Monday, February 24, 2020


With a couple of months of anticipation building, things are starting to come together now that my vintage Specialized Sequoia frame is back from the painters.

Fresh from the painters. Still needs decals.
There's something really incredible about a fresh, newly painted bike frame and a full collection of nice components to complete it. I mean, a newly painted frame even smells good. Add to that the smell of Brooks Proofide on a new leather saddle, fresh grease, and new tires, and a new bike project is a feast for the senses.
Decals are placed - and it looks awfully nice.
For paint, I took the frame to Franklin Frames in Newark, Ohio. The builder/painter at Franklin is Jack, and he does excellent work, and his prices are among the most reasonable in the business. The turnaround time wasn't too bad, either - it was about 6 weeks from drop off to pick up. And as an added bonus, he's located only about 2 hours away from Akron. I've had Jack do frame repairs on a couple of different frames for me in the past, and he did the beautiful burgundy paint on my Expedition a couple years ago.

In the past, I've always boxed the frames up and shipped them, but this time I decided to skip the packing and shipping and just make the drive to Newark so I could meet up with Jack in person. That was helpful because I really liked the original color of the Sequoia and wanted get his advice and look at color samples to help us get as close as possible to the original shade. I think we got pretty close to the shade, though the new paint has a more pronounced metallic sparkle than the original, which had just a very fine, subtle metallic to it.

The workmanship on these is really special for a production frame. The long-point lugs are nicely thinned, and the shorelines are very clean. The tubing stickers don't identify the maker, but the Special Touring tubes were a custom-order tube set from Tange.

Apart from chipped and scratched paint, the frame was in pretty nice shape as I got it. One thing I wanted to get addressed, though, was the top tube cable guides. There was some rust under them, and even though it wasn't bad enough to make it a repair issue, I asked Jack to remove them. Fact is, those little guides, which were so popular on bikes in the '80s, are total sweat traps. I almost never find old bikes from that era where they don't have rust bubbling up around them. Same goes for the little cable clamps that were once common, if not installed with care. As an alternative, I had him braze on split cable stops to the lower side of the top tube - which I think is an improvement for durability, and also makes cable replacement easier. Some people also feel that brake feel/action is improved slightly by reducing some of the length of housing that the brake cable has to pass through (nevertheless, I don't know that I've ever noticed the difference).

Showing a little SunTour pride. That was not part of the standard Sequoia decal set, but one I added. When I got the frame, it had a sticker in that location for a different component brand - I figured I'd give a little credit to SunTour for the fine components I'll soon be hanging on the frame.

Decals came from VeloCals in California. The originals on the frame were of the "peel-n-stick" vinyl variety, which is the same thing one gets from VeloCals. Rather than have the decals put on at the painters, I opted to install them myself after getting the frame home. There's no real trick to it apart from making sure the surface is super clean, and not handling the decals too much and getting fingerprints in the adhesive. Well, you have to be careful to get them on straight, too.

One thing I find interesting about the graphics that Specialized was using in this generation of bike frames is that they are exactly the opposite of what one finds in bike graphics today - or maybe any day. First of all, the main logo on the downtube is the model name "Sequoia," while the brand "Specialized" is in tiny font and barely noticeable. Typically (especially today), the brand name is like a billboard on the downtube, visible from half a mile away, in addition to more branding and logos on top tubes, seat tubes, and sometimes even the forks and stays. On these early '80s Specialized bikes, the graphics overall are minimally tasteful. Just a name on each side of the downtube, and a small "S" logo on the headtube.

That's what I can show for right now. There will be more, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Gathering Parts - Bars & Stem

As I'm gathering parts for the Sequoia, the last items I'll be discussing are "cockpit" items - bars and stem.

