Friday, June 14, 2019

650B Ride Report

After a Thursday with nothing but rain and cooler temps, Friday turned out to be a beautiful day for riding. We had brilliant skies, low humidity, and temps in the upper 60s. Perfect. I decided to take the 650B Motobecane out for a real test ride. I headed down into the valley and followed some of the "roads less traveled." In fact, if you're in a car, some of the roads have been rendered inaccessible altogether.

There's an old covered bridge in the valley that's 
been closed to cars for at least a couple of decades now. 
If you've been following the whole conversion story, you know that I started the project with a 25" frame (about 63cm), even though I usually ride 24" (or about 60 - 61cm). With the smaller wheel size, the standover still works for me, and I can get the bars at about the same level as the saddle quite easily. There's a small "fistful" of seat post showing - obviously a little less than on most of my other bikes. My one concern was if the reach to the bars would still work - but the top-tube length isn't really much longer than on most of my other bikes. I used a 9cm stem instead of my usual 10cm, and the reach felt pretty good.

One of the first things I noticed when riding the bike is that the tires (38mm) really do a great job of smoothing out the roads. Our roads are in about the worst shape I can remember - our winters have been terrible on the roads these last few years because the temperatures fluctuate so much throughout the season, resulting in endless cycles of freeze/thaw, freeze/thaw - and that is hellish on asphalt. But these wheels/tires really seem to subdue the chatter. I mean, that's always been the big selling point of 650B, isn't it? Well, I have to say that the hype is true on that score. On gravelly sections, I felt like "Gravel? What gravel."

Road Closed - not to bikes however. Our county roads department recently voted to permanently close this road leading to the covered bridge from the north and end all maintenance for it - in other words, let it go back to the wild. Cyclists petitioned to have it maintained for bike and hike uses, but that was denied. There are larger barricades than these, but they can't really keep the bicyclists out. Still, the pavement is really starting to deteriorate. I've ridden through here on other bikes with narrower tires, but the 650B wheels and tires really make a difference. Really smooth.
Another thing I noticed was the handling. I don't know if the handling is altered significantly from what it would have been with the 27" wheels it was originally designed for (or even 700C), but the bike feels "zippy." That's the best word for it. It changes direction quickly, with very light input - yet it tracks straight and rides easily no hands. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise - that head angle must be 74 degrees! I still cannot believe that this bike was described "back in the day" as a touring bike. I did worry a little about toe-clip overlap - but it isn't an issue. There is one tiny spot in the crank rotation where the leading tip of a toe-clip can just barely "kiss" the back edge of the fender, but the likelihood of it happening is so slight, and even if it happened, it would be inconsequential. If it were fenders over 700c or 27" wheels, it might be a problem.

A friend had told me that I might find the bike a bit slow going uphill. Other things being equal, I cannot think why that would be the case. Why would a bike with 650B wheels climb any more slowly than 700C? Maybe if one were using heavy rims/tires it could make the bike feel slow, but it seems to me that I made some smart choices in that department. Anyhow, my ride today had several hills in it - some pretty steep - and ALL my rides end with a long difficult climb out of the valley. I just did that out-of-the-valley climb last week on my "racy" green Mercian, and did not find the 650B Motobecane to be noticeably slower. I mean, I didn't time either climb, but it certainly didn't feel any slower. However - it's worth noting that switching to smaller wheels will absolutely lower a bike's overall gearing. Between 700C with 28mm tires and 650B with 38mm tires, there is a gearing difference - albeit a small one - in terms of "gear inches" it would probably reduce the gear by an inch or less. Would someone be able to feel that difference? I don't know. I did find that I rode in the large chainring a little more than I might have done otherwise.

