Sunday, June 27, 2010

Old Flame

Today I spent a couple of hours getting my old Shogun Katana ready for a hand-off to a friend of mine who wants to do a triathlon, but doesn't have a road bike. As it appears here, the Shogun is very similar to the way it was when I first got it, which was in '89 or '90, as a leftover from '87 or '88 I think. Shogun was (maybe is, if they're still around) a low-to-mid-range maker, and this bike was pretty high up the ladder in their line-up, from what I have been able to find (not much).

It's a 12-speed club racer, wearing a hodgepodge of mostly Shimano components from the '80's and '90's; original, upgraded and in some cases cross-pollinated from other bikes. For example, the wheels are the mid-'80's 600 wheelset originally from Allyson's Bertoni, that pre-date but out-class most of the rest of the components (her Bertoni now wears a 7-speed wheelset using my Kestrel's original hubs laced to a set of Velocity Aerohead rims -- but that's a post for another day). The 105SC derailleurs are from the early '90's, and the rear was original to the Kestrel. The derailleur pulleys are Carmichael, I think -- aluminum with cartridge bearings at any rate, which shows you how obsessed I was with efficiency back in the day. The crankset (including Biopace rings!), shifters and brakeset are all the original Exage Sport parts, and they all work pretty well. The Exage Sport brake levers even have two nice little details that my later 105SC levers lack -- quick release buttons, and little rubber nubs on the lever faces that provide some texturing under the fingers. Nice! I believe the Exage Sport groupset was largely the same as the contemporary 105 6-speed components, much as RSX was the same as 105SC, but with a different finish. The headset is a lovely 600/Ultegra part from the late '90's. And so on.

The frame is of lugged steel, brazed in Japan. The tubes are Tange Infinity (double-butted chromoly), and the rear dropouts have both one set of eyelets and adjuster screws. The fork is unicrown, rather than lugged, but it suits the bike well, I think. It doesn't have any front eyelets for fenders, unfortunately, but the geometry and build are both pretty sporty, so fenders probably weren't part of what was envisioned for the bike, despite the rear eyelets. The lugs are all pretty plain, but a couple of other interesting details on the frame are a pump peg up on the head tube, and a chain hanger brazed inside the right seatstay. Plus there are noodles under the bottom bracket to guide the derailleur cables from the shifters, rearward, and cable guides for the rear brake cable housing situated on top of the top tube, which make the bike less painful to shoulder than if the cable ran underneath. It's also got dual bottle cage braze-ons. Pretty standard stuff, in all, but there were fewer corners cut with this frame than with my Motobecane. Maybe the bar had just moved in the decade-plus between their manufacture.

The bike is too small for me (and that set me on the path for the Kestrel to be wrong-headedly undersized as well), so the 90-degree stem was added at some point to give me more room and higher bars, shortly after the Kestrel got a similar configuration. So it doesn't have a "traditional" road bike look in the handlebar area, but the rest is about as old-school as you can get -- save for the unicrown fork. I've always thought it a handsome bike. I'm not really a fan of the stripey decal near the top of the seat tube, but I do like the combination of a white rear triangle and a mostly blue front half. And it's a good blue -- not too navy and not too royal. The decals are under clearcoat, so the paintwork isn't super-cheap either.

Today's refit was pretty straightforward, and the bike is pretty much all set for my friend's training. The wheelset was swapped with the Motobecane, as I've mentioned I would, and the brake pads reset to line up with the braking surfaces of these rims. The shift from 7-speeds to 6 also entailed swapping the shifters that were on there for the bike's original 6-speed indexed shifters, and tweaking the derailleur travel a little. I also swapped the old cup and cone bottom bracket (113mm) for the 111mm Phil Wood cartridge unit that gave me knee pains on the Kestrel and Moto, pinching it in place with the British-threaded rings that had held it into the Kestrel. I haven't measured the Q to see if it will fit me well with these cranks (I bet it would), but this isn't a bike I plan to ride much, so I'm not worried about that. Narrowing the cranks meant also tweaking the front derailleur travel. And finally, I swapped all of the (original!) cables and housings for new stuff (housings in red), and rewrapped the bars in red cork wrap. I think the red accents look pretty good!

There are three things that could use some attention. First, the saddle is pretty much awful (too soft and oddly-shaped), and should be replaced with something red to further highlight the bars and cables. And the cheap tires are too triangular in cross-section, and a little dried out, and could stand to be replaced. Finally, the brake hoods are dingy and sticky with age, which is kind of gross. I'll see if my friend is worried about these once he's started using the bike, and figure out what to do about them, if anything.

At the time I got it, the bike showed me just how good a modern racing bike could be. It just worked so well! Shifting, braking and handling were all far, far better than the comparatively cheap and primitive Raleigh Rapide I'd depended on in my teenage years. The ride quality was awful, as I recall. But I have to temper that judgement by also acknowledging that I was riding around on an OEM saddle and ridiculously narrow 700x20 tires, back then, too. Don't ever do that to yourselves, folks.

When I hopped on the Katana today to try it out after the updates, I was still impressed by how good it is -- 20 years later! It's relatively light, all of the controls work really well (except the front shift lever, which is over-leveraged, pulling way too much cable per degree of travel), and it's plenty responsive -- snapping-to under power and stopping hard under braking. The handling is lovely -- less twitchy than the Kestrel, but with steering that's direct and responsive, and not at all "trucky" through the bars. As I said, the bike won't hold my friend back any.

