Sunday, April 19, 2009

'70's Bars

It was a busy weekend for handlebars on old bicycles. Things are starting to come together, and I should have both of my older bikes (the Schwinn and the Motobecane) ready for the road very soon, along with Juliana's Fuji. Actually, the Fuji and Motobecane are ridable today, but the Schwinn isn't. All three are very close to complete.

Juliana's Fuji:
This thing is just as cute as all get-out, and it'll look even better with the bars taped, twined and shellacked. I'll hold off on a pic until that's done.

A couple of weeks ago, I'd installed the Velo Orange Belleville bars, and discovered their grips were way too long for this application. So today I took the Shimano bar-end shifters off the bike, pulled out the larger of my two pipe cutters and removed one screwdriver shank's worth of length from each side's grip area. Unconventional measuring tool aside, I made an effort to be very precise so there wouldn't be any uneven strangeness to the bike. The pipe cutter is just a home plumbing tool made for copper pipe, but the aluminum handlebars didn't present a challenge, and after a little filing, the shifters were back in place within a half hour of starting the job.

Next, I spent a few minutes fiddling with cable routing to get a sense of how I'm going to have to set things up before taping. It looks like I'll need to run the shifter cables under the cloth tape, to make sure Juli doesn't tangle her fingers while reaching for a brake. I've got some aluminum duct tape that I'll stick the cables down with, so I don't end up with black stripes of electrical tape showing through the red cloth Tressostar tape.

After I got some tentative cable routing sorted out, I called Juli outside and sent her teetering around the driveway on her new ride. She seemed much happier with this arrangement than she was with her drop bars (but still nervous about the top tube height). I'll probably leave the bike this way indefinitely, and get her something sportier when she grows out of this little one.

My Schwinn Sports Tourer:
Today was a day of details for this bike. I'd removed the Nitto bars in favor of a set of Belleri randonneuring bars a few weeks back, but hadn't wrapped them or adjusted the lengths of the brake cables to account for their reduced width. So I took care of that today, first fitting the cables, then adding a little cork wrap along the bar flats, then wrapping the bars in green leather Brooks tape. Which sort of matches the green Brooks saddle, except that the saddle doesn't look very green anymore.

I also spent a few minutes reinstalling the decaleur mount and trying to angle it so it'd work with the bag and the Mafac rack. Truth is I cut it way too short when I had it mounted the first time (sans racklet), but I'll give this setup a whirl and hope for the best. I need to figure out how to lash the bag down to the racklet, too.

I wheeled it out once the bars were wrapped and took this picture. You'll notice the drooping chain -- no freewheel yet. Hopefully that'll arrive this week, and with a little adjustment to the derailleur travel, the bike will be ready to roll again.

It's now almost exactly a year after I first finished it. The first photo I took of the bike after the initial build was in front of that big bush in the background, in full bloom. The bush is just about to bloom again -- you can see the little buds opening. So it's a bush year, if not a calendar year. The bike was sportier then, with 700c wheels, flatter bars and no racks. But I think it's pretty handsome as it is now, too.

I couldn't ride it without a freewheel, but doing a little testing, the Mafac brakes are a little squeaky against these rims -- hopefully that won't last long. And I need to saddle soap the leather and twine the ends.

Steven's Motobecane Grand Touring:
Having test-installed the fork a few weeks ago, there was still a bit of finish work left for this one. I installed the bars and brake levers, put the brake cables back on and adjusted the brakes. Then I set the pads properly for the 700c rims, snugged down the mounting bolts for the brakes, centered them on the rims, and hopped on for a ride.

It felt good, at least in that little trip around the corner and back. The steering feels a little different than it did with the old fork, but it doesn't feel messed up -- just a little different. The gearing with the wider 6-speed freewheel is much better than it was, and the Campagnolo shifters are buttery. I'm going to have to give it a good long ride soon, and write something up about that experience. My hope is that the fork will get the job done, and I won't have to look for another. The feel of the saddle is OK, so all that oiling I did over the winter might have salvaged it. It's got a dull oiled-leather finish to it now, rather than a polished shine, but that's OK.

There are still a few things to do. The brake levers need to slide up a smidge higher on the bars, I need to take a few inches out of the brake cables to make them look not quite so dorky (and to even their loops out), the bars need to be taped and twined, and I need to figure out how and when to put the hoods on, relative to the other steps.

