Sunday, May 31, 2009

First Real Ride on the Motobecane Grand Touring

I logged probably 15 miles on my mid-1970's Motobecane Grand Touring today. This qualifies as the first real ride on the bike, and I have some impressions to share as well as a few things to clean up.

Essentially this is an old-school bike-boom 10 speed, except it's currently running 126mm hubs and a 6-speed freewheel. And it feels old-school, but mostly in a good way.

For example, the brake levers have a decidedly blocky feel under the fingers, the bodies an undersized feel in the hand when riding "on the hoods", and the cable housing loops out where all creation can see them. This is actually very handy for making adjustments to the cable and housing length, as well as to the location of the lever bodies on the bars, but the point is it's a very different feel than you get today with modern aero levers. And the Superbe brakeset has plenty of power and good modulation, so though they may be old, they work beautifully.

It's the only bike in my fleet that I can ride no-handed. The last bike I had that I could do that on was the Raleigh Rapide I rode from when I was 13 until I went off to college. The Shogun and Kestrel are high strung, but the Paramount and Schwinn are not, particularly. So I'd assumed this had more to do with advancing years and the slowing of reflexes, but now I think it's the geometry (and maybe alignment) of the frames of all those other bikes. It's nice to know I'm not actually feeble yet, at 42. Given that most of my other bikes are more recent designs than the Motobecane, I'm going to chalk that up to old fashioned sensibilities as well. I'm not sure how to chalk up the Schwinn in this regard, which pre-dates the Motobecane by a few years, and that long-gone Raleigh by nearly a decade.

Dire predictions about the adverse handling effects of a fork swap aside, I'd say the new fork is working out just fine. The 531 fork is of similar vintage but has a significantly different bend than the original French fork. I didn't notice anything untoward about the handling, actually -- it feels great. And there's the no-hands thing, too, of course.

The frame (which has Vitus 172 main tubes) feels relatively soft, which you shouldn't take as too much of a critique. Judging by what happens with the outer chainring's position relative to the front derailleur as I'm climbing, there's a fair amount of flex in the bottom bracket, and the ride quality is pretty smooth. It doesn't feel fast and explosively efficient like my Kestrel 200SCi, but nobody said it had to. And though the bottom bracket flexes more, the frame doesn't deliver the sting over impacts that the Shogun used to.

The drivetrain shifts beautifully. I'm not really sold on the Campagnolo friction shift levers, because I like some sort of feedback in the lever (these are smooth, even buttery, but I like retrofriction shifters better), but the Suntour Cyclone derailleurs are quick and precise. The front shifting is faster than anything else I have, even without all the ramps and pins that are part and parcel of today's groupsets. And the rear shifts cleanly and quickly over a freewheel that's likewise devoid of Hyperglide tooth profiles. Very nice.

The saddle is an old Brooks Team Professional that I've mentioned here before. I spent last winter trying to soften it with neatsfoot oil, and I have to say that it felt pretty good today. It hasn't adapted to my shape yet, but even so it doesn't feel like a pressure-treated 4x4 anymore. Honestly, it's not any worse under my bum than any other saddle I have, which is a radically better situation than I had last summer, when it left my perch points battered and sore after a week of riding maybe 100 miles on it (on the Paramount, no less, which has cushy high-volume tires on it). Apparently neatsfoot oil realy is the stuff for loosening up old leather saddles. Thank you Sheldon Brown, once again...

Open Items
I need to wrap the handlebars. Right now they're bare aluminum without even any end plugs. The Nitto 115 bars provide plenty of feedback that way, yes, but they're a little harsh, even with gloves. I have some black cork wrap I'll put on them for the rest of the season, in lieu of using the red Tressostar tape I'd bought for the bike (which I'm setting aside, given what Juli's bars feel like underhand). This is the only change I'd classify as urgent.

I also need to take the unusual and unidentified headset off and put on the new Tange headset I have waiting for the bike. I'd planned to hold off, but I can't run a lock washer on the current setup and the top nuts keep loosening up as a result. I'm going to polish up the headset I have on there now and put it on eBay. Yeah, I suppose this one is urgent too, for safety reasons.

It needs a paint job. It's on the scruffy side, and the fork and frame don't match. Maybe this winter I'll get it painted, along with Juli's Fuji, in matching colors (won't that be just too cute). I think I've said before that I'd like to get something in a Bugatti blue with silver lugs or lug lining, but we'll see where I end up, there. No rush on this one, definitely.

