Saturday, March 28, 2009

Monson Swap Meet

My mission to find a fork for the Motobecane continues. When that's done, I'm going to roll up the details of that odyssey into a single post, but I wanted to share one recent experience along the path.

eBay usually has listed 6 or 7 of something I need at any given time, but it hasn't done me much good in finding a 27" fork. There have been a few listed in the past month, but they haven't been quite right. Either the steerer has been too short, or they've been painted instead of chromed, or they've been crappy or they've had canti studs. So last Sunday, I hit the road early and headed west to the swap meet in Monson, MA. My mission: Find a fork.

I hit the road by 6:00 or so, getting out early so I'd be able to get there before everything had been snapped up, and back so I could help my friend get a family heirloom bike ready for spring. This heirloom is a mid-70's Motobecane Mirage. Not a high end bike, falling somewhere between my own Motobecane and my Raleigh in quality of frame tubing and components. But as I said, it's an heirloom. The bike was his aunt's -- a gift purchased new from her father (my friend's grandfather) as she went off to college. Sadly, she was murdered too soon thereafter by a serial killer. Keeping the bike rolling is my friend's way of reclaiming good from that family tragedy. It deserves a more thorough overhaul than it received that afternoon, but we'll circle back to that, I'm sure.

I didn't know any of that history before laying a wrench to the bike, so none of that was on my mind as I headed west to the swap meet. I'd never been to this kind of event, so I was mostly curious as to what it'd be like, and what I'd find there. I'd never been to Monson, either, so didn't know what to expect from the setting. It turns out Monson is a pretty neat town. The main drag is full of beautiful antique buildings, including a couple of "Addams Family" style Victorian mansions. Had I known what to expect from the event or the location, I'd have brought a camera, but I didn't think to. So there won't be any photos to accompany this post.

The swap meet was in Memorial Hall, a massive granite building with an almost medieval feel to it on a cloudy, late-winter morning. Scattered around the lawn outside the building were a bunch of vendors and their wares. Over here was a guy bundled up in woolens standing next to a row of rusted, dilapidated things that used to be balloon-tired heavyweight bicycles. Over there was a similarly bundled-up family sitting behind a table with an array of ancient accessories and components, and a bunch of bike-boom road bikes for sale leaning nearby. Elsewhere was a tarp covered in parts, sold for a flat rate per piece.

It was cold and overcast, and I'm not generally very gregarious, so I didn't stop to chat. It'd have been interesting to hear what drives these folks to hunt for this stuff, then turn up at a swap meet at 6:00 in the morning with it. A love of bikes? A compulsion to collect? To hunt for relics? A desire to monetize the cast-offs of suburban life? The latter isn't much different than my desire to sell off the contents of my parts box, so I get that. But this was really a whole different level of commitment, and it's a side of hobbying I haven't really seen before. I'm sure there are some interesting stories, there.

From the lawn, I stepped through a massive oak door into the foyer of the hall, and found a bunch of interesting old bikes lined up and for sale. OK, this was more like what I expected. I came for a nice fork, and seeing these bikes, I felt much more likely to find one than looking at the stuff out on the lawn. Inside were tables covered with much higher-end stuff -- groupsets and fenders and freewheels and brakesets and the like. As an example, Peter Weigle was there, with a table full of Frame Saver cans and a handful of beautiful old bikes, including a Paramount and a Rene Herse.

At another table, I found Scott, from Scott's Cyclery in Willimantic, CT. Scott's a talker, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He had a few copies of a really neat book I'd never seen before, perhaps because I'd never thought to look for it: 100 Years of Bicycle Component and Accessory Design, by Noguchi-san. The jacket of the copy I bought has a bunch of greasy smudges on it from being handled by folks who've been messing with bikes, but that almost makes it even cooler. Just by way of example of its contents, some of the drawings used by Velo-Orange on its E-Store look as though they were taken from this book (or maybe the book also collected the same drawings). The book is absolutely full of sketches like these, and it's fascinating to sit down and thumb through it.

Most of the folks inside were pretty helpful, though there were definitely bike snobs there. One guy I asked for a 27" fork sort of dismissed the very notion, and when I asked about 7-speed freewheels he seemed a little offended at the idea of putting one of his beautiful $100 aluminum freewheels on a 27"-wheeled bike. Which wasn't my intention (I was asking for my friend's Bertoni, which we've upgraded from 6- to 7-speed 600 shifters), but his reaction pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn't buy anything from him that day. In truth, I wouldn't put aluminum cogs on any of my bikes, because I'm neither a weight weenie nor interested in replacing $100 clusters on a regular basis. I'm sure he sized me up as such.

