Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Good Job, Snob!

I was out riding my red bike today and a scary thing happened. My front brake lever came off!

Not the whole thing, but the lever itself. The bolt that holds it in place had obviously become loose and had fallen out. Lost somewhere on the road.

Luckily, I was only doing about 25mph at the time and I managed to prevent the lever itself from falling and I was able to bring the bike to a stop safely.

OK, so I am 25 miles from home, no front brake, I have a ride planned on this bike for tomorrow and at the end of next week the bike is going to St. Tropez in southern France. The hand controls on my bike were made by Arlen Ness in California, so the chances of getting a replacement bolt quickly are pretty slim. Luckily, I was only about 4 or 5 miles from a custom motorcycle builder and service workshop that I knew. Here is their website. The place is called Snobs, called after Snob, a London Chapter Hells Angel that runs the place.

I decided to ride the bike there. Now, I have never ridden a bike without a front brake and it wasn’t until I tried it that I realised how difficult it is. You have to allow for 2 things. Firstly, you only have about 30% of your normal stopping power so taking great care is essential and you have to look ahead a very long way to see what might need you to put on your brakes. Secondly, stopping using the footbrake only whilst preparing to land only your left foot on the ground takes some getting used to – it wasn’t too bad, but you just have to be very cautious, as any hint on leaning to the right and having to put your right foot on the ground would result in no brakes at all!

Anyway, I got there slowly and without incident and I am certainly glad I didn’t have to ride the bike all the way home without a front brake.

The guys at Snobs were nothing short of incredible. Having spent a minute or so looking at the problem, they said that they would make a new bolt to fit and could I wheel the bike road to the workshop so they could take some measurements. Sure!

The new bolt had to fit in a hole in the underside of the hand controls

It took no more than about 30 minutes to turn and make the bolt – what an incredible service. To them it was straightforward, but to me it was a piece of engineering that you just don’t see in many places anymore. This wasn’t a normal bolt with a hexagonal top – it needed a round top that had to go into a recessed hole to hide it. This is a real workshop where they make things, not just bolt things together. They even made me a cup of tea!

Half an hour later I was on my way. I have nothing but admiration and praise for those guys. Real engineers.


bobskoot said...


glad you got sorted out so fast. One more thing to add to your pre-flight checklist. Did you ask them to make a "spare" at the same time ? would have been the logical thing to do.

Wet Coast Scootin

Gary France said...

Darn it. I thought I was logical, but clearly not logical enough, because I didn't think of that. It would have been a good idea.

Jimmy B. said...

If they didn't do it at the shop, pull that bolt and put some blue #242 Loctite on it so it won't work itself loose again. The #242 is a medium strength thread lock that is designed to be removable, unlike the red #271 which is more permanent and requires heat for removal.

Gary France said...

Hi Jimmy - they told me they put some Loctite on the bolt. Not sure which variety though. I was talking to the other guys about the bikes they are building, so I missed that.

irondad said...

Interesting. In all my years I've never had that happen. Been without a clutch a few times but not the front brake.

Glad it worked out. We have a machinist like that here. What a treasure!

Canajun said...

I can attest to the difficulty of riding with no front brakes, having snapped a brake cable on an old Norton many years ago. And cables aren't as easy to find as bolts - manufactured or otherwise. That's why I've always been amazed at those old-school choppers you used to see with no front brake at all. Suicide, IMO. Anyway glad it all worked out in the end.

Rob said...

You could have just used the bottoms of your feet like the Flintstones. Glad you made back safely, that is what counts!!!

Gary France said...

irondad – me neither and I don’t want it to happen again! Having somebody who can do machine work like that is so good. I will make sure I keep using them for all sorts of things.

Canajun – I can’t believe people choose to ride without a front brake. I have seen that OCC occasionally make bikes without front brakes – are they nuts?? Wait a minute, yes they are. Silly me.

Rob – I actually needed to do that – right outside their shop on a downhill slope. I felt pretty silly and I wasn’t going to mention it.... Yabba-Dabba-Doo!

bobskoot said...


that last comment to Rob has made me "chuckle" .
Makes a good start to the morning.

Wet Coast Scootin

Chris Luhman said...

Wow, glad you could get that fixed so easy. No front brake is tough. I dumped my dirt bike on some fast single track last year and bent the banjoo at the master cylinder. All the fluid leaked out, and no more front brake for two miles including down a massive hill. :)

Gary France said...

Chris - massive hills and no front brake = problem! I hope the brake fluid didn't get on your paintwork.