Sunday, July 5, 2009

Le Mongre

When I picked the Motobecane Grand Touring up at my friend Steven's apartment last Winter, I really didn't need another bike -- much less one that was a basket case. And I didn't really know what role it would serve as I started rebuilding it. Then I had to replace the fork, which really ruined the looks of the bike, but kept it functioning (well) as a bicycle. And yesterday, four and a half months after I first picked it up, the Motobecane Sports Tourer seems finally fully sorted and configured. It's not pretty, and it won't be pretty any time soon. It's a mongrel in every sense of the word (Vitus main tubes, Reynolds 531 fork, Campy shifters, Suntour derailleurs and brakes, Shimano hubs and freewheel, Mavic rims, SR cranks and seatpost, Nitto bars and stem, Tange headset, salvaged Brooks saddle, and various accessories) -- and I love it. Mongre isn't a word in French, from what I can tell, but should be. As a name it works, though.

I put 40-odd miles on Le Mongre this weekend, and the bike performed flawlessly. In the past few weeks, I made a bunch of changes, each aimed at making the bike more useful:

  • 36-tooth inner chainring for the SR Apex crankset, replacing the 42 and complementing the 52

  • Shimano Ultegra brake pads to replace the dried up and noisy red Superbe pads

  • Blinky on the front and rear to increase my visibility on dark morning rides (it's been cloudy and rainy for the past month here in MA)

  • Long-cage Suntour Cyclone Mk II rear derailleur to better manage the chain slack with such wide gear spacing

  • Zefal black plastic fenders to keep the road spray off (did I mention the wet June?)

  • The first frame pump I ever bought -- an old Zefal

The result is a bike that rides well, goes fast enough, handles well, stops well, shifts well, and carries a certain old-school cachet. It'll be perfect for wet morning rides. It'd be perfect for a short commute, with the addition of a good-sized saddle bag. It'd be pefect for fast or slow group or solo rides. It'll help me cross-train with a different pedal position. And I could probably do a century or 150 charity ride on it without a lot of discomfort. It doesn't have the looks it did as recently as March, no. But it's beautifully functional, capable and flexible, which counts for a lot. At least to me.

What my mongrel doesn't appear to do is garner much respect from other riders. When I'm out on my Kestrel, I can pretty much count on head nods, hello's, waves and the like from other riders. It's rare that I don't get a wave back. Today, no more than half the riders I passed responded to my greetings. Think about that -- same rider, dressed the same way I always do, but a dramatically different response *maybe* based on equipment.

If that's it, that's a little sad, but it's also not surprising. I can't say with honesty that I've never looked down on someone else's ride, so I need to be cautious in passing judgement, here. But I can say that working on the Schwinn and Motobecane have given me a recent appreciation for the charm of classic bikes, and I enjoy sharing that appreciation in person. But I suppose this blog is already all about that, so I won't complain.

In any case, I think the bike's mechanical and cosmetic setup is complete. It'll need tires for next season, and I want to get a computer for it, but those aren't setup issues per se. And cosmetically, I could certainly help the poor thing out by getting the frame and fork stripped and repainted a common color. But that'd cost me probably $400, and that's creeping pretty close to the price of a new production frame. As it is, it's a wonderful mutt that does everything I want it to. It just doesn't do them in style.

I know there are plenty of other mongrels out there -- anyone care to share theirs?

All for now,


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