What a day! A Tour was lost and won, a historic Tour deciding time trial climb results in a new young Slovenian cycling champion, who truly earned that yellow (and white, and spotted climbing) jersey.
So a couple of days ago a friend suggested we head out to the Tour de France, as it was passing close to Basel. Apparently it’s possible to ride the same route as the pros, only a few hours before they do it. Wait, what? You can’t turn up at Wimbledon and play with a friend just before Federer, or drive your Volkswagen round the Singapore F1 track before Lewis Hamilton. This sounds intriguing!
We headed out to Lure, parked up in the forest, campers already getting settled in at 8:30 for a long day cheering by the side of the road. For the ride I had to choose my Lemond Chambery, Greg being a three-time Tour winner it seemed most fitting.
On the ride to La Planche des Belles Filles the crowd was already excited, kids and adults cheering us all the way, two amateur cyclists 😁. We even got a big band playing for us at one point. We rode through Melisey, the home town of Thibaut Pinot. LOTS of support for hime today, with his name painted all over the roads.
The main climb at the end of the ride had some pretty tough sections for my 39/25 gearing, but I made it up! Lemond again at the finish line 😆. A pilgrimage of sorts.
We spent the day around the finish line, where face masks were obligatory due to covid. They even had some TdF branded masks I wasn’t able to get… Amazing views of the podium, TV interviews, the finish line and a fantastic atmosphere.
An unforgettable experience even without the epic events resulting in Roglic (probably) losing the Tour and Pogacar delivering a blistering performance to snatch almost all the jerseys on a single day. A feat only previously achieved by Eddy Mercx in 1969.
2020 has been an odd year thus far, and no doubt many new habits have been formed and new projects started while most of us are self-isolating.
One of my new projects is a little different from my usual bicycle related blog content, but drinking coffee is loosely connected to cycling, so why not include it here 😁.
While idly browsing online auction sites I came across a dusty looking Gaggia espresso machine. I had various Gaggias over the years and always enjoyed them. The last one was sold when we moved to a smaller place and I couldn’t justify two espresso machines in the kitchen (my wife prefers her Delonghi). So this was something of a siren-song…
I also noticed the seller included a matching grinder and also had a separate auction for another Gaggia machine, seemingly identical, also with grinder.
So I put in a bid, amazingly no-one else was interested and I won the lot for a very reasonable price. The absurdity of having sold my working Gaggia, based on space constraints, to then buy two broken ones, with two matching grinders, is not lost on me. Let’s blame coronavirus.
They were all advertised as not working (“not used in 20 years”), but given these machines are fairly simple there’s not a great deal that can go wrong. Hopefully!
The first thing I noticed when I collected them is how insanely heavy they were. Far heavier than any Gaggia I previously owned. Even the grinders feel like they weigh 10kgs each. The build quality on these is really remarkable, and modern machines couldn’t be made this well at anything near a reasonable price point.
After getting them home and a bit of research, it turns out these are both Gaggia’s first home espresso machine, the Gaggia Baby. Designed by Japanese designer Makio Hasuike and released in 1977, it is celebrated as one of the finest home espresso machines and is something of a design classic.
The seller also included a Gaggia base for one machine and grinder, which I hadn’t noticed in the ad and looked really smart. It includes a drawer for spent coffee grounds, including a wooden bar on which to to bash the basket, just like a barista! I’m going to need to move house to a bigger kitchen 😂.
Looking at the serial numbers for these machines it seems the orange one is quite old, likely late 70s and the brown one newer (late 80s at a guess?). So it seems I have something quite special here, in great physical condition.
After a cursory clean, I plugged them in and thankfully all machines and grinders powered on without exploding. The next thing is to prime the pump. After being stored for some time, the boiler will be dry, and water should be pulled through the steam wand.
Both machines made some laboured noise from the pumps, but no water pulled through from the reservoir. Good news though as it suggests the pumps do in fact work, and the problem lies elsewhere.
Googling suggested the issue might be an “airlock”, and that physically injecting water into the pump (see “turkey baster technique”, seriously) might fix the problem. It didn’t. Trying various methods to increase the pressure into the pump failed.