I need to shorten the brake cables and housings to get the loops even and a little less gangly up front. And again, I may swap out the shifters if I can find an inexpensive set of Simplex retrofriction clamp-ons. These two are is mostly aesthetic, as well.

I ought to replace the tires at some point, too, as the ones on there are getting up there in years. I used them on the Schwinn last year, and on the Shogun before that. So maybe that's three urgents. A set of Panaracers with a little tread would make riding on grassy trails a possibility, so I may go that route.

I may also put a set of Look pedals on the bike. I have two extra pair kicking around, so that's easy enough to do. The dust cap on one of the pedals unscrewed and rolled into an intersection on my ride, so at a minimum I need to torque them down a bit more.

The rims are going to need replacement at some point, as the anodization on the square old Mavics is pretty worn. And when I do that, I'll swap the brake pads as well. But no real rush on either, as the brakes still stop pretty smoothly, with only a hint of snatching at the more worn spots on the braking surfaces. This will be expensive when the time comes, so there's really no rush on this one.

The biggest change is that I want to replace the cranks, and at that point I'll have to do the BB as well. I can feel the difference between 170's and 172.5's, and I don't like the feel of spinning up to a cadence on shorter cranks, which this bike has (the Shogun and Paramount also have 170's, but the Kestrel and Schwinn have 172.5's). I've really known this since I first got 172.5 cranks on the Kestrel , but had still hoped for the best with this bike. I may actually look for something with a smaller BCD and smaller rings, install those on the Schwinn, and move the 105SC cranks on that bike onto the Motobecane. The crankset on the bike now is an SR Apex with 42/52 rings. The bottom bracket is a Tange cup-and-cone component with Swiss threading, and I think a 125mm axle.

I have a 36 tooth inner ring for the Apex cranks, which will make it more versatile than the current setup. I need to install that and get some benefit from it, since I spent the money. And I also bought a replacement Shimano UN-72 bottom bracket whose cups have been removed, and a set of Swiss-threaded Phil Wood mounting rings (stainless) to use with this crankset. But if I get a new crankset, those are probably both sunk costs that maybe their next owner will benefit from more than me.

In any case, I'm calling the build a success, despite needing to do a few minor and major changes to get it just the way I want it. It's not yet pretty, but it's an enjoyable ride, and I'm glad to have it in the stable.

All for now,


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sunday Ride

I took my kids for a ride this weekend. Ava on her trailer bike, Juliana on her Fuji, and me on my Schwinn.
For our ride, we targeted one of my favorite destinations -- Breakneck Hill Farm. This is one of the two farms the town has acquired in recent years, in order to repurpose them as recreational open space. It's a quick 3 mile ride from the house, so it's a great destination while the girls are still strengthening their legs. I want to try the other one as well -- maybe next weekend.

When we got there, we rode a little ways onto the trails, then parked the bikes and took a hike when the girls' mother joined us. The nice thing about the farm is that biking and walking are both allowed on the trails, but not enough bikes use the trails to damage them, so they stay grassy and smooth and uneroded.

The trails form a big loop that cuts across the front hills, then winds along the back side of the farm, back to this bridge. There are a handful of cut-throughs mowed into the pasture to let you shorten the walk, which takes about an hour if you take the whole thing at a leisurely pace. We walked maybe half of it before heading home.

The trustees of the farm maintain a herd of those black and white cows. I understand they were originally purchased to try to keep the brush at bay, but ultimately, the farm had gone too far to seed for that approach to work. It took a persistent effort at mowing and brush clearing to get it back to this state, and I'm sure that there were many bad cases of poison ivy stemming from that effort. In any case, the cows mostly keep to themselves, grazing in the pasture area set aside for them. But in the fall you can get their attention by plucking some (pretty unappetizing to people) apples from the few trees in reach of the trails, which they'll eat out of your hand.

Overall, a nice ride. Next Saturday we'll ride to socccer again, and I hope to to get Ava riding without training wheels for the first time.

All for now,


Monday, May 25, 2009

Derailleur Swap for Schwinn Sports Tourer

The derailleur situation on my 1972 Schwinn Sports Tourer has been sub-optimal since I finished the build a year ago.

When I first built the bike up, I used a mix of early 1990's Shimano derailleurs. At the rear, I had a Shimano 700CX derailleur, which appears to have pretty much the same quality and design as a contemporary 105SC rear derailleur -- painted aluminum outer parallelogram link and knuckles, stainless inner parallelogram link and cage and unsealed pulleys. And at the front, I used a 105SC braze-on derailleur (the one that came with my Kestrel), mounted to an oversized and shimmed Shimano braze-on adapter clamp.