I didn't find a fork, though Scott said he had some at his shop, and I haven't followed-up with him yet. A week later, I'm kicking myself that I didn't think to look for a Suntour bar-end shifter to replace the shifter I cobbled together for the trailer bike (a 600 downtube shifter bolted to an Ultegra bar-end mount). I'd like to be able to reassemble and ultimately offload the Ultegra set, and have been sort of passively looking for a replacement -- too passively, it seems. I'm also still kicking myself for not bringing a camera (a little, anyway). The visuals from the day were pretty strong, from the Victorian buildings to the junk piles to the bikes. So I walked away nearly empty handed, but more informed than disappointed. For the next one, I'll know what to expect and will think about a list of stuff to look for ahead of time.

And I'll bring a camera.

All for now,


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Suntour Superbe Brake Caliper Rebuild

Just a quick post about the Motobecane.

This morning I installed the replacement Dia-Compe brake springs into the Suntour Superbe brake calipers. Actually, I tore down the brake calipers completely, cleaned all of the pivoting points (including the quick release mechanism), and reassembled everything with fresh grease on all pivoting surfaces. Took only a half hour for the pair, in large part because the original owner, Steve, is nothing if not fanatical about precision and maintenance. And the all of the nuts on the brakes were perfectly adjusted and well lubricated, so all the parts were moving freely and everything came apart without a fuss.

I'd ordered two sets of springs, one for the Dia-Compe 400N and one for the 500N. It was the 500N springs that I needed, as the guy from Loose Screws had suggested would be the case. I'm not sure what the difference between the two models is, but I'm thinking it's just reach. A set of Shimano 600 calipers from the '80's taken from a friend's bike look very much like the Suntour brakes, but have shorter caliper arms, and look like they'd accept the 400N springs -- the Dia-Compes, Shimanos and Suntours were obviously cloned from the same (Italian) gene pool.

The old rusty springs either had a slightly narrower spread when new than the replacement parts, or had taken a slightly more compressed stance over the years. Either way, the new springs had a wider spread to them. I rebuilt the first caliper, then compressed both the rebuilt and the untouched calipers in my hand to compare. The sense I get is that the new springs will give the levers a stiffer feel and a more positive rebound, which is good because the old-style levers have no return springs and depend on the caliper springs' help. Otherwise the springs fit perfectly.

Together with the Campagnolo barrel adjusters (not seen in the picture because they're hanging on the ends of the Motobecane's brake cables out in the barn -- and there's that Italian gene pool again), the parts needing replacement are nearly all now in place, and the brakes are fully functional again. I'll put them back on the Motobecane today, and take them for a little spin to see how they feel.

The only thing left is to find the missing wheel guide on the rear caliper, and that's only if I decide to leave them on. They look cute, but they're not strictly necessary. I need to figure out what to do about pads, too. I really ought to replace them -- they're probably 25 years old, after all. I have a couple of pairs of contemporary pads I can install, but they'll look significantly different, and I'd like to keep the bike's classic looks.

All for now,


Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Cleaning

My parts box overrunneth. Actually, it had become three parts boxes, two of which overan. Time for spring cleaning. Time for eBay, in many cases, too. I'm going to keep anything that might work on a road bike to be built for Ava in a couple of years, but most everthing else is going:

I have three cranksets I'm never going to use. One is the kids' Ashtabula crankset that came on the trailer bike. I suspect this will end up in a lot of miscellaneous stuff on eBay or at a yard sale. I also don't need the original Shimano crankset from my wife's Bianchi (alloy arms, steel triple chainrings 30/40/50, I believe), which would be great on a train station bike in a hilly area. And though I'm sorry to let it go, I have the early '90's 600 Ultegra crank that came on Juli's Fuji (I put on a crankset with shorter arms for her). It has seen some use, with shoe scuffs, and it has a set of modern SR chainrings on it, not the originals, but it's a nice and lightweight crank. I also have a spare 42-tooth 130 bcd chainring. It's a pre-Ultegra 600 part and it's very nicely made.

Bottom brackets:
I have a pile of these -- three cup and cone models of different grades from Shimano, that were original to various bikes (the Kestrel, Bianchi and Fuji, I think). All have fresh balls and grease in them and just need to be installed. I also have a set of French Sugino cups and a BB-UN52 cartridge bottom bracket in 128mm, with English threading. I think I ended up with that when I ordered a 118, but was sent the wrong one. I didn't notice at the time, but after I'd used it a while, I found that it made my knees ache. So I measured it, scowled a little, and then off it came. Fortunately, I had also ordered a 108 separately (from the same vendor) and been sent a 118 instead. So I just had to move the 118 over to replace the 128, and then go buy a 108 at a bike shop.

