Saturday, February 21, 2009

Puppydogs and Motobecanes

A good day for bike stuff, today.

Last night, I picked up Ava's puppydog-themed Specialized Hotrock from the house and brought it to the apartment for the weekend. I'd left it pretty much alone since I bought it for Juliana for her birthday four years ago. Actually, that's not entirely true. I cut the seatpost down just over an inch, last year, so I could insert it all the way down into the seat tube. And then I flipped over the side plates of the seatpost clamp to drop the saddle a little further down on the straight seatpost. This all in trying to make the saddle height low enough for Ava to feel comfortable without training wheels. Didn't work, really -- her legs were still pretty short last summer, and she wasn't comfortable. But no harm done -- I'll just replace that cut-down seatpost before I hand it off to the next owner, so there's no risk of them unknowingly raising it past a safe point (the min insertion line no longer being accurate).

Today, after I got home from my friend Steven's place (more on that visit in a sec), I took the wheels off the Hotrock, and pulled apart both the hubs and the one-piece Ashtabula crankset. As I suspected, all three contained only trace amounts of yellow, waxy grease. They turned, but with a gritty, uneven feel. I assumed that'd be the case, having repacked the hub on the trailer bike two years ago, and I'm a little embarrassed that it took me this long to redo this bike.

Ava's Hotrock has two brakes, though it came with only one, originally (I complemented the rear coaster brake with an Odyssey 1999 sidepull front brake and lever a few years back). It's been years since I so much as looked at a coaster brake, and I was curious to see what was inside hers as I pulled it apart. The guts were pretty simple, and kind of interesting, and I was surprised to find three distinct cages of ball bearings in the hub. But as interesting as it was too look at, I am astonished at how much drag is in that rear wheel -- it spins down after only a handful of turns, even after I repacked it. Still, I cleaned it up well, put new Grade 25 balls in it, and filled the races and the brake mechanism up with Pedro's synthetic grease.

The front hub is pretty standard front hub stuff, with the exception that it's of a lower grade than I'm used to -- not a surprise at all, given that it's on a child's bike. Even so, it spins pretty well, now that it's packed with new balls and fresh grease -- puts the rear hub to shame, really. I've read a blog post out there somewhere written by someone who'd built up a bike for himself with a coaster rear brake. Sounded fun, being able to skid the rear tire at will, but I'm wary of all that drag.

Finally, the crankset. It was a bit of a pain because I forgot to take off the chainguard and because for some reason I'd reinstalled the rear wheel (and thus snugged down the chain) before servicing it, but once I got those behind me, it came apart reasonably well, cleaned up quickly, and went back together with fresh bearings and grease in only a few minutes. I'm not a big fan of Ashtabula cranks, because they're heavy and inelegant and not well sealed. But they're ridiculously simple and very strong, and can be serviced with little more than a rag, a big adjustable wrench and a screwdriver (though I chose a pin spanner to set the adjustable cone).

I left the headset alone. It's got a decent-looking Cane Creek Aheadset on it, and I've never serviced one and didn't really want to mess with it. I could probably have figured it out easily enough, but it's turning just fine, with no apparent grittiness, so I think it was put together properly in the first place. The whole job took less than two hours. More like 90 minutes, I think. I left the training wheels in my parts box -- it's time for Ava to leave those behind.

So that's the puppydog. The Motobecane, now.

I picked up the second Motobecane of my life, today. The first Motobecane I owned was an old one I bought from a neighbor whose lawn I cut when I was a kid. More accurately, I admired the old bike in his barn for a number of years, and ultimately he agreed to sell it to me for what seemed like a pretty hefty sum at the time, but the figure escapes me. It was a Mirage or Super Mirage, in a dark blue. It had Huret derailleurs, quick release hubs, alloy rims, a leather saddle (like a Brooks, but it was deformed from improper storage), and its frame was far too large for me. So I started taking parts off of it and swapping them onto my Raleigh. I stopped and went in a different direction whenever I bumped into something that didn't work on my bike, usually because of the whole French threading thing.