A couple of observations from an aesthetic perspective. The 700c rims fill the frame just fine, and I can run a fatter tire next time. But the dark anodized finish of these rims give the bike a very different appearance than it had with the polished rims it came with. The wheels look extra dark with the brown Continental sidewalls, too, and I'm not sure I like the look as much. It's sportier, for sure. And of course, the other big change is the blue fork, which just looks terrible in combination with the tan frame. I'm going to leave it as is for now, and at some point I'll make a decision about the finish of the fork and the bike overall. The frame has some rust stains and the like, and a new paint job might be nice. Or I could just get the fork stripped and chromed.

I've always wanted a bike painted the color of a Bugatti Type 35, so I may go that route. A refinish (and the attendant rebuild) would be a good project for next winter.

All for now,


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I have a car. It's a 2006 Mazda3 sedan, and you've seen it in another post.

This morning on the way to work, I crossed the 93,000 mile threshold, so while it's not old in people years, the car is getting up there in the metric that counts most for cars. High enough that I'm starting to think about what'll be next.

Last weekend, I took my daughters to visit a friend in New Jersey, and on Saturday we all went to the New York International Auto Show. We had a good time, and I saw lots of nice cars. Just a few impressions, first:
  • I like the new Ford Taurus. It's all new, and it looks great in a big sedan kind of way. It's not my kind of car, really, but I like it.
  • Almost nobody seems to make real wagons anymore. Instead, they make SUV/crossover AWD things that get lousy gas mileage and don't handle as well as a wagon would. Or hold any more than a wagon would. Bummer.
  • I once had a Passat wagon, and VW still makes wagons (as do Saab, Volvo, and BMW). But I've owned my last car that costs me north of $1000 every time I go to the dealer just because a light is on. No, thanks. Plus Ford is looking to sell Volvo to one of the Chinese automakers, and I've seen those crash test vids on YouTube thank you very much. And I'd be stunned if the Saab nameplate survived GM's current ills.
  • It sure is easy to buy big horsepower these days. But I really don't think you need more than 150 hp or so in a normal car, unless the car is too big and heavy in the first place. Yeah, a 400 hp Camaro would be fun, but it's really hard to use 400 hp, except in a way that's bound to piss other people off or get you arrested. I can use all 156 of my Mazda's horsepower and most of the tachometer's range pretty much any time I want and not get road raged or arrested, and still have a grin on my face.

Anyway, there were lots of cars there that were very nice, but pretty much all of them didn't really interest me in the sense that I thought they would work for me and meet all of my criteria. I have two little kids and want a dog, and need space to carry bikes, and like to fling my car around, and really have a hard time with a car that extracts less than 30 miles from a gallon of fuel. And the choices for someone who needs all that are pretty slim, really.

The Mazda5 might work, but my wife has an Odyssey and the sliding doors rattle, so I'm a little wary of those. I hear that Honda might bring the Stream to the US in a few years, which is kind of like a smaller version of the first generation Odyssey (which had car-like rear doors, not sliders), but Honda tends not to be too showy about what it's doing next, so it's hard to say. Tall cars tend to be tippier, too, so I'm not sure how fun either would be.

I'm still a couple of years off, probably. But again, for a guy who likes to drive and has kids and wants a dog and carries bikes and wants 30 mpg and none of the unnecessary complexity that comes with AWD, the choices are slim.

My Mazda, btw, returned 31 mpg on the way to NJ, and 32 on the way back, hauling two kids plus me and our luggage, and not at all putting along in the slow lane. No dog, and no bikes, granted, but still pretty good.

All for now,


5, 6 or 7? 120 or 126?

I'm in the process of sorting out wheels and freewheels for my Schwinn Sports Tourer and my Motobecane Grand Touring. And some of my understanding of rear hubs and freewheels is being challenged in the process.

I've reassigned the 27" wheelset that came with the Motobecane to the Schwinn. This is a good thing, as they fill the frame up a little better, and take a little pressure off the rear Mafac brake to reach all the way down to a 700c rim. And the plump tires I chose (1 1/4" Pasela's) should make the Schwinn's already very pleasant ride quality that much more cushy. Good stuff.

Also good stuff is that I've found that the Motobecane's frame accepts 700c rims without difficulty. More to the point, the brake bridge is located so as to allow the Suntour Superbe brakes on the back of the bike to squeeze the pads onto the rim, not the tire (just barely, but I'll take it). The new fork, though sized for a 27" rim, works fine in that regard as well, though I don't yet know if it messes up the bike's steering or handling.