I have two sets of basic mountain bike levers to clear out; one a Suntour and the other a Shimano. And I have one pair of basic Shimano sidepull calipers (originally on the Bianchi) that are missing one cable clamp. I also have an old but very clean set of Schwinn Approved Dia-Compe 610 centerpull brake calipers and a nearly new Dia Compe 750 centerpull brake. These all look pretty good, but I didn't like how they felt. Finally, I have a set of Mafac pads and holders that came with my NOS Mafacs, but which I didn't use (in favor of a set of Kool Stops in salmon). Keeping the pre-Ultegra 600 brakes and Dia Compe compact levers for Ava -- good stuff, those.

I have a set of 6-speed Shimano indexed shifters (originally from my Shogun) and a set of Ultegra 8-speed bar end shifters. Much to my chagrin, they don't index cleanly with 7-speed cassettes, and I didn't like the feel of their friction mode, so off these go.

I have a basic Shimano alloy front derailleur that came on the Fuji. This one is as much steel as aluminum, but it looks fine. It's designed for a cable to run all the way to it, so it's good for older bikes without cable routing provisions. I also have an older pre-Ultegra 600 front derailleur that I'm going to unload. It doesn't match the Ultegra derailleur that I'll keep for Ava.

I have a set of Look Carbon Pro pedals (my first clipless pedals, actually) and a similar set of Performance Roubaix pedals (made by Look). These two were bought for the Shogun and Kestrel, respectively, and then I bought a third pair for spinning classes that are now on the Kestrel (they're Performance Roubaix as well, and the newest of the trio). But I've been experimenting with different pedal styles since, and though I love the Looks for a workout bike (like the Kestrel), I wouldn't wear those shoes when towing my kids or just tooling around. So I really don't need these two anymore. I also have a set of alloy-bodied, steel-caged mountain pedals that I think came originally on my Trek mountain bike. I'm going to keep a set of MKS track pedals for Ava.

Not keeping any of these. I have a black Cannondale road bar with a 31.8 clamp, that I bought on eBay, not realizing it was a fat-clamp bar. I've no use for it whatsoever. I have a set of 3ttt track bars that came on the Bertoni I'm fixing up with a friend -- these are used and gummy with tape, but they'd clean up very nicely. They're just not my thing. I have a set of kids' riser bars and a multi-adjustable stem original to the trailer bike.

I have a cheap gooseneck stem that looks very much like an old Schwinn stem from a Stingray or balloon tired cruiser. It has the right stem dimension for my Sports Tourer (for which it was bought), and it's even alloy, not forged steel. It fit the Schwinn's steerer tube, but I couldn't thread a road bar through its clamp, and I didn't want to run a straight bar. I also have an incomplete (no quill or quill bolt) Pivo stem that might do someone with a pile of old French stems some good.

Seat post:
I have a Felt carbon 27.2 seatpost that I bought for the Kestrel, but decided not to use.

I have a spare Kestrel EMS fork for a very small frame (I had it on the Bianchi for a bit, before I made that a 650B bike), and a spare alloy fork that was original to my Kestrel. And I'll shortly have a nice old Motobecane fork, that will work just fine on a frameset with a smaller head tube.

And there's a lot more. A few hundred bucks' worth on eBay, if I'm lucky. If you want to buy any of this stuff, let me know, and we can work something out.

All for now,


Monday, March 16, 2009

What else have I missed?

I've had my Mazda3 just over three years, and it's got just over 90,000 miles. A couple of Fridays back, Lowell was hit by a comet or something, and we lost power at the office. I finally left at 4:00, and took off early for the weekend, walking to the (unlit) garage. As I approached the Mazda, I hit the fob to unlock the car, and saw something about the car I'd never seen before. A couple of tries with my iPhone's crappy camera and I caught it for you, too.

It took the combination of a power outage and a random decision to back into my spot to finally see this light pattern -- after three years. Makes me wonder what else I'm missing. Knowing how to rotate pictures on Blogger, for example...

All for now,


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Riding Impressions: Motobecane Grand Touring

A quick update with riding impressions of the Motobecane, after all the nonsense with exploding tubes, yesterday.

Late yesterday, the girls and I tried to hit Landry's in Natick, but they closed at 5:00, and we were nearly a half hour too late. But Sports Authority down the road was open, and they had a pair of 700x35-43 tubes on hand -- larger than the ones I'd tried thus far, and a few bucks per tube less than what I'd paid at a bike shop for the others, to boot.

Afterwards, we took in a little pizza followed by a little live music at a coffeehouse. Harmony 421 is comprised of three singing sisters backed by two guys with a bass and a guitar. At least last night they focused on ballads, mostly from the 1970's, but also delved into some wartime Andrews Sisters stuff. They were really good, each with a different vocal quality that made for an interesting mix. Imagine having Linda Ronstadt, Dusty Springfield and Natalie Merchant together, singing separately, in pairs and as a trio and you'll get a feel for it. And these three sang as well live as anyone else I've seen. We left partway into their second set because both girls started falling asleep. When we got home, the front tube still hadn't exploded, so after putting the girls down, I installed one of the new tubes at the rear.

