For a while now, I've wanted to raise Brown Bike's handlebars. I bought him brand-new in (I think) 1992, but the frame is dated 1987. He isn't a standard Raleigh model, but has a "Special Products" transfer. I don't know when he was built up, or by whom. When I bought him, I couldn't shift the bars but I didn't need to. Now I'm not as young as I was, nor as flexible.
The threaded forks take a stem that fixes inside the steerer. My stem is split at the bottom (from what I can see, peering from underneath), with a conical expander pulled up by a long bolt, pressing the stem base outwards against the steerer. A "quill" stem is shaped at the bottom like a quill pen so mine isn't technically a quill but works in much the same way.
The bolt has always been free to unscrew. Every few years, I have unscrewed it enough to stand proud of the stem and taken a hammer to it, through a piece of scrap wood, in the hope of freeing the expander. It has never worked.
After my rainy trip to Cambridge I had lower-back problems that took a couple of days to go away. This might have been from sunglasses that have a foam surround which is great at keeping wind and insects from my eyes, but force me to lift my head higher up to see where I'm going. Or from the jacket hood that has a peak that flops down and covers my eyes, leading to gymnastics.
I don't need back problems on tour.
The front mudguard was already off because a few months ago I bought a bottle of "Household Ammonia" from Boots. According to some posts on the CTC forum, ammonia is a magical liquid for freeing stems that have been stuck for a couple of decades. I reckoned this was my last hope before taking it to someone with implements of mass destruction, and I'm leaving it rather late for this.
So I removed BB's front wheel, turned him upside-down in my back garden, and poured ammonia down the headtube. It flowed out again through the bolt hole, so I stuffed that with blu-tack. Then it flowed out of the front of the stem, so I put the bars up on a cardboard box, tipping the bike up. Then it dripped out between the stem and locknut, but reasonably slowly. I went inside to watch a Bond film ("Never Say Never Again", not one of the best).
At each break for adverts, I went out and topped up the ammonia.
When Sean Connery finished saving the world, I tried to turn BB upright again. Something bad happened in my lower back. Ouch, to put it mildly. When I could move again, I went inside to wash the ammonia from my hands. I hobbled around the house, sat down, did some stretching, wondered if I would ever make it out of the house again let alone get to Yorkshire, took ibuprofen, had a cup of coffee and felt sorry for myself.
Then I went out with a tack hammer and scrap wood, got BB upright, unscrewed the bolt so it was slightly proud and tapped it a few times. The bolt seemed to move down into the stem, but I supposed it was rotating from the hammer blows. Unscrew it, more tapping, check again. It again seemed to have screwed in, so unscrew it and tap again. This time, the stem dropped an inch. Wow. Cor. It has actually worked.
I could raise the stem to a position two inches higher than it was, but the minimum insertion mark was at one inch. I tightened the bolt, straightened my back, replaced the wheel and went for a turn around the village.
It is good. The pressure on my hands and arms is noticably less. The position is less aerodynamic, but hopefully more comfortable for long distances.
I'll try another liquid now, one that hails from Scotland, and see if it works magic with my back.