Part of me was interested in finding '80s vintage Specialized branded parts for this. Their bars and stems from the time were high quality and nicely finished. The problem is that unmolested vintage bars are hard to find in my preferred width (44 cm). Handlebars in the '80s just weren't typically as wide as I like today, and it wasn't uncommon back then to find 38 or 40 cm bars on many complete bikes - even in the larger frame sizes. It's hard to imagine a bike today with a 60 cm frame and only 40 cm bars, but it was common back then. The other issue is that the older stems were not as long/tall in the quill, and these days I like to get my bars a little higher than I did when I was in my 20s. (I think the Specialized ones were a little longer than contemporary Cinelli and other popular Italian stems from the time, but still not long enough for my current tastes).

I decided to get current production Nitto items - and truth be told, Nitto is the same company that made the bars and stems that bore the Specialized brand back then, so something about it still feels "right." My bars are Nitto mod. 176, which were once sold by Rivendell as "Dream Bars." They are a favorite of mine.

I have the 176 bars on more bikes than any other bar brand or model. In reach, drop, and shape, they just seem to work well for me.
I like that the logos on the higher quality Nitto bars are reminiscent of the old (pre '78) Cinelli "coat of arms" logo. I saved a bit of money in finding a very lightly used set of bars. There are some marks left on the bends from mounting brake levers - but the center section looks perfect - once they're wrapped, it will be impossible to know they weren't brand new.
Mod. 176 - 440 mm.
For my stem, I've got the Nitto Technomic. Again, I saved a bunch by finding a lightly used one. What few marks that are on it from installation are down near the bottom and will be well out of sight once I get it installed on the Sequoia. I strongly suspect this one was installed and removed again without actually seeing much/any use - maybe someone decided it wasn't the right size for them? In any case, this is the non-anodized version, which means the finish isn't as "maintenance free," but if it does get scuffs or scratches, it can easily be re-polished.
So, if readers couldn't figure it out from my recent post on bar-end shifters, these are the shifters I decided to use on the Sequoia. SunTour BarCons have a nice ratcheting mechanism so the action is fairly light - and I do like the "convenience" of shifting with them. Cosmetically this pair looks about as good as they come, short of finding a brand new set still sealed in the package (and yes, one can still find those!).
The styling of these didn't change much at all from their introduction in the early '70s up until the advent of their Accushift indexing version in the late '80s. As mentioned in that earlier post, one cool feature of SunTour BarCons is that they are completely rebuildable - and most of the necessary small parts can still be found! I've seen (and bought) NOS rebuild kits that included all the little nuts and bolts, and one can find new bodies/pods, ratchet covers, rubber lever hoods, and expander wedges. The only NOS replacement parts I never see for sale are the tiny ratchets, pawls, and springs - and those can be scavenged from used pairs if needed (and they are rarely needed!). Not only that, but many of the internal bits are also interchangeable with the downtube-mounted versions which are plentiful and cheap.
When it's time to wrap the bars, I'll be using Newbaum's cotton tape. Top quality stuff, and the rolls are a little longer than the Velox that I sometimes use - so, better for wide bars. Starting with brown tape, and with a few of coats of shellac (one or two of amber, one or two coats of clear) it will look almost like aged brown leather and be a nice match to my saddle.
That covers all the parts I've chosen for the Sequoia, save for a few minor odds and ends, nuts and bolts, etc. I literally just got a call from the painters to say the frame is ready for pickup, so once I get it back, I'll be sure to get more pics as it all gets put together. Stay tuned. . .

Monday, February 10, 2020

Mullet Gearing?

So, here's a new one on me: Mullet Gearing.

Business in front,
party in the back.
I was scanning some of the other bike-related websites - industry cheerleader blogs, etc. - when I first encountered the reference to a "mullet bike" or "mullet gearing."

I assume most people are familiar with the frequently-ridiculed hairstyle it takes its name from, epitomized here by the David Spade character, Joe Dirt. Short in front and on the sides, but long and cascading down in back - like a hair waterfall.

Well, apparently, this is now the name given to a recent trend of putting MTB gearing on a drop-bar road bike. Typically it would have the drop-bar road controls (business in front?), and a 1x11 or 1x12 drivetrain (party in the back?). And for the true full-blown mullet in all its enthusiastic glory, it should have a cassette with a range of something like 10-50 teeth.

Holy cow. People must really hate front derailleurs.

