Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mongrel in Blue

The small collection of parts I needed to up the Motobecane's game a little bit arrived this week, and I spent a few hours this morning putting it back together with these new pieces, having taken it apart to the extent needed earlier in the week. I had three express goals in this little refit of one of my favorite rides: make it work for my knees, make it safer and try to improve the looks a bit.

Knees: After a recent ride on Le Mongre, I noticed the same ache that I'd been feeling in my left knee when training on the Kestrel on rollers over the winter. Apart from the knee, the common element between those two bikes in their pain-inducing configuration was the Q-factor -- the distance between the outer faces of the crank arms, at the pedals. They wear a very similar crankset model (both 105SC in 172.5, one 7-spd and one 8-spd) and each in turn the very same 111mm Phil Wood bottom bracket. The Kestrel now has a cheap Shimano cartridge BB in 108, and it's been fine since I made that change. But not the Motobecane with the 111. Narrower Q, OK. That Q, ouch. Gotta fix it.

Safety: I also rode with a group not long ago, after many years' hiatus, and plan to again tomorrow, assuming anyone else cares to show up at 8:00 on Father's Day. In a group, there's one thing you need plenty of, and that's brakes. They have to work well, respond quickly and your levers have to fall to hand right away, or you might smack into someone who slows unexpectedly to avoid something you can't yet see. The brakes on the Moto were lacking in lever placement, lever feel and effort, and power. Also in the safety category, I was riding, as it turns out, a youth handlebar stem (and a skosh beyond its maximum height at that), and old tires starting to fray a bit in the sidewalls.

Looks: When I first finished rebuilding the Motobecane, it was quite pretty. But through no fault of its own, the attractive original fork had to be replaced, and the one I found to replace it is a different color -- blue. A late-1970's Ford medium metallic blue, if there ever was one (my first car was a '77 Granada, in what my memory insists is about the same color). The rest is a champagney metallic tan-gold, with decals and panels in burgundy and gold lug outlining. So it really doesn't match well at all, and I've said before and will again that it's an ugly bike, now. I'd last built it with red cables, and had thought about red bar tape for this redo. And if the original fork was still fitted (long gone) I'd probably have stuck with that plan. But since I had to redo the bars and cables anyway, I figured I'd take a whack at improving the bike's color scheme as well.

So what did I replace? All kinds of stuff, and I should add that the Motobecane now wears some of the priciest examples of components of a kind that I own:

Bottom Bracket: The Phil Wood Swiss-threaded rings now pinch in-place a 108mm Phil Wood bottom bracket, which should drop the Q below 150mm -- I'm guessing 147 or 148. In addition, the cranks are snugged down with a little more torque than I'd done previously. This is the nicest, most expensive BB setup in my fleet.

Tires: The Continentals are gone. They worked fine, but were very old and starting to lose threads. Seriously, I think they were 10 years old. Maybe 12. They've been replaced by Panaracer Paselas in a 700x28, and with a black sidewall. They look different -- fine, but I think I prefer contrasting sidewalls on old bikes. But on the "I care" scale, this is way down the list. The tires feel a little more harsh, too, but that's probably just air pressure. In other wheel-related news, the fenders are gone from the fork and stays, too. I thought about a 7-speed freewheel, but I'm not going to do that. I might instead swap the wheelset with the one on my old Shogun at my brother-in-law's house. I might actually reclaim that bike and sell it off, because he's adamant that he's never going to use it. Might as well get it out of his way, then.

Handlebars and stem: The handlebars are the classic Nitto 115, which has a 25.4 clamp area. The Nitto Young stem is gone, and has been replaced with a forged Nitto Technomic Deluxe. The Technomic has a 26.0 clamp area, so I've also got a Nitto stainless steel shim in there. The stem looks almost exactly like the old one, from the saddle (same reach and a very similar shape), but has a much more elegant nut situation for the bar clamp, and has a much longer quill. I've raised the bars only a few mm, but the stem is not even close to overextended at that height. I had a recollection that the steerer tube on this fork was tight, but that wasn't the case -- slipped in perfectly. This is the nicest stem in my fleet, too.