How was this sub-optimal? Well, both derailleurs worked seamlessly within the range of their design. The long cage of the rear derailleur wrapped enough chain to support the broad spread of gears I'm running, and the functionality of this part was as flawless as I've experienced with any recent Shimano derailleur. But the maximum cog limit of the rear derailleur was more like 30 teeth than the 32 I'm running, so there was a lot of noise (and probably wear) in the lowest gear, as the guide pulley rode right on top of the first cog.

Up front, there was no functionality problem at all, but what I'd cobbled together certainly wasn't elegant. A standard Shimano clamp-on front derailleur made for 28.6 tubing doesn't wrap around the slightly oversized Schwinn tubes, you see, and I didn't want to either break a clamp or crimp a tube. So I went with a way oversized adapter and shims, and it worked just fine as I said. But it tugged at me.

So over the past few months, I've been scheming. I bought a set of Suntour derailleurs a while back. The rear was the Superbe Tech you can see in the photo from my last post. And the front was a Superbe Pro with the band-type mounting system I first encountered on the Motobecane Steve gave me. I wasn't familiar with these prior to that encounter, but essentially there's a chromed strap that wraps around the seat tube. The strap is sized to fit the seat tube and held together with a stud that serves as both a pin to clamp down the strap and a mounting point for the derailleur body. Seeing this on the Motobecane, I incorrectly guessed that these were one-size fits all, or somehow adjustable. I discovered that wasn't the case today, but even so figured I'd have better luck making one of these fit a Schwinn seat tube than a cast aluminum clamp. And indeed, it wasn't a lay-up, but it only took a few moments of fiddling with a pair of pliers to get the Superbe Pro front derailleur to fit.

That's the front. At the rear, I installed a Shimano XT derailleur, which has a maximum cog size of I think 34 teeth, so it works great with my rear cluster. While I had the old derailleur off, I inspected the brass shim I'd made to adapt the Huret dropout to modern derailleurs, and it looks no different than when I put it on. Works fine with the XT derailleur, too, as expected. The other thing of note about the rear derailleur is that it's a Rapid Rise model. That means the spring in the derailleur body pushes, rather than pulls, so at rest, the derailleur wants to be in low gear, rather than top gear. The effect of this is that it reverses the orientation of your rear derailleur lever. So with my Suntour ratcheting bar-ends (which work really well with this derailleur, I've already found), pulling up on the right lever shifts up, rather than down. It's a little odd, I have to admit, but I'm sure I'll get used to it. I have three basic shifter layouts in operation in my fleet anyway, so remembering that the bar ends work one way vs. another way shouldn't be a big deal. However, if I'm coaching Juli, I'm going to have to remember what "go up a gear" or "go down a few gears" means on her bike.

My ride today was on the Kestrel, and I only made a quick test run up to the next driveway to make sure I didn't screw anything up. So far so good, but not a lot of data yet. I'll learn more on my ride to soccer next weekend with the girls, weather permitting.

I'd also be interested to hear what others have done with these bikes, in this department. Anyone else tackle a modernization of one of these great old tanks?

While I was at it today, I also swapped the Ultegra rear derailleur on Ava's trailer bike for a similar but more beat-up unit. That one works fine, but the rear adjuster barrel is kind of hosed (the threading in the knuckle is messed up). Since she's not running indexed shifters, that's NBD, but I can unload the one I pulled off on eBay for more than I'd get for a damaged one. I'm still clearing out my parts box, so that's one more part to list.

All for now,


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Desk Toys

Apologies for the cell phone photo, but wanted to share.

A Shimano 600 shift lever, gutted.

A Carmichael (I think) derailleur pulley I had on my Paramount's Shimano Deore LX rear derailleur for a while.

A bronze gear from the gearbox of my Gravely's snowblower implement.

A Rivendell head tube lug.

And the pride of my collection of desk toys -- a Suntour Superbe Tech rear derailleur. One of the most complicated derailleurs ever devised, and a colossal failure that helped open the door to Shimano's current dominance. As flawed as it is, it's very cool to hold in your hand and articulate.

All for now,



This is my fortieth post. And it's been a long time coming. Nearly a month since my last. There's been a lot going on in my life of late, and this little project has been pushed to the side for a bit. 40 is a highly symbolic number, and it seemed fitting to me that so much has happened between this post and the last.