At any rate, from a rim perspective, the swap is working out just fine. However, we all know that things revolve not around the rim, but around the hub. And the hubs are challenging me a bit.

The Specialized cartridge/sealed bearing hubs on the 27" rims have an outer locknut dimension(OLD) of 122mm, according to my calipers. Or did, until I added 5mm of spacers to them, 3mm on the right side and 2mm on the left. The goal was to get the hub to accept not just a 5-speed freewheel, but also a 6- or 7-speed freewheel. This, assuming that the widths of 6-and 7-speed freewheels was the same. Not, apparently, the case.

I thought I'd read that a 7-speed freewheel and a 6-speed freewheel had the same width, and that the sprockets are just crammed closer together on the 7. Same way an Ultra 6 and a 5-speed freewheel have the same width. But while adding those 3 mm to the freewheel side of the axle made the axle able to support a 6-speed Shimano 600 freewheel (an oldie but goodie), a 7-speed recent Shimano freewheel doesn't clear the locknut. It's not really even that close. In the mean time, the 700c wheelset readily accepts either a 6-speed or 7-speed, with clearance for either, and it's a 126mm wheel with a Shimano 600 hub.

So now I'm confused. I've ordered an IRD 6-speed freewheel with a nice wide gear range for the Schwinn, and we'll see if that fits. I settled on the one with more consistent gear spacing, because I figured there might be times when I missed a 28 tooth cog between a 32 and a 24, more than I'd miss a smaller gap higher up in the range. Anyway Rivendell had what I needed, so I got it, along with some hemp twine to twine the bars, and some corks to prevent the bars (hopefully) from taking a core sample of my abdomen in a crash or possibly hosting some sort of mud wasp clan someday.

I couldn't find anything that said how wide the IRD freewheels are, so I'll publish that spec when I find out -- at least the 6-speed width.

And apparently I need to sit down with some calipers to see what's keeping me from running a 7. If worst comes to worst, I can get the rear wheel re-dished at some point. I'm honestly half expecting the wheels not to hold up well, anyway, given their age and the rusty eyelets. If that happens, it'll be easy enough to justify the respacing and a new freewheel. I'll have to see how it plays out...

The weather hasn't been very cooperative recently, so I haven't gotten out yet. Am hoping for a nice Sunday morning, but the nights are still getting pretty cold. In particular, I'd like to at least get into the woods on the Paramount, where wind chill is less of a problem than out on the road on the Kestrel.

All for now,


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bikes, bikes and more bikes

I worked on no less than 4 bikes this weekend. Almost have the grease out of my fingerprints.

Juliana's Fuji:
Juli, Ava and I went to the cul-de-sac around the corner from the house a week ago. Mission 1: To get Ava used to running without training wheels. Mission 2: Get Juli onto the Fuji.

Neither worked out so well.

In fairness, Ava was nursing her left foot a bit. She had a big splinter surgically removed less than a week before. And though she was walking on it just fine, I think her confidence was a little undermined by her hurt foot. The foot is pretty much healed, so we'll try again in a few weeks. Her puppydog Hotrock had a shakedown ride in the hands of her big sister (I made a few adjustments as a result), and is ready and waiting.

Then there's Juli, who (despite hours of growth coaching this winter) is still just a little too short for her Fuji. The standover height is about right for an experienced rider, but it scares her a bit. And the reach to the brake hoods is way too far. Or was, anyway.

Last week, I ordered a Velo-Orange Belleville city bar, and this weekend, I removed the tiny little drop bars from the Fuji and migrated the bar end shifters and brake levers over to these new bars. Everything fit OK, and the aero brake levers fit just fine at the front of the bars, just inboard of the bends, sort of like a moustache bar, but without all the extra bends. She won't have a ton of hand positions, but for a season or two, it'll be fine. Next, I'm going to shorten the bars a bit to give her better clearance for her knees, and then I'll wrap the bars in cloth tape, then twine and shellac them. Not just to be pretentious, mind you. That I'll reserve for the Motobecane. No, I'm doing the shellac/cloth tape/twine thing on Juli's bike because she has little girl hands, and little girl hands don't need big fat grips that don't let them get a good purchase on the bars.

Am hoping to get all that done on Friday morning before heading to the Auto Show in NYC for the weekend with the girls. By Sunday, it should be ready for the second coat of shellac.