When you blow a bicycle tire up, the tire and rim do all of the structural work of holding the air pressure, where the tube just prevents the air from escaping. If the tube can't reach the tire before its point of failure, it's too small. My thought now is that since the tubes are really designed for 700c wheels, to run them on 27" rims, you need to oversize them vs. their specs. Though my tire width and tube width were aligned, I'm guessing that the manufacturers aren't adjusting their tubes' 27" ratings properly. 27" rims have a 630mm diameter rather than the 622mm measurement of a 700c wheel. Stretching them out a bit around a larger diameter wheel, it makes sense you'd need a fatter tube to reach all the way to the tire without failure.

At sunrise this morning, I took the bike outside for a little spin. It got pretty cold last night, so I wasn't out there long -- just long enough to get a feel for the bike and snap a few pictures.

My overwhelming impression is that the bike feels pretty close-coupled. By which I mean that it feels like it has a relatively short wheelbase and relatively steep angles, splitting the difference between the Schwinn and the Kestrel that way -- on the nimble end of the spectrum, rather than the sluggish end. The Schwinn has a larger frame and a long wheelbase, and the Kestrel a smaller and very tight frame, so that's not surprising. The Schwinn feels great, but it feels more stable and less responsive than the Motobecane. The Kestrel is downright flighty, and the Motobecane isn't, but the steering still feels pretty responsive. The frame felt reasonably stiff, but it's hard to gauge how stiff just yet. When I change the fork out, I'm likely to see some changes to steering and handling, so it's too early to draw any firm conclusions, here.

The second big thing I noticed is that the gearing is way too steep, which actually detracts from the nimbleness. On my Kestrel I have a 39 tooth small chainring and an 8-speed cassette with a 26 tooth big sprocket. On my Schwinn I have a 39 tooth chainring and something like a 34-tooth big sprocket on the cassette. On this bike, the biggest cog is a 21, and the small ring is a 42, so for every rotation of the crank, I get two rotations of the rear wheel. Couple that with a larger-diameter rolling circumference (larger rims, plumper tires) than any of my other bikes, and you've got a bike that goes significantly farther per pedal stroke than I'm used to. I don't race, and the area I live in has its share of hills, so I'll need to do something about this.

That said, I like the small steps in the 13-21 freewheel, and I'm wary of taking something with only five cogs to a wide range (with big steps from gear to gear). So I may look for a compact crankset instead of going wide on a replacement freewheel. Something with a small ring in the low 30-tooth range and a big ring in the high 40's should give me plenty of choices, from hill-climbing to flats. One thing I did notice is how loud the freewheel is when coasting. Shimano freehubs have gotten very quiet (and one of mine is even click-free). Even the freewheel on the trailer bike is pretty subdued, but this New Winner freewheel clacks like they did in the good old days.

The old MKS pedals are pretty, but I didn't like the way they felt underfoot. I was wearing shower shoes, so it's not really fair to judge them yet, but if they don't feel good with real shoes, I'll swap them for another pedal style. Actually, I have two pairs of black Look pedals not currently threaded onto a bike, so I should put them to use.

The shifting action itself felt pretty good, with smooth shifters and quick and positive gear changes. I was just tooling around the lot at my apartment, so it's not much of a test-case. Even so, the derailleur didn't seem to need a lot of trimming, and the chain seemed to readily engage the cogs as I shifted. So a favorable first impression of the drivetrain, but not a lot of real data yet.

The jury is still out on that old Brooks Team Professional saddle. It's definitely softened up, and it wasn't like sitting on a fence post anymore. But if it's ever going to break itself into the shape of my perch bones, it's going to need some miles. I'll give the Motobecane (and this saddle) a dedicated month of rides this Spring, and see how it does. The plump tires I put on the bike should help soften the road impacts, at least.

The brakes felt fine, though one of the rear pads is squealing. Plenty of bite and power, so I don't see any need to swap the calipers once I have the new springs installed. The brake levers feel pretty good, too. Not as light as a modern set of Shimano levers, but still pretty smooth. The bars are a little loose in the stem, they're not wrapped with tape, and the brake levers have no hoods at present. So not an entirely accurate picture of how those will feel, but at least the lever action was smooth.

I need more time with the bike, but my initial impressions are positive. I have to say it's a pretty bike, too, with a nice balance of bright metal and subdued colors. I'm going to liven it up when I add red bar tape, of course. But I'm going to try to keep a nice balance as I work towards replacing the fork, stem, headset and bars. No black painted stuff, here. I'm no photographer (as you may have noticed), but the colors looked especially soft this morning, as the sun came up.

