Saturday, July 17, 2010


I mentioned not too long ago that Juli is getting a little big for her Fuji's current setup. So I've been gathering parts in the hopes of getting her onto a drop bar on the Fuji within the next couple of weeks. She's been objecting to the idea, largely because she found the too-big Fuji terrifying to ride, so equipped, when she was seven. She's now nine, and much taller. The seat clamp sits three or four inches off the binder lug, where the post was once all the way down. And her knees, which once cleared the shortened V-O Belleville bar with ease, now threaten to collide with the bar ends on turns. I hope her increased height and some careful fitting will offset her fear, but I have one more trick up my sleeve if she's still uncomfortable -- cyclocross levers. We'll get there.

I've already gotten Juli the new Nitto drop bar, and am working on a stem that'll work. I've also been swapping parts around on the trailer bike, which will give Ava a more compact drop bar than she had, a new shifter setup (still bar-end, but without breaking up a set of Shimano bar end shifters to achieve it), and a more coordinated set of cable and bar tape colors (always important!). Juli will end up with a relatively high and compact bar fitted with bar-end shifters. I'll share pictures and more details once the updates are done and outcomes determined, but it's all pretty minor stuff, really.

And given that she'll get at most one more year out of her little Fuji, I've started work on Juli's next ride. This week, I bought (on eBay) the mid-1980's Schwinn World Sport ladies' frameset you see at top. I hesitate to use the word mixte, because it doesn't have the twin top tubes, middle rear brake position or extra set of stays in back that a true mixte has.

This little frame is a fairly hot sort of raspberryish/pinkish color, and given Juli's consistent opposition to the color pink, I honestly don't she'll like my selection. But that's OK -- it was cheap ($50, shipped!), and we can do interesting stuff with color accents to make it work for her, I think. There was an equally cheap and small Motobecane Grand Touring mixte frameset on eBay, in the same champagne and brown livery as mine. Loving my own as I do, I almost went for that one instead of the Schwinn. But there are build complexity issues with an old French frameset (seatposts, bottom brackets, headsets, front derailleur clamps, and handlebar stem quills) that I'd rather not deal with this time -- there's just a lot more stuff I'd have to go buy to get her rolling, and not all of it is cheap (I'm thinking of Phil Wood bottom brackets and Swiss-threaded rings, here).

The frame definitely has potential. It's made of steel, as you can tell. Japanese or Taiwanese in manufacture -- probably the latter -- definitely not a Chicago Schwinn. The main tubes are cromoly, and the fork and stays are surely milder, heavier stuff. The bottom bracket and headset specs are normal(!), and the rear dropouts have both a derailleur hanger and a dirt-simple approach to wheel alignment that I'll talk about another time. The lugs are for the most part pretty plain, but it is a fully lugged frame, and the spear-pointed seat tube lug and curvy 4-point bottle braze-ons are surprisingly pretty exceptions to the plainness of the other lugs. It even has a kickstand plate, so there's a chance it won't regularly find itself dropped callously to the ground! In fairness, I should say that Juli is very kind to her Fuji in this regard.

It's not a great frame, in the Nervex-lugged, silver-brazed, 531-tubed, pedigreed sense. Not at all. It's even got one of the least cool frame layouts extant. But for all that, it appears to be a very good frame for the intended purpose -- stout, properly fitted with braze-ons, and offering tire clearances generous enough for really any application. And if it's shy on greatness, the frame is pretty comparable to my Motobecane's -- and that's a bike I just love to ride. Hopefully this one will bring each of them as much joy, in turn.

The frame was designed for 27" wheels, and when I measured the reach from the brake bolts to the braking surfaces on a 700C wheelset, it looked like a medium-reach (47-57) caliper would do the trick at both ends. And as I said, in that configuration it would easily accept whatever tire we wanted to put on it. So in the worst case, I have a simple path to getting it rolling.

But to help out as much as possible with Juli's confidence on the bike, I'd really like to keep the standover height low. So I'm going to try a set of smaller-diameter 650B rims with long reach-brakes, to see how those work out. I think Ava is going to turn out to be fairly petite, and the smaller wheels would also be a boon for her, when this bike eventually is handed-down. It may even be worth swapping the fork out for one with slightly shorter legs, if the reach up front is just too long. The angles look pretty shallow, so I don't think steepening them a bit by shortening the fork would hurt anything. smaller wheels and shorter fork would lower the bottom bracket, though, so I need to play with some measurements before I end up making the bike unsuitable for pedaling around corners.

If 650B wheels seem to fit, I'll build a set up for the bike. I've signed up for the Advanced class at Broadway Bicycle school in Cambridge starting in a couple of weeks, because it's a prerequisite for the wheelbuilding class. I'm no good at trueing wheels so they asked me to take it, even though I know how to do everything else on the syllabus. After that ends, my plan is to take their next wheelbuilding class. I'll use the hubs that came with the Motobecane, and since I'm lacing up new wheels, I should be able to space the rear for a 7-speed freewheel. If 650B rims won't work, I'll just use the wheels currently on the Shogun. There's really no bad outcome, either way, here.

As for the rest of the build, my plan is to use components I have on hand, cannibalizing the Fuji or Shogun. And I'll collaborate with Juliana on the build process, making it a father-daugher winter project. It'd be simplest just to use the Shogun's bits once it comes back from my friend, since that's a bike none of us rides anyway, and that would also give Juli some overlap with the Fuji to get comfortable with her new ride. On the other hand, cannibalizing the Fuji would mean having to completely rebuild it. While it's apart, I could get it stripped and resprayed in the color of Ava's choosing, and she and I could build it back up using the Shogun's parts. I suspect that process would make the bike more "hers" than just one more hand-me-down from her sister. And there's a lot to be said for sharing that experience with her, even if it's not the easiest or cheapest path.

Whichever approach we take, I'll have to get a few new parts for the Schwinn, but not many. Most of the build should be painless, given the frame's origin and age (again no funny specs or threading to deal with). Only the rear brake threatens to be at all tricky, since the frame was designed for a rear brake whose cable comes from below, not above. I can't find any nice road calipers in that layout, and I don't want to put a crappy old caliper on it. So I'll experiment with running a cable up the seat tube to the seatpost area, and hope that I can come up with a routing that won't add too much friction to the brake lever, or get in the rider's way. I may have to go with a center-pull rear brake, and route a bare cable up behind the seat tube to a Mafac pulley-style cable hanger (shown below in a photo cribbed from eBay) clamped into the seatpost binder bolt. This shouldn't be too hard to figure out, in any case...

The girls will be back from vacation with their mother tonight, and I'll see them both tomorrow evening. I can't wait to show Juli her new frame, and talk through some of the possibilities of the builds this arrival will spawn! With any luck, she'll see past the pink paint, and they'll both see an up-side to spending time with Dad, making the two bikes their own.

All for now,


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