I did alter my gearing slightly since I posted my report on the finished bike and listed all the specs. I had originally installed a 5-speed freewheel with a range from 14 to 28 teeth. It's difficult to find a 5-speed freewheel with cogs smaller than 14 teeth. Looking through my freewheel collection, I found that I had a SunTour Winner "ultra 6" (a narrow-spaced freewheel meant to fit into the space of a 5 speed) that was 13 to 26. That gave me a slightly higher high gear, and the low gear (with a 34 tooth chainring) is plenty low enough for me. And I picked up an extra gear in the middle. The shifting on the narrow freewheel is smooth, quick, and quiet. And the old SunTour ratcheting bar-end shifters work great.
I stopped at the produce market - of course. It was a lot busier than it looks here.
Well, it happened. I've just become one of those goofs who takes pictures of their food and posts them to social media. The farm market sells big "deli dogs" that are pretty awesome. Topped here with vidalia onions and brown mustard. They also have grilled corn on the cob, but I skipped that today.
Was there a downside? Well - brakes. Looonnngggg reach brakes like the DiaCompe 750s seem to work just fine riding around town. But on a long fast descent, I did find them to be a little slow in stopping. They have a nice, light feel at the lever - but I'm guessing that there's enough flex in the long arms and the yoke, etc., that the brakes really lose some efficiency, or as some would describe it, "power." I have a feeling that they'd be improved mightily by having the posts brazed directly to the frame/fork. If I ever send the frame out for paint and modifications, I'll definitely have posts brazed on.
Despite the chips, scratches, and touch-ups,  the old Motobecane really gleams in the sun. All that shiny aluminum really catches the sun too. I'll never get the current fashion for black bike components.
Wrapping up, everything on the bike worked as I'd hoped. The fit felt good all around. We had some pretty strong winds, and I spent a lot of time comfortably down in the drops. I think the best mission for this bike will have to be in looking for more "off the beaten path" routes - more gravel roads and unpaved paths. That's where those 650B wheels will really shine.

Thursday, June 13, 2019


Is that a word? Befendered? If it isn't, it should be. And it works better than "bemudguarded."

I'm not about to say that all bikes need them (in fact, it would be difficult or impossible to mount them on a lot of bikes out there), but I will say that some bikes just don't seem complete until they've got fenders. There's just something missing.

I remember a time when I was young and didn't appreciate befendered bikes. To my racer wannabe friends and I they marked a rider as old-fashioned, a slowpoke, or even a "dork." Nowadays, I not only appreciate the convenience of fenders, but I enjoy the look. Close to half the bikes in my fleet have them. Some are plastic, and others are aluminum - but to my "matured" aesthetic, all of them add an element of class.

The Motobecane 650B conversion is pretty much done. The Velo-Orange Zeppelin fenders arrived and last week I got them installed.

(It's not just fenders - but bars are wrapped, and I've installed toe-clips and straps - so it's pretty much done)
The width of the Zeppelin fenders was just a bit too wide for the clearance between the chain stays and the fork blades, but I was able to squeeze them down a little to fit, and it's hard to tell from looking. I was able to get (what I think to be) some great-looking fender lines - that is, the gap between the fenders and the tires is even all the way around.

The Zeppelins have neat little ridges and creases that run their length - they add such a great visual interest point.
With the bike's fairly steep head angle and short-ish fork rake I thought that toe-clip overlap might be an issue. It doesn't seem to be, though. 

I've taken the bike out on some short rides. The 38mm tires do a great job of smoothing out the road and cancelling vibration from the Akron pavé. If I can convince myself to run tires closer to the clearance limits, I could probably fit 42mm in there.

I'll get it out for more (and longer) rides and get a sense of how well I like it. If I decide it's worth the investment, I may (some day) send the frame out for new paint and get some modest modifications done - cable stops, brake pivots, and rack mounts. But for now I'll just enjoy it as-is.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Summer Begins With A Bike Ride

School is out and I've officially been done with work for a week now. But Summer begins with a bike ride - or at least it doesn't feel like Summer until I get out on a weekday for a ride with the Retrokids.

We were able to get out on Friday for a ride on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park - it was a gorgeous day with clear skies, and warm without being too hot. We've had a lot of rain this Spring, so everything is lush and green.
Exploring one of the old canal locks.

The Retrokids rode their new bikes - they've been enjoying them for about a month now, mostly for rides around town, such as little errands to the grocery store or the library. This was their first time using them for a longer ride. They love 'em.

There are the bikes - all '80s vintage, renovated with new paint and updated parts. The celeste bike there has some canvas panniers that hadn't arrived yet when I posted pictures of the finished project last month. The brand is "Tourbon" and they come from an eBay seller in China. They look expensive, but are only about $75 a pair. 

They still love to climb around on the old canal locks, and look for frogs or turtles.