All for now,


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Le Tour Premier?

Whether a Frenchman would say "The First Ride" that way or not, I'm not really sure. But this post is about trying to take the first ride on the Motobecane I introduced a few weeks ago, so I thought it was worth breaking out my rusty high school French for l'occasion.

I've mentioned first rides perhaps a half dozen times on this blog already: The first ride on my Shogun, which was so much better than what I was used to. The first ride on my Kestrel, which was still another leap beyond what the Shogun offered. I think I even mentioned not truly remembering the first ride on my Paramount, but having vague recollections of tackling parking-lot obstacles.

Those were all new-bike experiences, and they were accompanied by the anticipation that goes with plunking down a significant amount of money, and the excitement of getting a new bike. And mixed into the experience was the complete foreignness of the bike I was first trying out.

I've found that the first ride on a bike I've spent hours rebuilding can be very different. I think that comes with familiarity, really. My Schwinn Sports Tourer I rebuilt from a nearly bare frame (and I set aside two of the three components it came with, keeping only the frame, fork and kickstand). In that build, I used a saddle, handlebars, brake levers, crankset, pedals and wheelset I'd ridden before. So all of the touch-points between me and the bike were familiar. Add to that the fact that I built that bike up myself. I spent hours putting components and controls on the bike, feeling them out and adjusting them appropriately. So in taking the first short proving ride on the Schwinn, the element of complete newness was missing, and instead I had more a sense of assessing the sum of the individual parts and systems I was already very familiar with.

Not to overanalyze this though -- it's fun to try a new bike out for the first time, and it's satisfying to try a rebuilt bike out for the first time, but they'e different.

With the anticipation of a nice weekend and the goal of getting onto my latest project, this week I spent a few hours (surprisingly few, honestly) reassembling the Motobecane. Prior to my last post, I'd already taken apart many of the components and cleaned and reassembled them, I'd made sense of the parts I had and how to put them to use, and I'd ordered a bunch of pieces that I needed to complete the rebuild. All of that came together with surprising ease this week.

Sunday I took the MTB bars out of the riser stem that was on the bike, threaded the Pivo bars that were original to the bike through the clamp, then installed that combo. I think the stem is actually to the old BMX/Schwinn spec, and the steerer tube is the slightly larger French specification. So it is perhaps not the most securely clamped stem in the history of biking, but I'm not planning to leave it that way for long, so I'll use it only a little and hope for the best. I think I put the Rivendell Hupe bag support on it on Sunday, too. Looks good, I think.

I think it was Monday or Tuesday night that I installed the derailleurs, cable guides and shifters. The front was simple enough, but I'm starting to think that all old bikes will somehow involve some derailleur hanger drama. The old Suntour derailleur bolted on easily enough, but for some reason, the little flat on the dropout where the derailleur adjustment screw is supposed to sit was beveled. It looked like it was filed off intentionally, and the adjuster screw slipped right past this flat. This may have been a deliberate modification to get the jockey pulley closer to what's a very compact freewheel (by my standards, at least), or it may just have been old damage. Either way, I wanted to correct it. Fortunately, because the little flat was where it belonged for modern derailleurs, I didn't have to fabricate a spacer out of a plumbing washer. This time all I had to do was remove the derailleur adjustment screw and thread it back into its hole from the other direction. The screw head mates cleanly with what's left of the flat, where the end did not.

Wednesday night was derailleur cable night, and Ava helped me while Juli took a shower before bed. She and I cut and installed the housing at the rear, and then ran the cables to the derailleurs. She was particularly interested in installing the little aluminum cable ends, and holding them (with her tiny little fingers) while I crimped them (carefully) with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. We put the new steel Campagnolo brake adjuster barrels into the Superbe calipers (they're slightly undersized, but will do the trick and won't freeze up like the original aluminum parts), but ran out of time before we were able to tackle the brake cables.

Thursday night, I think I finalized my brake configuration for this bike, but I guess time will tell. I think I figured out which Dia-Compe brakes were a clone of the Superbe brakes on this bike that are a clone of old Campagnolo brakes. I think the Dia-Compes are Grand Compe 400N's, but they might be 500N's. I found replacement springs for both at Loose Screws for very short money (they were cheap enough that I bought a pair for each style, just in case), after also finding original springs for these brakes for much more money elsewhere. Since I'm not sure they'll work, I wasn't going to spring for the OEM Dia-Compe ones, but if the replacement springs do fit, I might take that plunge. Really depends on how nice the replacement parts are (I suspect they're not chromed, for instance). Anyway, I ran brake cables and housing on Thursday night, leaving the housing intentionally on the long side up front, since I've got more work to do on the bars, and am not sure where the bars will end up, exactly. And then I rerouted cables to the correct brake levers last night, after realizing I messed that up! Fortunately the levers are not aero, so it was a 5-minute redo. I followed the brake cables by installing the chain, which I left a little long so I can bump up the size of the cogs on the freewheel at some point.

