Bike Jumble

I popped my bike jumble cherry last weekend. It’s been a long time coming (it would have happened a lot sooner if I didn’t live in the middle of nowhere). Bourses aux velos are pretty hard to track down round here; small events in village halls run by local cycling clubs, with word not being spread beyond the initiated. A local friend I met through the Classic Rendezvous google group (an invaluable source for classic road bike information), tipped me off.

I didn’t have anything in particular to buy, but there are little bits I’m always looking for. I came away with a few odds and ends for not much money at all (definately cheaper than Ebay!)

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My haul for the day!

I came home with:

  • Maillard Course sprockets, these are probably the most modular of French freewheels, but sprockets are becoming harder to find, particularly in large sizes like this 32 I picked up.
  • A Selle San Marco Rolls Ergo saddle. I find the Rolls really comfortable, so ity’s always worth picking one up if the price is right.
  • Atax and Cinelli XA stems. I’m always playing with my setup at the front end, spare stems come in handy.
  • Suntour Cyclone Mk2 derailleur. I bought this on a whim as they have a reputation for reliable shifting.

I’ve no idea what I’ll do with these bits yet, but they make a nice addition to my parts bins!

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Stronglight Steerer/Headset Riser

Stronglight are best known for their cranksets. They pioneered aluminium cranks in the 1930s, developing the square tapered bottom bracket axle which is still the most common standard eighty years later. I run a Stronglight Impact Compact chainset on my Look KG223, it’s a very capable and good value for money, and won’t look out of place on older bikes.

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In addition to chainsets and bottom brackets, Stronglight are also known for their headsets, which is where this oddity fits in. This came to me on a Motobecane randonneur I’ve been working on. This bike has a French threaded headset, but someone had seen fit to install this English threaded riser all the same!

Replacing the headset top cap, the riser extends the effective height of the steerer by around 6cm. The limiting factor to vintage bike fit is often handlebar height. Quill stems are usually limited to 10cm rise or less. This riser can be used to set the handlebars a little higher. It’s no magic bullet – care should be taken that the stem expander is not putting pressure on the threaded section of the steerer. Stem failure is scary and no risks should be taken in this area of the bike. Due to this consideration, it generally allows 3-4 cm rise maximum, but that can make a lot of difference.

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I’ve been using it on my steel Look for about a month and the higher hand position is really working for me. I have fewer aches and pains in my hands and back while riding, and can use the drops much more comfortably. Compared to other options for raising the bars, it looks pretty elegant!

Lessons learned from a roadside chain repair

I had to ride on the 28th of February, I was 36 kilometres short of my monthly goal, and being the last day of the month I didn’t have much choice. The weather wasn’t great, high winds and rain. At the moment it always seems to be good weather on the days I don’t plan to ride! I took the opportunity of a mid afternoon lull in the storm to head out for some easy KMs on my Look.

About half way up the first hill leading out of the village, my chain made some weird noises (like my indexing was off, which was also the case) and promptly snapped. I could have simply coasted home, but I took out my trusty Park IB3 multi tool which has a chain breaker on it, and set to work reattaching the loose plates. I carried on and bore the worst of the storm (which I’d thought I’d dodged) soaking my clothes and fogging up my glasses. Eventually the sun came out and I started to enjoy myself (bar my freezing wet feet), until after turning towards home the same thing happened to my chain. More violent this time, it fell away and was left lying in the road like a roadkill snake. The pin from the offending link was now missing, so I was left with no option but to take a pair of links out and make the chain a little shorter. Crouching in a ditch with a fiddly chain tool for ten minutes near the end of a ride was no fun, but eventually I got it sorted and gingerly set off again.

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My trusty Park multitool with chain breaker

So why did it happen? The short answer is that I must at some point have reattached the chain at this link and made a poor effort of it. I’d done so using my Park multitool, not by the roadside, but in the workshop. This is not good practice; ride tools are meant to be lightweight and portable, for emergencies and simple adjustments, not for regular or heavy use. By using my mutlitool in the workshop at the same time I’d done a bad job reattaching my chain and put unnecessary stress on my tool (the pin removal rod was in fact slightly bent). There’s no point getting your multitool out on the road or trail to find that the allen key you need is rounded on your screwdriver is bent. Lesson number one: don’t mix workshop tools and ride tools!

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The offending link

I could have made my life easier by removing the pair of links the first time it went wrong, but I opted to reattach a link I knew was dodgy. Here is another lesson. When something out of the ordinary goes wrong on a ride, take a minute, take a breath, have a snack. Pause and get your head round the problem and its cause, and how best you can fix it (not just how quickly). The same rule can applied in the workshop – any time I saved in my slipshod chain connection was more than wasted by the roadside.