Friday was also the opening day for Szalay's - the awesome little farm market in the middle of the CVNP. It's a great rest stop or destination for a ride in the valley. There are always good snacks - whether fresh fruit, or cookies, and on the weekends (Friday - Sunday) you can get grilled hotdogs and burgers, and ice cream. We made the market our half-way point destination and had some ice cream before heading back.

The Retrokids are growing up fast, but riding our bikes is still something that brings us together, even as they start discovering other interests - and eventually (shudder) boys. Thankfully we're not quite there yet, but it's only a matter of time. I really have to make the most of days like these while I still have them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Bike Commuting Wrap-Up

Another school year is coming to a close, and it's time for a look back at my bike-commuting numbers.

Last year was such a big record-breaker (132 days - 76% bike-to-work average) that this year seems decidedly "not-brag-worthy." Between lousy weather and different commitments/arrangements with my kids, I simply wasn't able to come close to the kind of numbers I've had for the past couple of years. There were a lot of days that, regardless of weather, I simply couldn't take the time to bike to work.

This was the 7th full year that I've been challenging myself to ride to work, and I start each year with the goal of riding at least 50% of the time. Unfortunately I didn't make that this year. We had a pretty wet Fall, and Winter was . . . well . . . Winter. I went into Christmas break with just under 50% average, and though I did manage to ride some in January and February, my average bottomed out at 40% by early March. Back around Spring Break, I thought I might be in a position where, if Spring weather was good, I might be able to make it back up to 50% - but then this turned out to be a really wet Spring, and crazy busy with the kids after school.

So, how far did I get?

As of today, I have 79 days and I'm just hoping to reach 80 by the end of the week (with strong thunderstorms in the forecast nearly every day), but either way, I'll probably finish the year with about 45.something% average. It could have been worse. In 2015, I had finished with 61 days/35% - and 2014 I had 76 days/42.9%. So it's officially only my third-worst year.

Nevertheless, my long-term 7-year average is still about 53% - so that's still pretty good in the big picture.

At 28.5 miles per day, 79 days gives me 2251 miles, and I estimate that I've saved about 75 gallons of gas (based on my car's typical 30 mpg avg). At today's gas prices (about $2.50/gal), that's about $187. Spread out over the past 7 years, I've ridden 657 days to/from work - for 18,724.5 miles - and probably saved roughly 625 gallons of fuel.

Some pictures:

Snow on April 1st. Notice the cat paw prints on the shoulder.
Early morning glow over a snow-covered road.
Red skies at morning, cyclists take warning.
A brilliant May morning. Sad to say it, but these farm fields will soon be houses.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Nearly There: Motobecane 650B Conversion

Well, the Motobecane Grand Jubile 650B conversion is nearly there. I still have a few odds and ends to complete - install toe clips and straps, wrap the bars, get some fenders, etc. - but it's definitely rideable at this point.

I've taken the bike for a short spin around the neighborhood to sort things out. It seems to handle nicely, and felt pretty good over the old brick-paved streets near my home (they're like the Akron version of cobblestones -- Akron pavé, if you will).