But as it couldn't with me, the bike may not be able to hold his wandering eye. It's a good bike, needing no apologies. But neither is it especially sexy or remarkable. Even back when it was new, it was relatively humble, and in the days when I spent summers training for MS-150 rides brimming with more exotic and expensive bikes, my attention was drawn elsewhere. Hardware envy -- many a boy's curse. These days, racing bikes have 9, 10 or even 11 cogs out back, brifters, double-pivot calipers, oversized bottom brackets with external bearings, and fat, sculpted frames that few dreamed of when the Shogun was designed and made. The comparatively classic Katana was my primary ride for three seasons, I believe, and then I saw my first Kestrel at Landry's in Framingham. Its fate as a secondary/loaner bike was sealed perhaps an hour later, when my right leg gave the first stroke of my Kestrel's crank. It felt magic, by comparison to the Shogun. And in truth it still does, whether I feel I can trust its sculpted carbon curves or not (I don't).

Whether it held my attention back in the day or not, it's not a bike I've been able to let go of, either -- it's just too good. So I'm going to take my old Shogun for a workout/shake down ride before I hand it over. I do trust this bike's steel frame, and any problems I encounter with the components are sure to be minor adjustment sorts of things. The ride won't just be to shake any problems out -- it'll be to enjoy the simple and solid charms of an old flame, too.

All for now,


Updated 6/28:

Just got back from a quick shake-down ride. What a great bike that is! It feels a lot like the Motobecane, actually, except perhaps a litle more responsive. I can no-hands it, just as I can the Moto, too. And the tires felt just fine, triangular profile or not. The saddle isn't that bad once out there and on it for a while, which was a pleasant surprise. Between the 28mm tires and the current saddle, the ride quality was really very good -- not at all harsh like I remember it being. The toe clips did a nice job of keeping my feet on the pedals, which was nice, but they're a pain to get into. I should do something with clips for my bikes, because having my feet slip off is getting old. It's a nice bike.

As expected, I did have to make a couple of tweaks on the road. First, I had to trim the front derailleur cage a bit so it didn't rub on the inside in first gear. And second, I had to adjust the derailleur cable in back so it indexed properly in all gears without excess chain noise. I also noticed that the Hyperglide chain skips a bit over the old twist-tooth sprockets on downshifts, though upshifts are fine. It might need a new or different chain, because the same wheelset and freewheel didn't do that with a SRAM chain on the Motobecane (though shifts are possibly quicker with indexing, so who knows...).

An unexpected surprise is that I could see a lot less chainring deflection with the new bottom bracket, as I pedaled the bike -- hardly any, really. I suspect the old one might have been slightly bent, or otherwise out of kilter. In any case, the Phil Wood is a possibly stronger and definitely more finely made part, and the cranks run true on it.

In any case, it's ready to go, now, and I think it'll serve my friend well!


John Ellsworth said...

A few months ago, an anonymous critic got his panties in a bunch about this post and left a rude comment her. I found it this morning and deleted it, but suffice it to say that I'm an idiot who doesn't know what the F I'm talking about, apparently.

Apart from the insults, the poster made a point of saying that Shogun was a mid-high end maker, vs. my positioning of them as low-mid range.

Ok, so insofar as the biking universe includes department store bikes, then yes, the poster has a point. But in the realm of bike shop bikes, I stand by my comments. The Shoguns I've seen have been perfectly nice, yes. Mine was way nicer than my Motobecane, to be sure. 1988 Toyota vs. 1977 Renault. But it had seamed tubing, formed lugs and a unicorn fork, none of which lend credence to the claim of a high-end offering. So with apologies to the troll, a nice enough bike -- by no means crap -- but nothing fancy.

Uno Mas said...

My first serious road bicycle was a shogun with Shimano 105 from around 1987 or so. I've been trying to hunt one down to use for my work bike but they aren't that plentiful apparently. Does your friend still ride this bike?

John Ellsworth said...

Uno Mas,

Bike is no longer in the stable, no. But a couple of suggestions:

Panasonic DX1000's are uncannily similar to the Shogun Katana I had

Paramount PDG Series 3 and 5 are also very similar at first glance, but they have oversize tubes and are generally stiffer and more fun than my Shogun was. The 5 had 105SC, and the 3, RX-100.

David Wakeling said...

I have the exact same bike - in fact I have two - and I completely agree that it is a lovely bike. Very responsive and fun to ride. Bought when I was living abroad and didn't have my Mercian with me. sIf the last poster wants one (probably ridden less than 20 miles in it's life) then I'd be happy to discuss.

John Ellsworth said...

The Motobecane's frame has cracked, so I'm retiring it. I just bought an old Shogun 400 to replace it, and I'll be moving everything over. Appears to be early-mid-1980's, with safety brake levers and mid-range Shimano bits.

It's a totally serviceable bike, but I will reiterate that it's nothing fancy. If anything, the Katana was slightly nicer (I should have kept it, I think!), with better paint, dropout adjuster screws, and nicer components. Still a bike shop bike, not a dept store bike. But nothing that changes my conclusion about the sort of bikes Shogun made -- it's a Toyota, not a Lexus.