So in essence, I completely trashed a classic old Motobecane in favor of a comparatively crappy Raleigh because I didn't know any better. I hope to do better by this new one. New to me, at least.

My friend Steven, whose apartment I was at yesterday noon, is an audiophile, autophile and velophile. He raced bikes in high school and college, and his first "real" bike was a mid-197o's Motobecane Grand Touring that's now sitting in in my hallway. The Motobecane has a Vitus chromoly main triangle, forged rear dropouts with no rack eyelets (which seems odd, given the bike's moniker), and a somewhat more pedestrian front fork with stamped dropouts (it's actually very similar to the fork on my Schwinn, down to the untapped eyelets). The finish is old, but in decent shape -- a nice champagne color with chrome fork tips, black accents and logos, and subtle gold lug lining. Not unlike my old 1986 Toyota MR-2, in theme, actually. The frame has only a single braze-on (for the rearmost bit of cable housing for the rear derailleur), relying mostly on clamp-on mounts and cable guides. The components are a mix of Japanese and European bits. There's some Suntour Superbe (brakes and levers) and Suntour Cyclone (derailleurs), Campagnolo Grand Sport (downtube shifters and cable guides), and a Wheelsmith-built Specialized/Mavic 27" wheelset. The bottom bracket and headset are Tange, and and the crankset is an SR Apex dual with I think 42/52 chainrings -- all three are original to the bike. It has pretty Campagnolo-clone MKS touring pedals, with no toe clips. The original bar and stem are both Pivo.

It's a classic mid-range Continental 10-speed, in other words. Nicer than my Raleigh was, but not as nice as an old Paramount. Not far from my Sports Tourer in spirit, but with French sensibilities and fewer braze-ons.

The Motobecane is a road bike, not a racing bike, and Steven discovered not long after getting it new that it wasn't the hot ticket for racing. He upgraded the components anyway, but ultimately moved to a Team Miyata frameset, aligned and built with Shimano's early New Dura-Ace groupset and a tubular wheelset. It's still in that configuration, and it's a lovely bike. The Motobecane passed first to his brother, then to his parents, and now to me (and I'm excited to have it!).

It needs some love. The steel eyelets on the polished Mavic rims are rusty, the rim tape needs to be replaced, the chain is a throwaway, there's a bit of surface rust on all of the guides and clamps, the rear derailleur pulleys are stiff, the rear derailleur adjustment bolt doesn't sit quite right on the dropout, and the saddle speaks volumes to the progress made in saddle design since the 1980's. The Pivo bars have some scoring at the clamp, so I'm probably not going to use them. And the quill and bolt on the Pivo stem are AWOL, and will need replacement. Not a big deal to rectify, in either case. The Superbe levers will need new boots, as you might expect.

In other words, the bike is a project. But it's one that I can largely tackle with parts I already have on-hand. Will need to get some tires, some tubes, some brake pads, some rim strips, and a new chain, and that's probably all I'll need to get it rolling (which is not to say finished). I have enough cable housing, spare cables (I think), bar tape, ball bearings and grease to handle bearings and controls. I suspect the bottom bracket and headset are French threaded, so replacing those might take some searching for replacements, and I'll stick with repacking them for now. I have a spare set of bars and a stem whose parts I can cannibalize to get that end of things back in order. I'll put the red San Marco saddle that was on Juli's Fuji onto the Paramount and put that brown crippler Brooks onto this bike as a trial. And I'll look forward to supplying plenty of elbow grease to polish everything up and do the work in question.

Once I get it back together, I can figure out how it fits (the seat tube measures 22" center-to-center, which is on the small end of what I can ride), what it needs and how I want to use it and accessorize it. I've had this hankering for a city bike to take to the grocery store and the like. Not because I live in the city (I don't), or because I couldn't use the Schwinn for that (I could), but because I want something different from what I already have, I think. And because it'll give me more to tinker with. All kinds of possibilities in this old French bike.

A good day for bike stuff, yes.

All for now,


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