Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sports Tourer Build

I mentioned that my Schwinn Sports Tourer frameset came to me with four installed components -- the headset, the bottom bracket, the seatpost clamp and the kickstand. Of the four, only one was used during the build -- the kickstand. Everything else had to be sourced, either from my existing parts cache or from somewhere else.

Why did I toss the headset, BB and seatpost clamp? Well, the headset didn't feel bad, but it didn't feel great, either. It had just a hint of indexing to it, where you can feel indentations as the bearing turns, corresponding to places where balls have pitted or dented the races. The bottom bracket likewise just didn't feel good. Plus it was a cup-and-cone bottom bracket, and history has shown that I have no talent for adjusting these properly -- they always loosen up on me. And it was a Nervar, which wasn't going to work with the crankset I had in mind. And finally, the seatpost clamp was both incomplete (but otherwise in good condition) and perhaps the most poorly finished bicycle part I've ever seen in my life. It was purportedly a Schwinn original, which I think is true, and let me tell you, it was hideous. All three of these were removed and either discarded or flung into a box. After all, I was starting from scratch -- why start with stuff I wasn't happy with? And with that, the Schwinn became something of a blank canvas.

I've already said I wanted a relatively modern build-up, and as I gathered parts first for the Allegro and ultimately for the Schwinn, I kept that in mind. And fortunately, I had a bunch of stuff kicking around to draw from.

A decade or more ago, I rebuilt my wife's lowish-end Bianchi with a better set of components. Off came a bunch of heavy 300EX parts, and on went a more or less complete Shimano 105SC groupset, less the brake levers and bottom bracket. It received 8-speed wheels, with 105SC hubs and Velocity rims, a 105SC triple crank, Ultegra 8-speed shifters, 105SC front and rear derailleurs, and 105SC brake calipers. My wife is petite, always a little intimidated by her bike, and she pretty much stopped riding once we had kids. So 18 months ago, I started trying to make the Bianchi a little more user-friendly. I bought a set of vintage Campagnolo hubs and a new set of Rigida 650B rims, had a set of wheels built out of those. I got a 7-speed Shimano freewheel, a pair of Tektro long reach brake calipers and short reach Cane Creek levers, a Brooks saddle and bar tape and set to work making her old Bianchi into what is now a lovely light touring bike with comfy cushy tires. The fork was swapped a couple of times in the process, too. Actually, the Bianchi's various states of being are really a story for another post, but the point is I freed up a bunch of parts in the process, some of which were immediately bolted onto other bikes, and others of which went into a parts box for future use.

A pair of wheels is what provides the dominant shape (and name, for that matter) of a bicycle. The Schwinn began to take shape when I clamped on an idle but well-loved wheelset. The wheels had been on my Kestrel until my wife's 8-speed wheelset was freed up, and were comprised of that bike's original 105SC hubs with a set of Mavic rims, slightly mismatched, that had over time replaced the OEM Araya rims.

To turn the wheels, you need a drivetrain. I had also at some point set aside the 105SC crankset that originally came with the Kestrel. It had been scratched since the day I bought it (scratched in the showroom by a metal stand designed to slide over the left crank arm -- bad design), and I'd replaced it after several years of use with an essentially identical (but prettier) crankset. That went onto the Schwinn as soon as I picked up a cartridge bottom bracket in the right size. Looking for wide gearing, I scavenged a set of 39/52 chainrings from the Shogun and put the original Biopace chainrings back on that bike before sending it off to my brother in law. Screwed into the crank arms at the moment are a set of pedals from Rivendell (I love this article, btw). They have a monstrous platform, and look kinda funny. They work just fine, but I'm not necessarily sold on free pedaling, vs. using clipless pedals.

I didn't want to buy a triple crank, but did want to use this bike for light touring. So I bought the widest spread in a rear cassette I could find -- 14-34, I think it is. So my lowest gear is a 39/34 combo, which is short enough for most situations. To swap gears, I bought a Shimano 700CX rear derailleur. This is a groupset I've never seen before, but it looks just as nice as LX or 105 stuff. It's apparently a decent cross bike groupset. In any case, it's attractive, aluminum, and it works. For the front derailleur, my hope was to use an Ultegra clamp-on derailleur that I'd bought, but that didn't work out so well. I ended up buying a clamp for a braze-on derailleur and using the 105SC front derailleur that originally came on the Kestrel (which had since been upgraded to Ultegra).

But as someone said (Pirelli?) -- power is nothing without control. And the primary controls on a bike center around the handlebars. I went through a handful of headsets before settling on a classic Tange unit, and found an original Schwinn stem. For handlebars and brake levers, I used the ones I had on the Paramount when it was built up as a commuter bike. That would be a set of 105SC brake levers clamped to a Nitto 115 bar. Which creaks maddeningly and is slated to be swapped for a Belleri I bought from Velo Orange last summer. The shifters are bar-ends, and at the moment they're old Suntour retrofriciton models.

The rider needs somewhere to sit, of course. The seatpost was easy -- it's one that came on my wife's Bianchi that I swapped out in favor of a beautiful old Campagnolo post at some point. And that's one of the few easy things on the bike! Clamped to the top of it is a green Brooks B-17 Champion Special, with the big copper rivets. Securing the seatpost is a modern aluminum seatpost clamp that I really wish was polished instead of black. Hanging from this clamp is a cable hanger that lets me use centerpull brakes.

Brakes! Yes, once everything is set up for going, you will eventually need to think about stopping. Because I built a bike laid out for 27" rims up with 700C rims, the brake reach is pretty long, particularly in the rear. And getting to brakes that didn't suck royally took some doing. I'm currently running a set of Mafac calipers front and rear, and they work way better than I expected them to. There's a lot of flex (which makes their effectiveness hard to fathom) and a little noise, but it's hard to complain about their functionality. The rear Mafac is essentially at its very limit in terms of pad adjustment and I really need to find a set of Mafac RAID's to address that.

Bikes are much more useful if you can carry stuff around, and even more so if you don't have to worry about getting sprayed with road crud on damp days. Bolted to the front Mafac is a little square rack that doesn't have the pretty and delicate lines of the old Mafac racklet, but it's got a bigger platform to support a handlebar bag, and I'm using a biggish bag up there. At the rear there is a Velo Orange rack (in truth it was a "seconds" purchase) that I need to figure out what to do with. The problem being that my panniers won't hang on it. I need a new rack or new panniers. Fitting between the racks and wheels at both ends are a cheap set of zefal plastic fenders that are functional, if not elegant. The rear needs a spacer at the front mounting point -- it bends way forward and looks terrible, I know.

And finally, there are a few other accessories lashed to the frame that keep me rolling. I have a Quicker pump, a pair of King stainless bottle cages that feel like they'd survive a thermonuclear blast, bolted to odd but effective mounts from Minoura I think. I have a Blackburn computer with cadence giving me data. And there's that wonderful kickstand! Of course it holds everything up, without having to lean the bike on anything. What's nice about that is that the only scuffs on my Brooks are from my 4 year old daughter knocking the bike over. In both directions. On the same day. So at least there's love there. A brass bell is clamped to the stem, sitting just in reach of my thumb. I don't use it much, but it chatters incessantly on New England roads, keeping me company, I suppose. And... I think that's it. The current final result is shown here. But as with all my bikes, it's a work in progress, and bound to change.

I bet there are 10 posts buried in the paragraphs above, each with a lesson about what worked and didn't, and the sometimes circuitous route I took in getting to the build above. Should be fun!

All for now,


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