The next step is to open the machine, look for blockages, and see if I could open the boiler. Having opened various Gaggias before without difficulty, I ran into a real issue with these. The hex bolts holding the top case on are (inexplicably) buried 25cm into the reservoir, and require a 5mm allen key to remove. The reservoir isn’t wide enough to get an allen key, or a fist, in there, making removal a vexing process. Liberal use of WD40 didn’t help. Trips to two DIY stores confirmed my suspicions that I had never seen such a long device for a 5mm hex bolt. Even a socket set wouldn’t work as the bolts are so close to the edge of the reservoir. Why on earth Gaggia decided to put the here is beyond me, particularly when the bolts are visible and easily accessible from the bottom of the machine…
So I reached out to a handy friend to pick his brain. As luck would have it, he recently bought a custom 1.5metre long 5mm hex bolt key for assembling USM furniture… unbelievable! This incredibly specific tool made light work of an otherwise infuriating task. If anyone found another method to get these bolts out, I’d love to hear it! There’s no info on the web.
A massive hurdle overcome, we get back to the task in hand, why is the pump not pumping?
So in my previous attempts to open Gaggia boilers I have destroyed the bolts, so I’m hesitant to do so and generally prefer a descale where possible. As these machines are beyond that (no descaler can be pumped into the machine), there’s nothing to lose. Only three 5mm hex bolts hold the boiler together, and thankfully both I was able to open both boilers without issue. The contents were pretty grim…
From this it’s pretty clear why the machines aren’t working, so I blasted out the sludge, sanded the boiler surfaces lightly with some 800 grit glass paper, put them back together and crossed my fingers!
I made the rookie error of reassembling the machines before testing them and found the orange one now wouldn’t turn on, and the brown one still wouldn’t pump…
It’s worth noting there are a few subtle designs differences between these machines, probably a decade apart. The switches on the older orange model are held in place with a custom metal spring clip which is quite tricky to remove and to install. The brown one uses a much better mini hex bolt to hold this in place. Better for servicing, slightly worse for aesthetics. The drip tray of the older one is all metal, the brown one plastic with a metal cover. Both have a drip tube from the boiler to the drip tray which is integrated inside the machine on modern models, which looks much better. The boiler and pump are both larger on the older machine. Fundamentally though the design is unchanged since the 70s, except for far cheaper materials today. It would be interesting to know the original cost of the machine, compared to today’s models. I wonder which represented better value?
I was able to remove the shower plate and clean the orange machine, but with all the force I could muster, I could not get the brown shower screen screw out.
The machine has been used, as is evident from the coffee holder, but it seems to be in good condition.
On the brown one, I turned my attention to the OPV, where the water enters the boiler and found this quite blocked with scale and grit. With this removed, we finally got somewhere.
As you can see, water is getting into the boiler, but is squirting out of the brew group, even with the steam wand open. So I really want to get the shower screen off and cleaned, somehow. Still, after a few days work, we have a broadly functional Gaggia Baby from the late 80s, resurrected from the grave.
Sadly, the orange one was still offering some challenge, and even with the pipes disconnected from the boiler, no water flows though the pump is making noise.
For now I’m a little unsure how to proceed. Either the pump is faulty or blocked and is either repairable or not. Google hasn’t yielded any info on these pumps or other Gaggia Baby restoration projects with the same issue. I’d love to keep this fully original and repair the pump if possible, but have precisely no idea how to go about that.
Of the two, the orange machine looks the smartest (though the brown one is growing on me, maybe it’s because it now works…), and given it’s the oldest, I’d be really keen to restore it to working order.
Watch this space, and I’d love to hear any tips from Gaggia hobbyists out there.
I never liked city bikes. They’re neither a road bike nor a mountain bike. Neither here nor there. An ugly, heavy, chimera mess.
But then I grew up, realised variety is a thing (you can like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, or Oasis and Blur at the same time, or other bands that your friends don’t think are cool), had kids, and learned that commuting by road bike gets your trousers dirty, is occasionally scary on wet cobblestones or heavy traffic, and a road bike is terrible at carrying kids to school.
So here it is, in “as picked up condition” (people often have their handlebars and saddle in the weirdest positions!). My next project.