Brakes: I swapped the original Suntour Superbe non-aero brake levers for a set of nicely sculpted Tektro levers. I can actually slow the bike now from atop the hoods, and reach the levers without worry from the drops. The level of effort is far lower, and the levers feel far better under my fingers. The lever bodies and hoods aren't shaped the way I'd prefer, but they're not offensive underhand. If I were to do it again, I might look for a NOS set of Shimano aero levers, to match the feel of the brake bodies on my two other road bikes (both of which wear mid-'90's 105 SC levers).

The old Superbe sidepulls don't bite as hard as a new double pivot brake, but they've got the reach I needed to run a 700c wheelset on what was a 27" bike in this market, and they will still lock a tire, which is plenty of bite. When I was looking the brakes over, I found a couple of things in need of adjustment, too. First, I found that the pivot nuts weren't snug enough, and there was a fair amount of flex in the calipers that resulted from that looseness. I tightened the nuts down, and that cleaned up a bunch of sponginess in the brakes. Then I adjusted the front brake so that it didn't drag on the right side of the front rim, which it was, just a little. And finally, noticed that the left-side rear pad was toed out, rather than in. I don't remember noticing this previously, but it needed fixing. A little leverage with a wrench on the brake pad flat twisted the caliper arm a few degrees, and put it right.

Cables: I had to remove and reinstall the brake cables anyway, so I bought a blue brake cable kit from Velo Orange. And to match, I also changed the rear derailleur cable and the snippet of housing heading into the rear derailleur. These kits are cheap, they fit, and they're perfectly nice parts. Most of the time, LBS's have either bulk cable housing you have to cut to fit, or expensive sealed cable kits. The V-O kits are the easiest, most sensible option I've seen in years. Lots of colors, too, and they even have braided stainless steel under clear plastic.

Derailleurs: I didn't replace anything, but I came "this" close to swapping the rear derailleur for an Ultegra unit I have. But that would have resulted in mismatching the only matching components left on the bike (front and rear are both Suntour Cyclone II's). And more importantly, I didn't want to mess around with opening and shortening the chain to make the swap. So I just adjusted the front derailleur travel stops to match the crank's move inboard, and called it good.

Bar Tape: With the brake levers and cables swapped, I needed to re-cover the naked aluminum bars. I chose a mostly solid blue bar wrap -- Bontrager gel wrap -- which is the only blue tape Landry's had on the hang rack in their Westborough store. In truth, I'm not thrilled with it. It seems like very tough stuff -- hard to cut with a utility knife -- but it's a little too spongy, almost like those old foam 2-piece bar covers from the '70's, and feels plasticky under the fingers. It's also a slightly lighter shade of blue than I wanted. I'll see how it holds up, but at some point I may end up rewrapping with Cinelli cork wrap, which feels better and I'm pretty sure comes in a slightly darker shade of blue.

Cable ties: There are various cable ties on the bike, for the purpose of securing the different sensors and magnets of the Blackburn Delphi 3.0 computer, an example of which can be found on all four of my active-duty bikes. Most of the ties are now blue, rather than faded neon pink, but I ran out, and need to get a few more at Home Depot.

In its new, bluer configuration, the bike works great. I took it for a short shakedown ride to a nearby State Park this afternoon. I had every intention of parking it there for an hour or two, and renting a kayak to get a little upper body exercise and enjoy what was a beautiful day. But the place was a zoo, I got there too late (having cut the grass yesterday, too), and the wind was up. A sailboat would have been fun, but that would have taken even longer to get into.

I should say that I was sloooow, on that ride. My head was suffering mightily from a cold I'm fighting and the effects of stirring allergens into the air with the mower. Plus I probably needed more recovery time from my ride on Friday, which (on the Kestrel) showed my personal-best average speed on my training route. Then there's the brake drag I corrected after that ride, the new and tight bottom bracket, and the new tires -- all of which could affect my average speed (albeit only marginally). But the knee feels fine, which is good.

Though the verdict isn't yet in on how fast the Motobecane will be in this new setup, thus far the refit seems successful. It's still a mongrel, looks-wise, but a less clashy mongrel. And while the refit wasn't cheap, fixing knee problems and improving the safety of the bike are worth the investment. I'm going to use the bike on that Father's Day ride, which should give me a good sense of how it will perform as my primary ride.

Happy Father's Day!

All for now,


Updated Father's Day:

It was just me, out there this morning, but that isn't surprising, given the date and the fact that most of the invitees are Dads. The bike felt great, but my average speed was off a half mph from Friday.