Coincidentally I’ve just fitted a SRAM chain with a PowerLink quick connection to my mountain bike. This allows tool-free chain attachment and removal. While it wouldn’t have helped me in the case of a split link, it removes the need to be taking the chain apart and reassembling it for cleaning, reducing the chances of poorly connected or stiff links. Two years ago I had a stiff link pull my rear derailleur clean off – writing it off. Both incidents would likely have been avoided with a quick link. I’ll be adding one to this chain (third party links are available for existing chains) so I hopefully won’t need to use a breaker on it anymore.

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My workshop chain tool and KMC quick links to add to my chain

My final learning point is to keep my indexing tuned in. Although this didn’t cause the problem, it no-doubt exacerbated it. My poorly indexed gears were suddenly switching up and down, causing the chain to jerk, while at the same time the derailleur was pushing the chain laterally. These two actions applied to the poorly connected link likely triggered the failure.

I guess the moral of this story is that if you want your tools and components to work as intended, treat them as they were intended!

The Economy of Vintage Bikes

Like many bike aficionados, I trade bikes and components. I’m not looking to make any money, just funding my hobby. It’s easy enough to buy a bike, strip it and sell bits I don’t need for more than I paid.  In the past I’ve built up bikes from spare frames and components and sold them. Anyone who’s into vintage bikes will tell you that it’s not something you do for the money. Even if I make a ‘profit’ on something, it quickly evaporates if I calculate the hours I’ve put in (let alone the cost of tools).

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I sold my Geminiani in 2014, I would have lost money at the same price today!

I know there are many people out there who make something of a living from buying vintage bikes in France and selling them in the UK. However, recent economic changes mean this is becoming a less interesting prospect. The pound is very low against the Euro at the moment, and both French postal costs and Ebay/Paypal fees are higher than they were a few years ago. With Vintage bikes a la mode right now, I get the impression that the supply down here is starting to wane. Many of the old ten speed every family had in the garage have made their way to a flea market or pawn shop and on to a new owner.

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If it says Campagnolo on it, it will usually sell at a decent price!

Unless something is higher end (Reynolds, Columbus or Vitus frames, top end French components, anything that says Campagnolo on it) and in good condition, it will likely not fetch a high enough price to make selling it worthwhile. It takes time to list items, package them, take them to the Post Office. Even then, a mistake in a postage calculation can leave you out of pocket. I did this recently, underestimating the postage, I sent a brakeset to the Far East essentially for free! The cost of shipping a complete bike runs into the hundreds; this needs to be considered before trying to sell.

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This 531 Randonneur is too small for me, but there are plenty of parts I can use, and the frame will sell on its own.

The long and the short of all this is that I’ll be trying to sell fewer items in future. I’ve got plenty of my own projects to focus on, I’ll be much happier devoting my full attention to those!

Fixed gear training update

I’m just back from my third ride on my winter fixed trainer. I lost a week of riding due to a nagging flu-like cold, but I’m back in the saddle now. After the first couple of rides I’ve got the bike dialed in the way I want it, and am getting the hang of riding fixed. You have to re-learn simple things such as clipping into the pedals and coming to a stop! The high cadence works well with the current cold spell (a week or two of below freezing round the clock is about as bad as it typically gets down here…) The constant movement can be a strain, I feel my feet wanting to coast for a minute, but that’s not an option. On the plus side, it seems that sometimes with a fixed wheel you can keep pushing when you would have backed off riding a freewheel, due to the crank carrying the momentum of the wheel.

One issue I’m having is with the saddle. I opted to try out the Brooks professional I’ve got hold of, judging it to be the most similar in shape to my erstwhile go-to San Marco Rolls. It’s simply not comfortable for me on this setup (maybe not quite an ‘ass-hatchet’, but still). Leather saddles will mold to the users hind quarters over a period of time, but if it’s not comfortable at all at first it’s never going to become comfortable. The Professional (as the name would suggest) is designed for an aggressive, low position. I’m probably riding more upright than that, meaning I’m not putting my weight on it as I should be. It’s also possible that it’s just not suited to my body shape at all – a saddle is a very personal thing.

I’ll put the B17 on and see if that is any better. If I can’t make that work I guess I’ll get on Ebay and buy myself another Rolls for my eventual Coppi build.

Fixed Gear Winter Trainer

Most people probably associate fixed gear bikes with either cycle couriers or hipsters, but they go back way further than that. I remember mentioning my brother’s Bob Jackson fixie to my grandfather,  who said “well when I was a boy, every bike had a fixed wheel”. Freewheels were developed in the early 20th century, but were initially exclusive to dedicated cycle tourists. Fixed wheels are still used for racing on the track, and were traditionally used for winter training by road cyclists.