I left the bars bare because I'm not going to keep them on the bike. The bars, stem, fork and headset all need replacement, as I've mentioned, and I'll end up with a Nitto Young stem on there, along with a set of Nitto bars (the latter from the Schwinn). I'm still trying to find a fork, but there's really no hurry in that. I've got plenty of bikes to ride in the mean time, and it's still cold out there. I'm going to wrap the bars in red tape, ultimately, to match the red cable housing.

This morning I suited-up in my winter riding gear, grabbed the floor pump and started to fill the rear tire. At 85 psi, the rear tube popped with a loud bang, leaving my ears ringing for an hour -- and the neighbors wondering, perhaps, who got shot. The police never arrived, so they either didn't hear or didn't care. Then after the ringing stopped and I had time to rationalize alternatives to the tubes being undersized, I thought "Hey, maybe it's not because the tubes are too small for the tire -- maybe it's because I seated them wrong or something", and hooked the pump up to the front tire. No, as it turned out. So I went to the bike shop after breakfast and picked up a pair of tubes in 700/35-38 instead of 28/32.

That worked for one of the wheels, but not both. The front tire inflated successfully to 95 psi, but the third tube of the day popped as I approached 80 on the rear tire. I'm not sure what's going on, but I've never had this happen before. The tires are 27x1 1/4, and Panaracers are supposed to run a little small, so they should fit just fine. The tubes are splitting wide open, which tells me their maximum expansion is smaller than the tire casing. In any case, I'm not sure my ears can take much more of this -- they don't work all that well to start with, and they've probably been aged 10 years today.

It's getting late today, and Ava is napping, so I'm not going to get to ride it. That's frustrating, but the three of us are headed out tonight for a little folk music, and we'll pick up a few tubes on the way to dinner. And I'll grab the camera from the house while we're out. I should be able to get on the bike first thing in the morning, and maybe take a few pics of the bike outside, with the sun rising.

All for now,


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Motobecane Grand Touring Teardown

Good progress on the latest addition to my herd, this week. As I mentioned in my last post, I'd started the process of tearing down the Motobecane. And I've been rebuilding individual components and sub-assemblies, and even done a little final assembly work.

I mentioned that the fork is kind of messed up. It's a pretty, crowned steel fork (with some detailing on the crown, and chromed lower legs), but not an expensive one. The dropouts are stamped (not forged), for example, and the legs are welded into the crown (not brazed). The fork is of the French spec, and it's held into the frame with a low-profile OEM (cheap) steel headset that's got some unfixable rust on the chrome. The steerer has been cut unevenly and too short to really hold the locknut, and any replacement French headset of quality I could find would have a taller stack height. So essentially the fork is unusable on this bike, but it could be mounted readily enough in a frame with a shorter head tube. Might be worth a few bucks on eBay.

Replacing the fork will be simple but expensive. I'll need a chromoly fork and a headset of course, and either of these could run $20-$120, depending on how crazy I wanted to get. And while at it, I would make the shift to British specs, which would mean changing bars and stem as well. I'll have to do those two pieces eventually anyway, but let me stick to the frame and fork for a sec.

The frame is of Vitus 172 double-butted chromoly main tubes, and probably a milder steel rear triangle. The chainstays are spot welded and then brazed to the BB shell, and the construction is otherwise lugged and brazed. The rear dropouts have no eyelets (which still boggles the mind, honestly, given the bike's name), but they're nice, forged Gipiemme pieces threaded for axle adjustment screws.

Everything but the headset and the front derailleur mount (more on that in a sec) has been pulled off the frame and cleaned up, and the frame itself has been cleaned up (but not zealously) and waxed. The frame looks to be in good shape, though my eye registers something not quite right about the right rear dropout's alignment. It looks OK clamping in the rear wheel, but I'm still seeing something amiss, and need to figure out how to check that. Maybe take it over to a LBS to check the alignment.

The bike came with Suntour VX pieces originally, but Steve had upgraded most of that. The crankset is the original SR Apex model with the usual specs -- 170mm arms and 42/52 chainrings. The Apex crank is a midrange piece -- nice aluminum arms, but the spider is swaged to the right arm, rather than being formed with the arm as a single piece. I've cleaned the crankset up and rebuilt the MKS pedals (which say VX on them, interestingly enough, so they may have been an OEM part of the Suntour groupset). I'm going to keep the crankset as-is for now, but I prefer the feel of a 172.5 crank arm and may change that up at some point. I've been thinking about putting a compact crankset on the Schwinn, to get a lower low range without having to go to a triple. If I do that, I'll have the Schwinn's 172.5 crankset with 39/52 rings on-hand, and it'd bolt right onto a narrower BB spindle. So we'll see.