This will improve the commute, I can also do light shopping with this bike (which is “interesting” on a road bike…) and I’ll attach a tandem trailer to it (which I will collect soon, also second hand) so I can take my daughter to school. My transition to middle aged parent is complete…
The aluminium frame seems sturdy and well made, paint job too, though the components seem a mixed bag. Nice Shimano Nexave drivetrain and brakes, slightly cheap feeling fork (but maybe that’s just the vintage feel), cheap (but decent) pedals, handlebars, headset and seat post. The saddle has Cilo embroidered into it, which I find a pretty cool little touch. Overall though a solid and reasonably good looking urban bike I think. My third Swiss bike!
The good news is, no-one wants “broken” city bikes. That is, a city bike on which the rear derailleur doesn’t shift and both tyres are flat. I think I can fix both these issues and I picked this up for CHF20 (USD20), which is a bit of a win!
It never ceases to amaze me how good a deal you can get on things (not just bikes) that require a bit of work (and some know how), if you’re prepared to take a risk or chalk up mistakes as a learning experience.
An equivalent bike bought in a shop would easily cost hundreds of francs, yet this will (assuming I can repair it) fulfil exactly the same functionality, and save one bike from landfill at the same time.
So full of confidence I was (and over-excited at my good deal) that I didn’t give the bike more than a basic look over, and didn’t diagnose the rear derailleur issue until I got home. Fortunately it’s a pretty good condition overall with almost no sign of abuse.
The derailleur looked fine, not twisted, no evidence of crash damage or mistreatment. Only the shifter wouldn’t shift past 3rd gear, in any chainring (there’s three). The up-shift lever couldn’t be forced past a certain point. Now, having learned a lesson from my previous gung-ho attempt to dismantle a shifter (don’t do it!), I went for the classic “spray some WD40 in it” approach.
These shifters often gunk up as the grease they presumably shipped with thickens over time. After a soak and a few minutes wait, shifting was fully restored. Not even a screwdriver was needed to recover full functionality. Magic.
The tyres were similarly straightforward. One tube was fine, the other had a hole. Rather than patch it (totally feasible on these chunky tubes) I opted to replace it with a spare I had laying around. One schrader valve, one presta, Not perfect, but good enough!
Bike fully repaired and functional after about 1hr effort and the cost of an inner tube. Win!
This got me to work the next day, as a test run, but in doing so I noticed a few other things that needed a tune-up:
Front and rear brakes make a horrific scratching noise and need replacingSaddle is horribly wobbly, adjustment neededDynamo lights don’t workHeadset cap is missing, so water will get in there and rust away happily (meaning good luck getting the fork off in a few years)
After a while, brake pads harden, pick up bits of rim, which then scrape along the rim surface, etching them. If this is left to continue, the rims are gradually shaved thinner and thinner until they collapse under the pressure from the inner tube. This is not a theoretical risk, it happened to me once after I ignored my scratchy v-brakes for too long.
Lesson learned, I removed the brake pads, picked out any obvious bits of aluminium, and roughed the pads up against some stone/concrete to remove the metal sheen, and make them work more effectively. This is absolutely just a temporary band aid, preventing further rim damage until I get some new pads in.
In the interests of total comfort, this bike not only has a squashy saddle, but a suspension seat post. I’ve never used one of these before, so I’m curious to see what benefits it brings.
On the first ride it felt awful. Like the whole thing was flopping around. The seat post itself had a few allen bolts on it, and a google search indicated one was to limit lateral movement. Why there would even be an adjustment for this I can’t imagine. Presumably the optimal amount of lateral movement in a saddle is… none?! Anyway, this seemed to fix it, but overall I’m still not impressed by the suspension saddle. It doesn’t seem to do much to iron out bumps, so just adds weight and complexity to an already heavy bike.
The bike came with a fork mounted tyre-operated dynamo which, when engaged, made a happy whirring noise, but no light. This turned out to need only a simple repositioning of the dynamo. Tweaked upwards a bit for better contact with the tyre, we now have light!
This one took me a little longer to figure out. The headset is at an angle. Where on earth would I find such a cap? Then it struck me, there might be a neat little bit of upcycling to be done here… and I’m quite pleased with the solution, a perfect, snug fit!
So hurrah for variety. My N+1 is a heavy, comfy town bike. I can’t believe I just wrote that…
Next up: restoring the kids tandem trailer and connecting the two together. Watch this space.