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,


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