I started this blog shortly after moving out of my house and into an apartment. Moving out was surprisingly difficult, and the first week or two I didn't really know what to do with myself (part of why I started writing, I'm sure). But it also gave me an emotionally safe space to call home, and plenty of time to think about who I wanted to be and how I wanted to shape my life going forward. It was a nice apartment -- the backdrop for many of my photos on this blog, and I'm grateful I was able to use it.

Today, I'm writing this from the dining room of the home I bought with my wife nearly ten years ago, three weeks after I moved back in. My children are upstairs sleeping (I'm privileged to have them half the time, now that I'm not in a 1-bedroom apartment anymore), and my wife is living in an apartment in the next town west. I don't really know how long I'll stay here, but I think I'd like it to be a long time. Years, not months. It's hard to say whether that's a possibility, given what's happening in the economy right now, among other things, but it's a nice thought to hold onto.

The house was a complete disaster when I moved back in, for reasons that are largely understandable, and I've still got some work to do to make the place liveable. I'm taking it room by room, and this weekend I'm enlisting the help of my daughters to clean out their room. Once the house is de-cluttered and clean, I'll be able to get back to the long list of projects that need completion -- painting, installing that new post I made over the winter, yard work, adding railings to secondary stairwells, and more. These will have to be done for the house to go onto the market, or I can string them out a bit if I decide to buy my wife out and stay in the house instead.

In between figuring out a new routine and a new schedule, moving, cleaning and taking care of the house, I've been working on bikes, and I've got a lot to share. Too much for this post, and some of the stories aren't finished anyway, but I'll at least set the stage for a couple of future posts.

Juli's Fuji
Juli's bike is pretty much done. The handlebars have been twined and shellacked, and she's taken her first long ride on the Fuji. Today will be her second. She's still getting used to it, and is nervous riding it, but she'll get there. It's an inch too tall for her to stand over comfortably right now, but it fits her just fine from the saddle, paticularly with those bars. I think the bike (at top) looks great -- a little old-fashioned country bike. That wasn't the intent, of course, but the cut-down Velo-Orange bars work better for her than the original drop bars, and that's what matters most. I love how the shellacked tape and twine looks (though it feels a little rough under the palms, honestly, and I'm not sure I'll replicate the look on any of my own bikes going forward). The Fuji still needs a new blinky (I broke the one I'd clamped to the Pletscher rack taking it off the bike rack and standing it on its rear wheel), I need to snug the rack bolts down a bit more, and the headset will need to be at least repacked and possibly replaced, and then it should truly be finished.

Juli's first real ride on this bike was nearly a disaster, btw, and that was really my fault. I assumed she'd remember how to ride on the road, given our time last year riding separately, and given the past few years of rear seat time on the trailer bike. But between the passing months and being nervous about her new bike, she clearly didn't, and she nearly plowed into a passing minivan. Today, we'll exercise greater care on our second ride, and take a less traveled route to the soccer fields. Tip of the day: Don't assume your kids retain safe habits!

My Schwinn Sports Tourer
Since my last post, I've Proofided the green Brooks handlebar tape and twined the ends. One side has since un-twined, so I have to redo it once the blister I got on my right pinky twining the bars is healed up. Then I'll shellac the twine to keep it from undoing and give it a bit of weather protection. I've also installed a 6-speed IRD freewheel and learned a bit more about what will and won't fit the hub. I could probably go with a 7, but right now I'll stick with the 6. This bike is likewise nearly done, but I want to install a blinky and put my headlight on it. I also want to swap out the rear derailleur because the one I have really won't support more than 30 teeth on the rear cluster, and I'm running a 14-32 freewheel. I'm watching a bunch of Shimano XT/XTR Rapid Rise derailleurs on eBay now, so I should have that done any day now.

I also picked up a NOS Suntour Superbe front derailleur with their endless band mounting system, after seeing the one on the Motobecane, and need to install it. I can simplify the front derailleur mount situation on the Schwinn with this derailleur. Today I'm running a brazed-on Shimano derailleur, bolted to an oversized and shimmed adapter mount to allow for the Schwinn's slightly oversized tubing. It works, but it's not pretty.

Also not pretty is the sound the Mafac brakes make when the salmon pads make contact with the polished aluminum rims on the bike, now. They seem to have bedded-in a bit on the first ride this season, so it's better than it was initially, but it's still pretty obnoxious and I need to quiet them down. Oh, and just a note -- the Velo-Orange Course cages I put on the bike are lovely, but they're best used with plastic bottles. The radius of the curve of their outer wire is a bit wider than is the norm, and my Sigg bottles flop and rattle around a bit in them. No big deal, but be aware.