An SRAM-equipped  "mullet bike" - from the SRAM website.
More than anyone else, they seem to be embracing the trend.
Yes, with 11 or 12 sprockets on a cassette, and with some of today's MTB derailleurs being capable of shifting to that 50-tooth sprocket, one can obviously get tremendous gear range with a single chainring, and no "duplication" of ratios.

Having such a wide range on a cassette would, I expect, mean pretty large jumps between gear ratios. But with 11 or 12 cogs, proponents say that effect is minimized (note: minimized). And apparently, at least one company (Spanish component maker, Rotor) is now offering 13 cogs! Jeezus.

Fans of the mullet tout the weight savings of losing a chainring and the front derailleur, although that's got to be mitigated at least a little by the huge cassette cogs, not to mention adding more (and still more) of them, which are more likely to be steel than aluminum. And then there's the issue that as chains and sprockets keep getting narrower, the shifting has to be much more sensitive to misadjustment, dirt, and wear. And yet, this seems to be where we're going.

Good or bad, I don't know, but I guess it's the hot new trend for "gravel" and "adventure" bikes.

As for me, I'm still unsure where all the hatred for front derailleurs comes from, but I'm still more than happy with a compact double crank and 6 cogs in back.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a leather saddle and a can of Proofide waiting for my attention.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Gathering Parts - Saddle and Seatpost

For this installment on the components for my early '80s Sequoia, let's take a look at the saddle and seatpost I've chosen for the build.

Anyone who's been reading this blog for a while knows that these are my favorite saddles: Brooks B17. This is the "Champion Standard" model in antique brown, with the small chromed rivets. The more expensive "Special" has a skivved lower edge and larger hammered copper rivets, and many of those also have copper plated rails. They're nice, but I'm OK with either version. My backside can't tell the difference. Some say the leather on the Special is a little better, but I don't know if that's true - at least I'm pretty sure the folks at Brooks would refute that claim.
Regular retail price on a B17 "Standard" is somewhere around $120. Expect about $30 - $40 more for the "Special." One can often find the "Standard" offered by sellers online for $85 - $90. But the real secret to finding a bargain on a Brooks saddle is to watch eBay for ones that have been removed by their original owners to be sold after a few miles of riding. There might be some marks on the rails from having been mounted to a seat post, or maybe a blemish in the leather, but you can expect to save another $10 - $15 below the online retailer prices, and it's easy to dismiss the blemishes with the knowledge that it's going to get more once it sees some use.

The SR Laprade was probably the most common seatpost one would see in the '80s - they were  ubiquitous standard-issue original equipment on many Japanese-built bikes at the time, including a lot of Specialized Expeditions and Sequoias. Because they were so common, they're still easy to find today and reasonably priced, whether NOS like this one, or clean and lightly used. Truth be told, I actually prefer 2-bolt seatposts (the Nitto Jaguar, aka "Frog," is my favorite) but the Laprade seemed like a natural choice for this project. 
Just a brief post today. The Sequoia is still at the painters, but don't think it will be much longer. Starting to get excited!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Gathering Parts - Brakes and Levers

As I'm highlighting my various choices of components for my early '80s Specialized Sequoia, so far I've described my choices for wheels and drivetrain components. Today's installment is on brakes.

The Sequoia was designed for "normal reach" brakes - which means those with a range from about 47 - 57 mm. It seemed to me that the perfect choice for keeping consistent with the era was to use vintage SunTour Superbe brakes (mod. 4700). A lot of brand-new Sequoias probably left bike shops with these brakes installed. In my view, these were the first Japanese-made brakes that really rivaled the quality and finish of Campagnolo's brakes in every detail. Up to this point, other Japanese-made brakes, even top-of-the-line ones like Shimano Dura-Ace, were very nice overall, but maybe in some small area, like the quality of some of the smaller parts (like cable adjusters, or the quick release mechanism) would leave something to be desired. These ones really nailed it, and subsequent brakes from SunTour, Dia Compe, and Shimano would actually surpass the best by having not only excellent materials and finish, but lighter and smoother action as well.