The red/black/gold color scheme is a favorite of mine. The paint looks pretty good from a few feet back, but up close there are lots of chips, scratches, and touchups to be seen. Never mind that for now. I'm not sure what the angles are on this frame, but the head angle looks fairly steep, and there's not a lot of fork rake. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that earlier versions of this model had a slacker head angle and more rake. Funny thing, though - the '77 catalog lists the Grand Jubile as a touring model. It's probably closer to that now than it was when new. I ordered some fenders from Velo-Orange, which I think will cap this project off nicely. 
I did end up cutting about ¾ inch off the ends of the bars, which seems to work well with the bar-end shifters, and makes them look a little more "normal" to my eye. I used Dia Compe 750 center pull brakes on the front and rear, with Velo-Orange pads. The pads are not quite at the bottom of the slots in front - but are pretty much there in back. I still need to wrap the bars (I'll use Tressostar black cotton tape with a coat of shellac) but I won't do that until I'm sure about the reach to the bars and the brake lever placement, etc.
Lots of space in the back. Fitting fenders shouldn't be a problem. For the cable hanger in back, I found a new-old-stock Shimano hanger with a built-in quick release. There's a similar quick release hanger on the front, but marked Dia Compe. Yes - my brake levers have quick releases built in, too. Used together, the brakes open up as wide as possible to let a wheel and a fat tire out easily. To run the brake cable housing along the top tube I needed to use cable clamps. Fun fact: French bikes use a 26mm top tube and most cable clamps are made for 25.4. I had some nice old Shimano ones that appear to be stainless steel instead of chromed, but they wouldn't quite work - the clamps themselves are flexible and seemed like they'd fit, but the supplied screws weren't long enough. I searched though my spare parts and found longer screws that happened to be the right thread and diameter. Yay!
This view tells me I need to remove a little excess cable housing - the "loops" look a bit big to me.
I did it again. Another SunTour Vx - this time it's the medium-cage "S" model. The bike would have originally come with a Cyclone derailleur set - but the Vx is reasonably light, looks pretty cool, and is darn near indestructible. Notice that the frame was built with SunTour dropouts. Older versions of the Grand Jubile used Huret Jubilee derailleurs, and I assume the Huret dropouts as well - and the derailleur hangers on those are not compatible with most of today's derailleurs (at least not without some modifications). SunTour and Shimano both settled on the Campagnolo-style derailleur hanger some time back in the '60s or early '70s, which pretty much made that the de-facto standard for the industry.
Up front, I have the SunTour ARX, a nice-shifting but under-appreciated front derailleur. I used the same Vx/ARX combination on one of the bikes I built for my daughters. I got the VO crank slightly used for a fraction of the price of new (the version with drilled rings would have been a nice touch, but that's how it goes). MKS Sylvan pedals have the right vintage appeal.

Always Brooks saddles.
I know I included the catalog and specs in an earlier post, but it's worth seeing again.

Being my first 650B conversion project, I tried to keep the investment low. I got the frame pretty cheap, raided my parts bins or bought lightly used parts wherever possible, and went with budget-friendly new parts where needed. I'll have to get a sense of how much I like the bike, and make sure the fit (and everything else) works for me. For one thing, I did go with a 25" frame (I normally ride 24") based on some recommendations from people who've done similar conversions. Going down a wheel size lowers everything enough that I can still straddle the top tube just fine - but I do wonder about the length/reach. We'll see how that works.

If I decide I really like it and want to stick with it, I do have some thoughts about things I might do with it later - like maybe sending the frame out for new paint and having some braze-ons added, such as brake pivots (either for direct-mounting the center pulls, or possibly cantilevers), and cable guides/stops, etc. But I'll want to ride it as-is for a while before I make any decisions like that.

Here are the full specs:

Frame: 1977 Motobecane Grand Jubile, Vitus 172 chrome-moly tubing throughout, 25".
Wheels: SunTour Vx hubs, Grand Bois rims, 36 Sapim double-butted spokes.
Tires: Pacenti Pari-Moto 38mm
Rear Derailleur: SunTour Vx-S
Front Derailleur: SunTour ARX
Shift Levers: SunTour BarCon ratcheting bar-end levers
Freewheel: SunTour Pro Compe, 5-speed, 14-28
Crank: Velo-Orange, 48/34
Pedals: MKS Sylvan
Bottom Bracket: IRD QB-55 with Swiss-threaded cups.
Headset: Velo-Orange (French threaded)
Stem: Nitto Technomic, 9cm
Handlebars: Velo-Orange "Course," Maes-bend
Brake Levers: Dia Compe 204Q (with quick release)
Brakes: Dia Compe DC750, with Velo-Orange pads.
Seatpost: Kalloy Uno, 26.4mm
Saddle: Brooks B-17

I'll get more pictures posted and a ride report when the last bits are finished.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Pacenti 650B Tires

Time for another update on the Motobecane conversion project: this time, it's tires. For 650B tires, I chose 38mm Pacenti Pari-Motos made by Panaracer. In terms of price, they cost more than a diehard everyday workhorse tire like the Panaracer Pasela (which is available in the size), but less than the 650B options from Rene Herse (formerly Compass) or the Grand Rando tires from Soma. The quality seems excellent. They mounted up easily, and seated evenly all the way around with no trouble. They have a fine file-pattern tread, and the casings feel light and supple. They look both fast and comfy, and I can only imagine that they will offer a great ride.