Out and about, I could tell I was down two sprockets in back vs. the Kestrel, and tighter gear spacing might help keep my cadence more conistent and my pace up. Rear shifting is pretty sluggish, too. Not sure if that's the derailleur, the shifters or the relatively widely-set 6-speed cluster (a 7-speed smooshes 7 cogs into the same width as a 6-speed). Probably a combination of all three.

Back at the barn, with the bike suspended from the ceiling by just its front wheel, I noticed that the rear brake was dragging just a touch, and the (very old Shimano 600) freewheel sounded gritty. The combination made the wheel spin down to a stop relatively quickly. These were easy fixes, for whatever impact they may have had on my average speed.

Anyway, the bike feels good, and won't be hard to make better with a few more tweaks. I'd start by swapping the wheelset as described earlier. That will allow me to tighten the gear spacing, while keeping the same upper and lower limits, without laying out any more money on the bike. I have a 13-26 cassette out in the barn (the freewheel is 13-26, too, but a 6-speeder), lightly used on the Kestrel before I made it an 8-speed bike. And then I'll have to think about what type of shifters to use and where to mount them. I'll use that 600 derailleur either way.

Is any bike ever really done?


Nicholas said...

Thanks for the detailed description of the upgrades you made to your Moto, it's looking good. I have a '79 Super Mirage that is mostly original that I was thinking about making some tweaks to. But I've decided instead to keep it as is since it runs so well. I just purchased a '78 Grand Jubile that is also mostly original, but a little rougher. I think this will be my "mongrel".
So you didn't have to sand down the Nitto Technomic stem at all? I'd like to add a Technomic stem and slightly wider drop bars (maybe Nitto Randonneurs). My only other real concern is the bottom bracket--sounds like it can be a real bear to mess with a Moto BB. You seemed to manage okay.

John Ellsworth said...

Hi, Nicholas.

The fork is a replacement, not the original (whose steerer tube was cut too short at some point in the past). The new fork had a funny headset whose threading seemed slightly different than the new headset I used with it (I think I formed new threads on it, honestly), but it turns out I was just mis-remembering the steerer tube issue. With a french fork, you'll definitely need a 22.0 stem, or to narrow a 22.2 stem a smidge. Which is safer? Not sure there's a good answer to that.

The bottom bracket wasn't too bad, but if you want to go cartridge it can get expensive. If you have french cups, Velo-Orange is making French threaded cartridge BB's that should make your life easy, and they are under $50 iirc. If you have Swiss cups, though, Phil Wood is the only choice I've found, and that's a $140 or so proposition. Not hard, but not cheap. If you can find a Shimano UN-72 in your required size, those work fine with Phil Wood cups, and you can save a bit of cash vs. a $100 Phil BB (which are lovely, btw).

Let me know if you have any questions and I'm happy to share what I've found! A lot of it is up here, somewhere, but not necessarily all of it or all in one place...


Nicholas said...

Thanks for the tips John. I want to make this one a really nice rider, so if I decide to "upgrade" the BB I think I'll spring for the UN-72 BB and Phil Wood cups. I'm actually less worried about finding parts and more worried about having the proper tools!

John Ellsworth said...

Sure thing!

UN-72's can be a bit hard to come by, but they're still out there on eBay from time to time. I believe they're only available in JIS taper. If your crank is a European brand (Stronglight or whatever), it may need an ISO taper, in which case you'll need an appropriate Phil BB. Something to think about... If it's Japanese, like mine was, JIS is what you need, and the UN-72 or a Phil JIS BB would work. Sorry if this is obvious, but you'll need to measure your bottom bracket spindle length and find one that's about the same length (keep it within a couple of MM either way) to keep your chainline and Q-factor the same.

You can install a Phil BB with one adapter and an adjustable wrench -- so when you buy the cups, just buy the adapter, too. For Swiss cups, their opposing threading means that they will tighten against one another as you install it, which makes it totally manageable with one tool. You just switch sides, to tighten it up so that it falls centered in the shell -- once you try it, it'll be obvious. And for French threading, the easy route is a V-O french BB anyway. V-O also has a press-fit BB that has received good reviews, and that'd work with swiss threading for less money, but it's personally not an approach I'd use, given that the Phil option is available.