I say I assume they were original, but I don't know for certain. I've seen different spec sheets for the bike, either from the company's catalogs, or from old Bicycling magazine buyers' guides, and the specs seem to vary. Some list Wolber Super Champion rims, others list Mavic Module 3, and it could have just depended on the year. Mine are Module 4. The one thing that's consistent is the Specialized hubs and the spoke count. So either the specs changed at some point (it wasn't unusual for things like that to change, sometimes in the middle of a model year and usually without notice) or somebody laced up a new set of wheels using the same hubs, or at least the same type. A lot can happen in 30 years.
|An ad for the hubs, circa 1984.|
The Mavic Module 4 rims are somewhat like the venerable MA2, with a similar shape and cross section, but considerably wider. The MA2 rims were about 20mm wide, whereas the Module 3 was 22mm, and the Module 4 was a whopping 26mm wide rim! The rims also feature stainless steel double eyelets at all the spoke holes for more strength. The Mod. 4 were designed for heavy duty loaded touring and tandem use. They aren't light -- I've found weight listed at around 540 grams, which is at least 80 grams more than the MA2. Should be bomb-proof though, right?
When I took the wheels off the Expedition, I was pleased to see the sealed hubs, but on the whole I was underwhelmed by the condition of the wheels, at least visually. The hub locknuts and cones were brown with rust. The quick release skewers were mismatched -- the front lever was correct, but the rear one was a modern replacement (an open cam design! Oh, come on!). The wheels overall were pretty grimy, the rims looked dull, and the rim eyelets were all rusty. Rusty?! They're supposed to be stainless steel! So, guess what? Stainless steel can actually rust. Who knew? There are different grades of stainless steel, which contain different percentages of chromium (anywhere from 12 - 30% thank you, internet) which is primarily what makes it "stainless." But it can, and does, rust.
I had another set of wheels waiting in the wings that I was perfectly content to use on this bike, but I took the time to examine these Specialized/Mod. 4 wheels a little more closely. Turning the axles in the hubs, I found that the bearings were still butter smooth. And even if they weren't, as I mentioned already, they'd be easily serviced. Just for grins, I put the wheels into my truing stand. The front one was absolutely perfectly true. The rear wheel had just the slightest bit of lateral runout. The spokes and nipples, once wiped with a bit of oil, turned smoothly and I got the rear wheel running true in a matter of minutes. I don't know how many miles these wheels had seen, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised at their trueness, considering the heft of the rims and the fact that they were 36/40 spokes.
OK, any other problems? Well, turning the rear axle and watching it closely, I suspected that it might have been ever-so-slightly bent on the drive side. I couldn't even be certain until I pulled the axle out and held it up next to a good straight-edge. Turning it slowly against the straight-edge, I could see just a tiny gap appear at one end. Maybe 1/32 of an inch at the most. Probably acceptable for use as-is, but I swapped it for a new one. I didn't want a slightly bent axle to lead to any premature wear. I know -- premature wear -- sounds funny when you're talking about a set of wheels that are already 30+ years old.
I still had the cosmetic issues to deal with, so I ended up spending a rainy Saturday with some steel wool, metal polish, and rags, and worked at them until my fingers were raw. It was painful, but satisfying work, and they cleaned up surprisingly well.
Then there was that abhorrent mismatched quick release skewer. It happens that I have a bag of old quick release levers and skewers. Various brands and types. Some complete, some in pieces. When it comes to things like that, I just don't like to throw anything away. So I look through the bag and find an old Specialized front skewer of the right style with just a bit of rust peppering the chromed surface. Totally workable. I also had a couple of '70s and '80s vintage rear wheel skewers from different brands. Nice thing about these older-style Campagnolo-copy skewers is that they're easily disassembled, and a lot of them (but not all) are similar enough to one another that the parts are interchangeable. A little trial and error, some mix-and-match, and I was able to put together an appropriate matching replacement.
In the end, the wheels looked more than acceptable.
|My rear hub, and my mix-and-match "proper" quick release lever. Even the hub locknuts/cones cleaned up with some steel wool and a good oil rub.|
|Super-duty Mavic Module 4 rims. No more rusty eyelets.|
|Front hub, and a nicely cleaned quick release lever. And the levers front and rear now match.|
|I mounted a like-new Shimano 600 6-speed freewheel - 13 - 30 teeth.|
Not having to do a wheel size conversion was important to me as it eliminated a lot of potential pitfalls that can happen. If a bike has sidepull or centerpull caliper brakes, converting from 27" to 700c is pretty easy. Often it's just a matter of sliding the brake pads about 4 mm lower in the brake arms. If the original brakes don't have enough "reach" to make the change, it's easy enough to get longer-reach brakes, old or new, to fit almost any budget. With cantilever brakes, where the pivot posts are brazed directly to the frame/fork, there can be any number of problems that crop up, adding to frustration.
Pitfalls? So much of it becomes dependent on the right choice of brake model and design -- how much vertical adjustment is there for the pads? More importantly, because the brakes move toward the rim in a fairly tight radius arc of movement -- inward and downward -- the amount of pad angle adjustment becomes crucial. In some cases, one can find a brake with long vertical slots that allow a lot of up/down adjustment, but it could be impossible to get the brake pads to contact the rim at a useable angle. Some older road bikes with cantilevers have the mounting posts spaced much closer together than mountain bikes or even more modern bikes, which can further complicate things. Even rim width can affect the success of the conversion. And in all of this, it can be impossible to know if a set of brakes will be workable until you actually try them. Unless one has a huge stockpile of different cantilever brakes to experiment with, that kind of trial-and-error can get expensive.
So, yes - I was glad to have 700c wheels. These super-duty wheels could prove to be overkill for my needs, but they're a cool piece of the project.
More to come . . .