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My Fixed winter trainer

In the new year, following a couple of months off, cyclists would get out their track frame or put a fixed wheel on a road bike, and start the season by training with a fixed gear. There are several claimed benefits. Spinning a lowish gear on the flat encourages a fast, smooth pedaling style. The fixed wheel ensures that power is applied through the full cycle of the stroke, engaging muscles that might not otherwise be engaged (and the opposing muscles when slowing down). The high cadence also means that the cardiovascular system is working hard without straining the leg muscles too much, and the body is kept warm by the constant movement. A final benefit is that the fixed wheel allows a degree of ‘traction control’, valuable on wet or icy roads. Coaches of the day suggested riding fixed wheel through January and into February, when gears were once again permitted.

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‘Suicide’ freewheel hub conversion

I might be a few years behind the trend, but I thought I’d give fixed gear training a go. I’ve built my Townsend beater road frame up with an old 27″ wheel converted to fixed. Although the rear ends are conventional horizontal road ends, rather than track ends, this is in no way problematic. The hub is a conventional freewheel hub, with the track sprocket secured by a bottom bracket cup lockring. True fixed hubs have two threads, one for the sprocket, the other for a left handed thread lockring, which ensures that the cog does not unscrew when back pedaling. Using the bb lockring conversion, sometimes referred to as a ‘suicide hub’, there is a risk that the sprocket and lockring loosening (when stopping, for example!).  To avoid this risk, I will be using both front and rear brakes, although it should be noted that the cog unscrewing is not the only potentially dangerous element of fixed riding (see Sheldon Brown’s section on fixed conversions for more information.)

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Brooks Professional saddle

My fixed bike will also serve as a testbed of the handlebar, stem and saddle I’ve set aside for my vintage Coppi build. I want to make sure the Cinelli bar and stem, and Brooks saddle are right for me and correctly set up when I hopefully finish the project this summer. Because of the hilly area where I live, I’ve set the bike up with a very low 36×16 gear (these also happened to be the bits I had lying around).

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Cinelli ’64’ Giro d’Italia and 1R stem

I took the bike out for a mid week shakedown, and I must admit it took a little getting used to. Rather than start on the road, I went to a local park to get the hang of things somewhere the worst thing I could do is fall off in front of a group of kids! I didn’t tumble, although I had a couple of hairy moments. After 20 minutes of so, including a quick stop home to make some adjustments, I was happy to go out on the open road. I started to enjoy it pretty quickly, getting into a good rhythm. Although it was a short ride, I can already see the potential benefits. It felt like more of a workout than if I had been on my road bike, and the next day I ached in some new places!

Brooks Saddles

If you’re buying a new top of the line bike today, chances are it would be very different from an equivalent bike a century a go. The one exception could be the saddle, which in both cases might well be a Brooks.

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Left to right: Professional, B66 and B17

Brooks originate from Birmingham, the powerhouse of British bicycle building in the twentieth century. They stand out as British components exported all over the world, along with Reynolds tubing and Sturmey-Archer gears (all three Companies were part of the TI Raleigh group for a time). Brooks managed to weather the storm of the European cycling industry’s fallow years and are now booming again, producing both classic designs and new models. Even in France, which had it’s own Ideale brand, Brooks were reputed as the best.

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The B17, ‘the most comfortable saddle of all time’

Shown here are three common models; the ubiquitous B17, a Team Professional and a B66. The B17 is often referred to as the most comfortable saddle in the world – the choice of club riders and long haul cycle tourists. The Professional is a narrow racing model with characteristic copper rivets. The B66 is a sprung model for upright bicycles.

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The Team Professional has large copper rivets

I’ve been riding a San Marco Rolls saddle for years and it’s very comfortable, but for my Coppi build I want something more classic. I’ll be putting either the B17 or Professional on it, depending on which I find more comfortable over a few test rides.

French Lessons : Randonneur

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My Motobecane Randonneur, (or so I thought!)

I recently posted a Motobecane randonneur on French vintage bike forum Tonton Velo to see if anyone could help me identify the model. I was expecting some debate as to whether in fact it was a ‘Becane, or whether it was really Reynolds 531, but I wasn’t expecting someone to question whether or not it was actually a randonneur or not. It seems that in being imported into English, the meaning of the word has been slightly skewed. In English, the term is generally taken to mean a vintage or retro lightweight touring bike with 650B wheels. It’s a style that’s going through something of a resurgence, as was the case with fixed gear bikes did a decade ago. The French meaning of Randonneur is slightly different, randonneur literally translates as ‘trekker’, and can apply to walking, horse riding or biking. The bikes are sometimes referred to as Randonneuse (the feminine form applies to the feminine noun Bicyclette, rather than the masculine Velo). In bike terms, it refers to a bike that is comfortable and practical to ride all day over long distances and varied terrain. Some say a true randonneur must have a custom frame and hand picked components and should be built by someone the customer has met personally.  The fact that the bike is tailored to the user is what sets it apart as a true randonneur.