Steven's Motobecane Grand Touring
This bike has been sort of neglected of late, but there are a few things I'd like to get back to over the next few weeks.

I have a replacement headset for it, which I was reluctant to install until I knew the fork would feel OK. A shorter stack on the headset should allow me to use the decaleur mount I have for it. The spokes need to be gone over a bit (they're a little soft), the brake cables evened and cut back a bit, the new hoods installed, and the bars wrapped. The tires should also probably be replaced as the threads are starting to peel on the Continentals that are on there. I'll go with something fatter, I think, since there's plenty of room on the frame for 27x1 1/4, which are far plumper than most anything on a 700c rim. I also picked up a 36 tooth front chainring to replace the 42 (or maybe I'll set it up as a 36/42, rather than a 36/52, just for grins). And I've picked up a Shimano cartridge bottom bracket for it. This is a new old-stock BB UN-72 that cost me $10 plus shipping on eBay. The nice thing about this bottom bracket is you can remove the Shimano cups from the bottom bracket, and you end up with something a bit like a Phil Wood cartridge bottom bracket, but not as nice and a lot cheaper. I just need to get some Swiss Phil Wood rings, and I should be able to swap the old cup-and cone bottom bracket out. But mostly this bike just needs some more saddle time.

I have to say it looks awful with the blue fork. Next winter, I'll figure out the paint situation between the frame and fork, and if I'm flush with cash, maybe I'll get Juli's Fuji stripped and painted as well.

Allyson's Bertoni
I've mentioned that I've been helping a friend get her bike up and running. I'll pull together a more detailed post about this bike at some point, but it was essentially a bit of an overhaul and a bit of an upgrade. It was a nice bike to start with -- just aging. It's been a sporadic project, but Allyson finished her Bertoni a couple of weeks ago by wrapping her handlebar tape and getting the bike fitted at Belmont WheelWorks. The guy who fit her was a little concerned about the depth of the handlebar drops, but she's going to roll with it for a while before making any further changes. In any case, she's now got a bike on which to explore her new neighborhood, which includes the Concord battlefield, Walden Pond, the Alcott house and other historic and literary stuff right up her alley.

Brian's Nishiki
My friend Brian has been family since we met Freshman year at WPI. He's been in New Jersey for 20 years, first at grad school, then with his wife, and now with his kids (fraternal twins, one of each gender, two months younger than Juli). In his neck of the woods, there are old canals that stretch for miles, and their pathways are perfect for riding. He's talked about riding the canals with his wife and kids, but hasn't really done it, in part because he finds his aluminum mountain bike to be very uncomfortable. So I cleverly devised a scheme to get him riding. I found on eBay a few weeks ago a pair of bikes being sold for pick-up in Pennsylvania. Both were the right size for him, but one was suited for club racing, and the other for much more casual riding. That second one was a dusty old Nishiki Riviera in black. Not a high-end bike, but there is no shame to be found in its double-butted frame with forged dropouts. It has potential.

Anyway, the scheme was to win the bikes, drive to PA to get them, swing by his house in NJ on the way home, let him pick a bike (I encouraged him to pick the Nishiki) and sell the other on eBay to fund a refit. That second bike was an amazing find, really -- an unused 20 year-old Bianchi. But I didn't need another bike, so I listed it and sold it (for a nice sum, at that) on eBay. The proceeds from that sale will allow Brian and me to upgrade his "new" Nishiki with new tires, new swept-back handlebars, new brake levers and grips, a Brooks saddle, new chain, new cables and housings, new brake pads, a rack and bottle cages. I'll gather the parts in the next month or so, and Brian will bring the bike up in June for us to spend a weekend on. The goal is to send Brian home with a rebuilt bike, and out onto the canals in comfort and style. So far, so good.

Oh! And I've figured out what to do for pannier loops on my wife's bike (the Nitto R-15 has no loops, and I've been trying to figure out a solution for the lower pannier mounts. I'll implement it and circle back with a picture. I think it's a clever approach -- and multi-purpose at that.

And I think that's it for post number 40. I'm going to try to get back into the rhythm of a Saturday morning post. I've got plenty to drill into already, and the riding season lies before me, ready to unfold. The mowing season, too, as you can see.

All for now,