hectically busy it’s because he doesn’t know how to say no. Not even a minute to stop and tidy up – the phone rings, wheel spokes need fixing, a client wants to try a reclining bike, the phone rings, a lost receipt, a reclining tandem doesn’t arrive on time, the phone rings, and my bike to put together…

Fortunately Paul’s assistant is on the case, because this time I want to leave with the finished product: the unbreakable iron frame, hand-moulded leather seat, transmission and bearings that work like clockwork – although Japanese not Swiss… a 1600 euro bike that won’t budge over 16,000 km.

After the chainset and the derailleur, the chain length needs adjusting. The chain tool is an essential tool to take along on a journey. In two turns of the key, I learn the technique for regulating gears: put the chain on the smallest chainwheel and the smallest cog, stretch the cable of the derailleur in the back, adjust the highest and lowest positions with the side-screws, then do the same thing with the front derailleur. For the breaks you need to stretch the cables to the max, then tighten the springs to balance the callipers. To connect the dynamo to the hub, the white wire should be connected with earth. The bike takes shape progressively, until it only lacks the seat.

At 6pm the “Asia-mobile” is ready. After the last check by the patron and a test in front of the workshop, I give in to my desire to race it through the streets of Paris.

List of equipment: Frame SURLY Wheels: hubs SHIMANO Deore LX, rims RIGIDA ZAC 2000, spokes stainless steel “tandem,” tires SCHWALBE Marathon. Transmission: chainset, bottom brackets, derailleurs SHIMANO Deore LX, cassette and chain SHIMANO Breaks: callipers and brake levers SHIMANO Deore LX. Handlebars, handlebar stems ATB Multi-position, headset SHIMANO LX, seat BROOKS, seat pin KALLOY, semi-automatic pedals SHIMANO T42 Accessories: front and back baggage racks TUBUS Tara and Cargo, mudguards ZEFAL, hub-fixed dynamo SHIMANO NX30, rear-view mirror, kickstand, bell.

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