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!

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!

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 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!