Engineering Hope

As a (lapsed) mathematician, I quite naturally look down on engineers (and everyone else not ‘fortunate’ enough to be a mathematician).  Nevertheless, I have spent quite a lot of time, over the years, hanging-out with engineers and I swear that, at times, you could believe they understand almost every word you say.  I do realise that people say the same thing about their cats and so I may be guilty of a similar misconception: but I challenge you to look into an engineer’s eyes and not start to imagine that some basic level of intelligence lies concealed beneath.

Despite the authorial conceit behind the opening paragraph, I constantly find myself impressed by the amazing devices those cunning artificers – the engineers – have brought into existence: whether at the bleeding edge of current technology or the extraordinary contrivances made by our ancestors.  While amazing things can be done by manipulation of quantum effects (which I like to think I vaguely understand), somehow I find modern consumer electronics less impressive than those examples of mechanical engineering where I can engage my senses with some visible moving parts. I have not infrequently found myself buying things just for their incredible engineering – which leads us nicely on to today’s little tale.

As this blog might (just) have mentioned, I perform much of my local travel astride a bicycle.  Whilst I am relatively light (a smidge under 13 stone, if you must know) for a man of my age, height and socio-economic status, bearing even my weight over the dodgy road surfaces of Southampton does take its toll on my steeds.  Earlier this week, I found the steering on my titanium bike made odd noises of protest when I attempted to change direction.  In a feat of technical analysis which continues to amaze me, I diagnosed the problem as a worn-out headset.  The headset being the mechanism that sits on top of the front forks and translates movement of the handlebars into a change in direction for the bike (and its surprisingly svelte passenger).

So, I took the bike off to the Hub Cycleworks who confirmed my diagnosis but who, unlike me, were (a) willing to get their hands dirty and (b) knew how to replace a headset.  As so often in our consumer-driving society, a range of replacements were available: from the cheap, nasty and disposable to the really quite expensive but much longer-lasting and offering replaceable innards.  I went for the latter option from a company encouragingly named Hope.  Largely this decision was driven by how beautifully the headset was engineered as the guys at Hub had let me feel one in its undressed (or naked) state.  Once you’ve run your finger round its ring, there’s no going back (and don’t get me started on its crown race and its cups).  For my money, bike porn is the only porn worth viewing.

This morning I wandered over to collect the bike with its gorgeous new silver headset and it is a thing of beauty and handles like a charm.  I think the ride may also have benefitted from some unplanned adjustment to the saddle which means it is no longer rather too high for me (as it had been for several years).

When I arrived home, I looked into the fine folk of Hope and their headsets on the internet and was in for a very pleasant surprise.  They manufacture in the UK, in the splendidly named town of Barnoldswick in Lancashire.  (Having now researched Barnoldswick, it looks like it might also make an excellent base for a holiday).  My headset was even milled on a CNC machine – which may not mean much to you, but one of my first ever jobs was working out how to schedule jobs on a Makino MC-series CNC milling machine.  Patriotism, nostalgia and my love of engineering satisfied in a single purchase: what more could a chap ask for?

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