The Pari-Motos are available in 38mm and 42mm widths. Actual width can vary depending on the rims they're mounted on, and unfortunately that can sometimes be difficult to predict. I measured between the stays on my bike and figured I'd be safest with the 38mm version. I tend to be a little conservative when it comes to clearance to allow for things like broken spokes or bent rims, etc. (though my caution has, so far, never been needed). Well, on the Grand Bois rims, with their 17mm inside width, the Pari-Motos actually measure about 35mm. They could stretch a little over time. It seems I might have been able to go with the 42s if their actual width were similarly understated, though it would mean slightly less "wiggle room" between the stays. I'm sure all will be fine as is, but it might be something to consider next time.

The labels are a little larger than I prefer, though I've seen larger and more garish. That's one of the things I like about the Compass/Rene Herse tires - that the labels are small and subtle.

Plenty of clearance between the fork blades - and tons under the crown. I'm going to need long brakes to make it to the rims. I'll have to use 75mm center pulls to reach, and I'll probably need every millimeter. (by the way, if the wheel/tire appears not to be centered in the fork, rest assured it's only due to the angle of the photo).
There's good clearance between the heavily-indented stays. It's nice and convenient that the indenting lines up well with a 650B rim and tire. I could probably have gone a size up and clearance would still be acceptable. Should be decent room for a fender in there, too.
The Pacenti tires seem to be really nice and should compare favorably to the Compass/Rene Herse tires. I understand that those have an even finer, more supple casing with higher thread count which is part of the reason they cost more - but I'm thinking these will prove to be a good choice for my budget. I'm getting pretty excited to get this on the road.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

RIP Roland Della Santa

One of the greats of American bicycle frame building died last week. Roland Della Santa, who was 72 years old, was found by a friend, having apparently died peacefully in his home.

At the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Della Santa always
had a low-key presence - letting the workmanship of his frames
 speak for itself. The frame he's holding here was a
winner at the 2009 NAHBS. (photo from ClassicRendezvous)
Della Santa was a part of the Northern California racing scene in the '60s and early '70s - often racing with people like Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey who would go on to become pioneers of mountain biking. Della Santa started building frames in 1970 and described himself as largely self-taught. He had learned how to braze in high school and started building frames - at first for himself and friends, studying Italian racing bikes for inspiration. "I copied the Italian frames I raced on," he said in a 1987 Bicycle Guide interview. "I rode Italian bikes, French bikes, and English bikes, and it was obvious the Italians knew how to build race bikes."

One rarely hears the name of Della Santa without the name Greg LeMond - often within the same breath. Della Santa first encountered the young phenom when 15-year-old Greg and his dad, Bob LeMond, came into the local bike shop where Della Santa was working. Bob was looking to get himself and his son new racing bikes that they could race together during the "off season" from skiing. Greg quickly proved himself a champion, and the following year Della Santa quit working at the local shop to focus full-time on frame building, and sponsored the future star.

Over the years, Della Santa would make many of the bikes LeMond rode and raced on, regardless of what name was on the frame. In 1986, he added more building staff and started making the first line of LeMond-branded frames (later iterations of LeMond bikes were made by Trek. Let's just say that ended badly).
That's Roland in the middle of this shot. The long-haired guy on the left is none other than Gary Fisher. (photo from Della Santa's website)
Della Santa sponsored a team in the late '70s. That young blonde kid to his immediate left would go on to great things. (from Della Santa's website)
LeMond winning the Junior National Road Race Championship - and immortalizing Della Santa's name along with his own.
Roland Della Santa outside his Reno workshop, from a 1987 Bicycle Guide magazine profile.
Della Santa was known for excellent craftsmanship on his frames - but was not overly interested in fancy ornamentation or obsessive filing and detail work. He meant for his bikes to be ridden and raced - and for that, it was more important that they be perfectly aligned and solidly built. He wasn't all that interested in building wall-hangers or art collectibles. People who bought his frames were often repeat customers, and many people recall that he loved to talk and tell stories. For nearly 50 years he humbly made great bikes and dispensed the sage advice of a master.

I'm sorry to say I never met Roland Della Santa, though I've admired his work for much of my bicycle-obsessed life. The bicycling world will miss him greatly.