Here’s a quick run down of other types of bike in French.

Velo de Course A road or racing bike; 700C wheels (preferably tubular), no mudguards, racks or accessories (save for perhaps a frame pump and a spare tire under the saddle)

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Skinny tires and high gears make this a ‘velo de course’

Cyclotouriste A general term for touring bike.

Velo de Cyclocamping A true long distance, loaded tourer.

Velo de Ville Town bike. Traditionally had 650b wheels, now more likely to be 700 or 26″.

Demi-Course A road bike fitted with mudguards and a rack. This is something of a poor relation to the Randonneur, the term Demi-Course being reserved for low end gas pipe bikes.

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Mudguards, gas pipe tubes and cheaper components indicate a ‘demi course’

Dame A ladies step-through frame. Ladies’ Cole de signe (swan neck) frames have curved top and down tubes.

Mixte In English, mixte has come to mean a ladies bike with no top tube, but two small diameter tubes running fom the head tube to the rear ends. In French the term is a bit less prescriptive, and can mean any ladies-specific frame designed for ‘real riding’.

1977 Fiorelli Coppi Campionissimo

This will be the first of many posts about my Fiorelli Coppi bike, which I am building up as a Sunday bike for myself. It all started when I spotted a rusty bike at a flea market in May 2014 – I noticed it had Shimano 600 parts, Mavic rims, and was pretty light; all signs of a good build. The owner wanted €15, and I talked him down to €10 due to the poor quality finish on the frame. I walked away with my mystery frame and an ’80s Peugeot for €25!

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The paint and chrome on Coppis is notoriously poor – as you can see!

The frame was rusty and the decals had been almost entirely (deliberately) removed, save for a triangular ‘Fiorelli’ sticker. There was a distinctive C in the fork crown, and the corner of a Columbus decal peeling away. After a bit of googling, I found that I had a Fausto Coppi bike, built by the Fiorelli brothers company in the Campionissimo’s native Novi. I found another bike online with exactly the same spec, confirming the components were original equipment. The crankset was dated 1976, putting the bike probably a year or so later.

Knowing the frame would need a repaint, I decided to keep it for myself. Repainting a frame is a costly and/or time consuming process, and is rarely worth doing if reselling is your goal. The process both costs a lot (perhaps more than an equivalent frame in usable condition) and reduces the value of the bike as it is no longer ‘original’. Knowing it would take years for me to get round to painting and rebuilding the bike, I decided to strip and sell the valuable parts.

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The remaining Coppi head tube and Fiorelli seat tube decals, along with the distinctive ‘C’ in the fork crown.

In the meantime I have been putting parts aside for my eventual build; a Campagnolo Record Groupset, Brooks saddle, Cinelli handlebar and stem. As of today then, my dream bike is in several boxes upstairs in my barn.

To be continued…

Campagnolo Super Record Part 2: Brake Levers

A couple of months ago I blogged about the Campagnolo Record groupset I recently got hold of. I had basically everything except the brake levers, so I’ve been looking out for these ever since.

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Three pairs of Campagnolo Super Record brake levers

Super (Superleggera in Italian, meaning super light) Record was introduced in 1974 and was based heavily on Nuovo Record. It made use of titanium axles in the bottom bracket, hubs and pedals. Aluminium replaced steel in the pedal cages, brake pad holders and headset cups (steel bearing race inserts are used on aluminium and titanium components). The chainrings had material removed to make them lighter (and look cooler!), and the brake levers were drilled in typical ’70s style. To top it off, sexy black anodising was added to the derailleur and pedals. Other components (seatpost and front derailleur) were added later. In 1978 a second version of Super Record was introduced, with a cleaner look that differentiated it further from Nuovo Record, ushering in the end of the drilled and fluted look for high end bicycle components.

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Drilled to allow the brake cable to pass under the bar tape

I recently picked up three pairs of Super Record levers from a fellow enthusiast. I got a good enough price that by selling two pairs I would essentially get to keep the third for free.  Two of the pairs had been drilled for a primative (and by all accounts poorly performing) aero cable routing under the handlebar tape. Two came with original hoods, one the earlier ‘globe’ logo, the other the newer (post ’82) shield logo. The third had Modolo hoods.

I’ve cleaned up and sold two of the pairs, with the third (free!) pair sitting in a box waiting to be installed on my slow moving Coppi project!