I managed to find a fork! Craig's list yielded a 531 fork from an old Crescent (that's an old Swedish brand) 10-speed. It's Crescent orange underneath, resprayed in what looks like the same blue my 1977 Ford Granada from High School was. The steerer is just long enough for the Motobecane, and I test-fit it this weekend with success, but without spacers. I didn't use the headset I'd ultimately like to use, though, so I may yet run into some issues.

I'm currently using the headset the fork came with, which is unlike anything I've seen before. It's to the British specs. Steel. With a knurled top not, and this crazy round "locknut" that has no faces to accept a wrench. Instead it has three holes spaced evenly around the outsides of the nut, and it looks like it is supposed to use a tool with three pins coming at it radially. Never seen anything like that, but it wouldn't be hard to make a tool using an iron pipe and some screws. In any case, it's a neat headset, but its races aren't very smooth, so I will probably put it in a box when the time comes. I have a Tange Passage in aluminum waiting.

Assuming the fork doesn't make the bike handle crazily, I'll probably just leave it alone for the season, and then blast it and get it painted or chromed over next winter. I may also get some eyelets for a V-O randonneuring front rack (or a comparable Nitto rack) brazed on in the process, but that's not strictly necessary, so we'll see.

Next up, I installed the two water bottle cages from the Schwinn on this bike using stainless cage straps. The old-style Specialized cages have the kinds of tabs needed, so off they came. I'd bought new ones for the Schwinn in anticipation of this shift, so no foul there.

Also on the Moto, I took the 27" wheelset off and reassigned it to the Schwinn. And I have a 700C wheelset and a 6- or 7-speed freewheel coming to this bike soon (I'm hoping the brakes have sufficient reach -- if they don't I'll find a set of 27" rims and get them re-laced). And I have a 36 tooth chainring to replace the 42 to widen the gearing. Between the wider cluster that's coming with the new wheelset and the wider chainring spacing (36/52), I may need to replace the derailleurs with long-cage models. At least the rear, to take up the excess chain slack.

Next up for la bicyclette Francaise are new bars, stem, hoods and tape. I'm going to use red cloth Tressostar tape, hemp twine and cork plugs. There's a distinct element of pretense in that combination, but I mostly just want to try it out to see how it feels and looks. I think it'll look nice (well... once the blue fork isn't blue anymore, that is), and I'm hoping it'll feel fine, too. I've been riding with cork/padded tape so long that it may be quite a shock to the hands.

I took the Schwinn down from the rafters and test-fit the 27" wheelset. Perfect! Even eliminates the need for pricey Mafac RAID rear brakes. But I had to take off the fenders, which are too small for the 27" rims and the plumpish tires on them. I also put on some new water bottle cages, as I've already said.

Next time, I'll be putting different bars and tape on this bike, and moving the Nitto bars over to the Motobecane. I'll also be reinstalling the decaleur mount, since I know it's not what was causing the bars to creak (that'd be their sleeved design, of course). I'm going with green leather Brooks tape on this bike, and will add a strip of foam tape underneath, under my palms for a bit of cusion.

I also have to change out the freewheel. The 5 speed New Winner cluster that came with the Motobecane is way too compact for touring (13, 15, 16, 18, 21), and I need to figure out what to put on there. I added spacers to both sides of the axle and tried a 6-speed, and it fits fine, but I'm not certain a 7 will. That'll be easy to figure out though -- I'll just test it with the one on my wife's Bianchi. If a 7 fits, I'll buy a wide-range IRD online. If only a 6 fits, I've got one of those from another wheelset I have, and I'll buy a narrower-range IRD 7 online, and put the 7 on that wheelset.

I haven't really written in depth about this project, but a friend of mine has a Bertoni racing bike that we've been rebuilding on and off since last Fall. We finished installing the cables this weekend, and it's ready for bar tape. It also got a 7-speed wheelset this weekend -- the 32-spoke wheels from the Schwinn that we swapped to match the 7-speed indexed shifters now on the Bertoni (the 6-speed indexed shifters were broken). Those are beefy wheels, and might do with a little softening up of the spokes. The 6-speed wheelset the bike came with will go on the Motobecane.

A quick spin around the parking lot showed this to be a fun and nimble bike. I'll write more about it another time.

So -- a busy weekend with the wrenches. And still a bunch to do, since two of my bikes are as a result not fully assembled. But at least two are ready to roll into Spring -- the Kestrel is my fave anyway, and the Paramount needs to get back into the woods soon. But Ava is all set, both for solo seat time and for trailerr bike time. And Juli still has a mountain bike she can ride while the Fuji waits for the final tweaks. We'll be ready to get out there soon enough...

All for now,