Tuesday 31 March 2020


We're now living in lockdown. I'm only allowed to leave the house to buy essentials (as infrequently as possible), to exercise (once per day), and to care for the vulnerable. It's a bit like Christmas day afternoon, and a bit like what I remember of the 1970s:

The streets are very quiet.
I'm already bored of all my toys.
None of my friends are allowed to come round to play.
We're not actually short of food and drink, but none of it is quite what I'd have chosen if the shops were open as normal.
The TV schedule is messed up.
One of the most compelling forms of entertainment is to go out for a walk.
Everybody is drinking more than they should.

Richard "see you back at school" B

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Panic Buyers

Over recent weeks it has become hard to find toilet rolls on the supermarket shelves. Rolls of toilet paper are physically large and very cheap so it only takes a tiny variation in the rate of buying for a supermarket to be stripped bare.

I wish that the invisible hand of the market would have acted more swiftly and more harshly. Imagine all the good things that would have happened if it suddenly cost £20 to buy 4 rolls of Andrex: Demand would have been reduced (Our selfish and easily panicked citizens would still be stocking up but their greed would have been tempered). Supply would become more efficient. If all of a sudden the Co-op could make a cool £50,000 by driving one lorry of loo rolls from a well stocked store to an empty one then it would get spread around the country to where it was needed in no time. Supply would be guaranteed. I would be holding out for the price to fall, but I would know that when I was half way through my last roll I could just walk to the shops and buy some more - at a price. Usage would be more efficient. People would suddenly find they can use less of the stuff when you hit them in the wallet.

Strawman: I can practically hear my NPC readers whining about the poor no longer being able to afford to wipe their bums. Think what they're really saying: That despite all the tools of taxation, national insurance, benefits and rebates they haven't been able to organise matters such that the poor and the elderly can afford basic necessities. The thing to do at this point is not to let them take charge of the national rationing or distribution of toilet rolls, they have already proved themselves incapable.

Strawman2: But if 4 rolls of toilet paper is more expensive than a bottle of whisky, won't the most disadvantaged in society do without it altogether? Maybe, and what business is it of yours to decide whether one of our citizens would prefer a tidy arse or a weekend bender?. You might be paternal, but you're an authoritarian villain all the same.

Richard "Von Mises" B

Sunday 15 March 2020

Caterham front wheel bearings

One of the service jobs that comes up every 4 years on a Caterham is to repack the wheel bearings with grease. Somehow Caterham forgot to do it for me, so I did it myself. It's not a difficult job, but it needs some odd tools and a little bit of knowledge. Caterham felt so silly that they happily sent me the instructions and the parts that I would need.

The first thing you have to do is put the front of the car up on stands and remove the road wheel. The wheel nuts are 19mm hex and get done up to 74Nm.

The brake caliper comes off next.

The caliper bolt heads are E12 star drive.

They are not stretch bolts, so you are free to reuse them. They get done up to 90Nm ! New caliper bolts come with a dry patch of threadlock on the threads. If that has worn off apply blue threadlock.

As always, don't leave the caliper dangling on the hose. Support it on a precarious pile of tool boxes and bits of wood.

There's a castellated nut and a split pin holding the hub on. The split pin is 3/16 x 2".

The hub nut is a wildly inconvenient 1+5/16AF. If you're anything like me, then your imperial sockets stop going up in 16ths at 1+1/4 but you have a 3/4 Whitworth socket from a jumble sale which is very close to the right size. Laser Tools sell a 1+5/16 single hex impact socket for hub nuts like this.

The hub pulls off the stub axle. The inner bearing races are not secured in any way.

I know this grease must be good because it says "racing" on the tub and they've dyed it red. I believe the standard product for this job is Comma high performance bearing grease.

After you're put the bearings back together and put the hub back on the procedure is to spin the hub to distribute the grease, then 12FtLbs preload on the hub nut, then advance it to the next castellation. Provided that the bearing is neither tight nor sloppy, secure the hub not with a new split pin. I don't have the wherewithal to cut the end off the split pin, so I have folded it back on itself.

Richard "Silkolene RG2" B

Thursday 12 March 2020

Dress Up

A couple of weeks ago my defence against some good natured mickey taking seemingly made me look even more silly than if I'd kept my mouth shut. One of my colleagues likes to make fun of how posh I am. We were talking in the kitchen about what we would wear when we went climbing. I said (honestly) that I literally don't own any clothes for exercising. My colleague said "Come on, I'm sure you have a set of flannels and a boater" and I, thinking I would sound more normal and everyman retorted "NO. I HAVE LINEN SLACKS FOR SAILING". It didn't have the desired effect.

If you've been to business school you've been taught the four things that go into starting a conversation. A polite greeting. State your own name. State your relationship to the person you're addressing. Explain your expectations. For example: Hi. I'm Richard. I ordered a radiator from you guys last week. I just want to check on the delivery date. And, rather perfectly: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Richard "plimsolls" B

Tuesday 3 March 2020

You'll believe a man can fly

This story is in two parts. The first is for all the people that like me making a fool of myself, the second is for the tiny minority who are actually interested in working on cars.

At the weekend I changed the rear wheel bearings on my sports car and it involved the most ridiculous and painful pratfall. The hub nuts are done up tight, and one of them was slightly seized. I had a friend pressing the brake peddle while I was pulling on a breaker bar. I was straining as hard as I could, lifting with my legs, the tyre was starting to rise up off the ground and the breaker bar had a considerable bend in it. The hub nut gave up not with a creak or a sigh, but with a loud and sudden crack. I couldn’t help but to launch myself out of the garage and half way down the driveway. I landed heavily and painfully on the bar that I was still holding.

One of the bearings was easy to change. The other was not. The hub is on splines on the driveshaft. Behind the hub, the bearings are slipped over the driveshaft, the bearings are pressing into a strong carrier which is bolted to the rear suspension. I pulled the hub off the shaft with my little hub puller (it looks like a child's toy compared with what I had to use on a Renaultsport Clio) but the bearings and their carrier was stuck on the drive shaft. I didn’t panic at this point, I made a thing out of my hub puller and some long coach bolts thinking that it would pull the bearings and the carrier off the drive shaft. I was wrong. I had made a bearing puller, I pulled the bearing out of the carrier and left it on the drive shaft. It was at this point that I was nearly in tears because the car was up on stands, the bearing was destroyed and there was no was of putting the wheel back on, it seemed like I’d never be able to move the car again, or put my motorbike away, or close the garage door. My garage is narrow, but I was just able to get the drive shaft out and take it to the bench (dripping hypoid oil everywhere). With a blowtorch and a coldchisel I managed to get the inner race of the bearing off the drive shaft. Again it went with a bang and the hot bearing landed in the box of timber offcuts, but it didn’t quite set the whole garage on fire.

Richard "Jesus nut" B

Breaker bar - long handle
Hub - the bit that the wheel bolts on to
Splines - grooves
Bearing - spinny thing
Inner race - the middle of the spinny thing
Driveshaft - the bit that turns the hub
Coach bolts - long screws
hypoid - thick, smelly
Coldchisel - chisel for metalwork