The BB has been removed, repacked with new balls and grease, and reinstalled. The races and spindle all seemed fine, and that's a good thing because it has Swiss bottom bracket threading, not French (I have a spare set of French cups, but not Swiss). I'm actually kicking myself a little, because when I bought the Allegro frameset I bought a Phil BB and rings to go with it. Then when I listed the frame on eBay, for some reason I threw the rings into the equation. In any case, if I swap the crankset around later, I'm going to have to buy a set again ($38) and find either a used Phill BB or an old Shimano unit to strip of its cups.

The front derailleur is a basic but nicely engineered Suntour Cyclone II model. It has an interesting mounting system, where there's a band/post combination that you clamp around the seat tube (you can make this out in the top photo), and then you mount the derailleur to that contraption's threaded post. Honestly it seems needlessly complex, but it's a neat piece of engineering, and I bet this simplified supporting the various seat tube sizes that were more common 25-30 years ago than today. The derailleur is blocky in an early 1980's sort of way, but it's nearly all aluminum and looks nicely made.

The rear derailleur is a matching Cyclone part. It's simple and delicate by the standards I'm used to (nearly everything I have wears a Shimano derailleur from the 1990's, which tend to be more sculpted and have more stuff grafted to them). I took it partially apart, cleaned and regreased the cage pivot spring, cleaned and regreased the pulleys (which both feature a bushing, unlike any of my Shimano derailleurs, which have one nice pulley and one crappy one), and lubed the link pivots. It's all clean and pretty, now, and I'm looking forward to seeing how well it shifts.

Actually, if I can digress for a minute, one of the things I'm really interested in experiencing with this bike is the shifting quality. The teeth on the freewheel are not "shaped" like those on a contemporary Hyperglide or similar rear cluster. And the derailleur is a more or less modern parallelogram design, but an old example of the breed. There are videos up on YouTube that show how different generations of derailleurs shift, from older Campagnolo models to Suntour models only a few years newer than mine to newer Shimano stuff like I normally ride. Some of these need adjustment, but it's fascinating to watch these clips if you're a bike geek.

Oh, gosh -- I just admitted to being a bike geek. Well, I guess that's OK -- you knew.

Anyway, the point is I'm used to drivetrains circa 1995, and I'm dialing the clock back 15 years or so from there, and I'm curious as to how different the shift quality will be. And I suppose someday I'll have to get a new bike to see how current stuff works -- probably ridiculously well.

The shifters on the bike are Campagnolo Gran Sport, I think. They're basic, classic, clamp-on Campy friction units. Pretty and smooth, and a bit of a throw-back. I'm using retrofriction Suntour bar-end shifters on the Schwinn, and like the micro-clicks I get with those. And I've tried the friction settings on my Shimano shifters on other bikes, and not been terribly happy with them. So we'll see how these work out. I can always find a set of Simplex retrofriction shifters at some point, if I don't like the experience. Or maybe the set of Silver bar-ends from Rivendell I've been promising myself for over a year.

Lastly, I picked up a SRAM chain like I have on most of my bikes. That's still in its little box, but it's a chain, so there's really not much to see, there.

The brakes were once the nicest components on the bike (Suntour Superbe), but they've needed/still need some help. For one, the caliper springs are pretty rusty. My guess is I'm going to have to replace them, but I haven't found any online, and need to do more digging. Initially I wasn't too worried about the rust, but in playing with them, it's clear that the small contact points between the spring ends and the calipers need to be treated like bearing surfaces, and that rusty springs won't be healthy for longevity or smoothness. The other issue is that the aluminum adjuster barrels/cable stops were frozen. They popped right out without damaging the calipers, but the adjusters wouldn't turn -- completely frozen up. So I did some research online and found that Campagnolo parts are a good replacement option. For the Superbe levers, I've ordered a set of replacement hoods as well. The levers look to be in nice shape, and they're drilled and quite pretty.

The brake pads are OEM Suntour salmon pads, and my initial approach has been to simply sand down their braking surface to expose fresh pad compound and clean some grit out of them. We'll see how they feel. Easy enough to replace them if they don't bite anymore.

And that goes for the brakes in general, actually. I've toyed with the idea of running a cantilever fork and front brake just for grins, and I may do just that if I don't like the way the Superbe brakes feel or if I just feel like doing something different.

