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,



et said...

Your girls are adorable, J ! Glad you are bikin'. Me too ! Take care, ET

John said...

Thanks, Ellen! Still on the Kona, or have you moved on? Enjoy, and let's catch up soon!