A thought occurred to me as I was hosing the mud off my cyclocross bike for the umpteenth time this winter: whatever became of my cone spanners?
A sad thought, in many ways. Sad, quite possibly, in the sense that standing around regretting the passing into obsolescence of cone spanners might be a sign that I should get out more. But sad, too, in the sense that it was a reminder of changing times and values.
The very fact that you can hose a bike clean and not live to regret it is a sign of how things have changed. A decade ago, you would not have dared take the jet-wash approach to cleaning your bike, no matter how dirty. It would have been a bucket of soapy water, a brush and sponge, and sleeves rolled up. Why? Because the idea of high-pressure water getting into the vital bearings of your bike - wheels and cranks - and stripping away the grease would have made any self-respecting cyclist recoil in horror.
This is where cone spanners came in. At least once a year, you would need to strip down your wheel bearings, clean them, repack with fresh grease, and reassemble. The bearings were not exactly open to the elements - the cups that held the ball bearings in place were occluded - but they were not, as they are today, virtually sealed units. Dust, grit and moisture could, and would, get in over time. And if you held up a wheel by its axle, span it and heard a ghastly gritty churning, you knew that maintenance was overdue.
And the cone spanners were what you needed for the job. The cones in question held the ball bearings in place against the cups, and the reassembly was a delicate business: over-tighten the cones and the bearings would not run freely; under-tighten them and the whole apparatus would have too much "play" in it, making the wheel rim wobble from side to side. It is a simple enough piece of mechanical craft, but doing both wheels was half a Saturday afternoon's work. And who has that sort of time now?
Instead, bearings are sealed and modular. I don't even know what they look like internally - and you wouldn't get very far trying to find out with a cone spanner, because there's no nut to get a purchase on. If the unit wears out, you just chuck it away and slot a new one in. In this cash-rich, time-poor epoch, no one is interested in maintaining or mending things, so bike bits have become disposable.
And, it has to be said, better. Do I honestly miss the fact that getting the muck off my bike used to take three or four times longer because it was a less robust creature? No, but progress always comes at a price. And today's casualty is the humble cone spanner: bound for oblivion on the scrapheap of bicycle history.
What is the best way for a cyclist to turn right, either at a big intersection or on a busy roundabout? My way home from work requires me to turn right at two roundabouts, one a very big one. Sometimes, I go on the pavement; other times, I stay in the outside lane. But neither is very satisfactory.
Ellen Brooks Pollock, Coventry, via email
Roundabouts are bad news for cyclists, and I don't have a magic solution. The difficulty with riding on the pavement is that, unless there's a cycle lane marked, you are committing an offence. I would encourage you, instead, to use that outside lane - as assertively as you can. That means not being apologetic about occupying road space, and using emphatic hand signals. And it means looking behind frequently. This has a twofold effect: it establishes you as aware of other traffic; and it forces drivers to recognise you as a person. Why not join your local cycle campaign (www.coventrycyclist.org.uk?) It may be able to lobby for improvements on your route.
· Please send your cycling queries to firstname.lastname@example.org