The SR seatpost is a very interesting design, and I'm assuming it's an OEM component. It needs to fit in a French frame, so it's a 26.0-diameter post. It's a two-bolt design, and it's a sort of hybrid between the design of the two-bolt Campagnolo post I put on my wife's Bianchi, and an old side-clamp/straight post design. The inner halves of the clamps are riveted to the post, and the rivets serve as pivots to allow the saddle angle to be changed. The outer halves of the clamps are through-bolted to the post body, and the two clamping nuts are right next to each other, nestled in the center of the post. It's a complex and interesting design. Not light, and probably a lot more expensive to make than a modern single-bolt design. Neat stuff!

Last weekend I put the red Selle San Marco saddle that was originally on Juli's Fuji onto the Paramount, where it coordinates nicely with the red cable housing on that bike. Then I took the old brown Brooks Team Professional that I've had on that bike for a season, and bolted it to the SR seatpost for the Motobecane. The saddle has been pretty heavily oiled this winter, and it showing signs of heretofore unseen softness. This will be the saddle's last chance to serve as a functioning bike part -- at least for me. If it doesn't work out, I'll let it dry out again, give it a few shiny coats of clear shoe polish and put it somewhere as a piece of cycling decor. In that event, I may move the green Brooks from the Paramount to this bike, and wrap the bars in matching green leather tape. I think that combo would work very well with the Motobecane's champagne metallic paint. Then I can use a black or honey saddle on the Schwinn, which might look better with its orange paint.

Bars and Stem
Lots to do up here, as I started to touch on earlier.

The bike came with a set of steel MTB bars threaded through a steel riser stem (I think to the old US/BMX steerer spec, actually, so it fits the French steerer, but not tightly), with a set of inexpensive Shimano MTB levers on it. The bar actually started life as a nail-polish pink, it seems, and had been resprayed. In any case, it's not quite what I was looking for.

Steve supplied the original Pivo stem (sans quill and quill bolt) and Pivo drop bars, with the original Motobecane plugs(!). The stem is in nice shape, and for someone with the right parts to complete it, might be a useful spare. But I don't have the right parts. The bars have a nice enough bend, but they're scored where they rotated at some point in the clamp and I don't trust them. But I'm going to use them in the MTB stem for a test ride, and then recycle them when I replace the fork (these are not an eBay candidate -- I don't need to get sued).

I have a set of Belleri bars waiting for installation on the Schwinn, and I'll set aside a half day to do a massive bar/stem swap. I'll move the Nitto bars from the Schwinn over to the Motobecane. I also have an '80's Nitto stem I can use, once the fork is replaced to British specs. I'll probably leave the steerer tube long and add spacers under the headset's top nut to let me raise the bar up a bit. Alternatively, I can go with a threadless setup, but there's more to buy in that case. In any case, the frame is bigger than the Kestrel's, but smaller than the Schwinn's so a bit of rise in the bars will be helpful.

I have a V-O decaleur mount that I'll also install. This one is different than the one I have for the Schwinn, in that it doesn't bolt to the bar clamp on the stem, it mounts as a headset spacer/washer. Depending on what I decide to do for a fork and/or for brakes, I'll have some options for a rack to support the decaleur-mounted front bag from underneath:
  • If I go with a cantilever fork/brake setup, I can run a Nitto M-12 rack up front and that will be more than strong enough for heavy loads up front.
  • If I stick with the Superbe brakes, I can use any number of front racks, depending on what the fork supports -- Velo-Orange has a few models that mount either to P-clamps or eyelets on the fork blades, or down at the dropouts through eyelets, and Rivendell offers a couple of Nitto Front racks (the Mini front and Mark's Rack) that'd work just fine as well.
  • If I decide to retro the bike out a bit, I could use a set of Mafac brakes with a little Mafac rack I have for those brakes.
Lots of options, in any case, and that's part of what's making this a fun project!

Either way, I need to fit my decaleur mount to my new handlebar bag. I didn't bother last season, because I got it very late and needed it for a camping weekend I did. But it's time to do that. Since I'll be using it on two bikes, I may need to do some fiddling/refitting to find a position that will work for both, and I may not be able to pull that off, given the bikes are different sizes -- I'll find out. I'll also have to remove the bag-side part of its plastic quick-release mount, since that'll be in the way.

For the rear, I'm planning to re-use the Viva bag support that was on my wife's Bianchi until recently. Alternatively, I might use the Rivendell Hupe I bought for a friend. It fits on the frame it was intended for, but not well, and we're going to experiment with the two racks to see which works best for each frame. We'll re-gift appropriately, as needed.

I'm still really digging the new Rivendell Sackville bags, particularly the medium one. The price tag is a a pretty big investment in a bag (for a Yankee like me, anyway), but at the same time, it'd probably last forever, and I could move it between the Motobecane and the Schwinn as needed. And if at some point Rivendell makes a handlebar bag (to match, mind you), that might be a nice investment as well.

Hopefully by next week I'll be able to share some riding experiences, rather than just doing a show & tell about parts.

All for now,