As I understand it, these are the second version of the Superbe brakes. The first version having a somewhat "lesser" quick release mechanism - whereas these have a truly deluxe (and smoothly operating) eccentric cam, obviously modeled after the Campagnolo design. The Superbe brakes were made for SunTour by Dia Compe.

It's hard to tell these were ever used. Even the pads look almost new. I may end up replacing the pads, however, as these are likely to be pretty hard by now. I believe Scott-Mathauser makes replacements for these holders, and their "orange" pad material isn't that far off from the original rusty brown color used by SunTour. Something to consider.
For levers, I'm faced with a choice:

These original Superbe non-aero levers are in great shape - except for the fact that they need new hoods. Original SunTour-branded rubber hoods are nearly impossible to find, and I haven't seen reproductions. However, these take the same hoods as the classic Campagnolo Records, and there are some no-name or aftermarket branded hoods that will fit. The ones from Rustines come to mind (available from Velo-Orange, last time I checked). I like the slotted/drilled levers, and these ones are almost completely free of scrapes or blemishes. They would be a good, traditional choice.

Then again, I also have these mid-'80s Dia Compe aero levers that are likewise in excellent condition. Aero levers first started coming into popularity about the same time my Sequoia was built, so they would not be out of place. This pair (AGC 251 - circa '86) are an improvement over the earliest versions of aero levers in that they have a return spring built in for smoother operation. They look great, have a nice shape overall, and the hoods are soft. If I were trying to do some kind of perfect "period correct" restoration, right down to the dates of all the components, I might balk at putting 1986 or '87 levers on a 1982 bike. But it's my bike dammit.
That's all for now. Stay tuned for more. . .

Monday, January 27, 2020

Old Is Good - And Sometimes New Again: Bar-end Shifters

I've been thinking about shifters lately.

As I've been working on a current project, I was trying to decide what shifters to use, and I had several choices - one of them being bar-end shifters.

Ever since Shimano introduced their STI system (Shimano Total Integration) with the brake and shift levers combined into a single complex (and expensive) unit, practically any road bike sold today has some version of "integrated" brake/shift levers, or as some of us call them, "brifters." I've been told that only "squares" call them "brifters" and that all the cool roadies laugh at the term and at the people who use it. But what can I say? Like most retrogrouches, I'm so "square" that I still say things like "square" (as opposed to "groovy"). Anyhow, Saint Sheldon called them brifters, and who am I to argue with that?

Lots of people call the integrated brake/shifter systems one of the greatest developments in modern cycling. The thing is, I've got a couple of bikes with brifters: one with Shimano's STI, and another with Campagnolo's Ergo. They're nice, but the main thing either system has going for it is convenience. With shifting controls right there at the fingertips, it seems to me that one shifts gears a lot more frequently. Is that because the levers/buttons/paddles/or-what-have-you are so close at hand - or is it because they are usually paired up with a drivetrain that has anywhere from 8 to 12 cogs in the back (multiplied by however many chainrings one has)? Shifting is easy, so you shift more often. But is it necessary? Better? I'll stick with convenient.

Then again, bar-end controls have probably 80% of the convenience with fewer drawbacks than brifters (yes, I came up with that figure after careful scientific analysis, and in no way is that a subjective, made-up, "gut-feeling" statistic).

What drawbacks? How about cost, complexity, and vulnerability? The location of integrated brake/shift levers makes them more vulnerable to crash damage. Case in point: I hit some black ice on my commuting bike last winter, hit the pavement, and knocked one of the brifters half-way round the handlebar. Luckily they just got scuffed up but didn't break - but if they had, there would have been no repair option other than full replacement (and could I have bought just one brifter, or would I have had to buy the whole set?). If they do get damaged, or if they wear out, the only remedy in most cases is to replace the entire unit, which is not exactly cheap. Then there's the complexity of the systems which means there is a lot going on in that small package, and a lot more that can go wrong. I don't know about others, but I find it really annoying to have to replace an entire component or a whole system all because one small part broke or wore out. Campagnolo levers have an advantage over Shimano in that one can replace internal parts when they get worn - but doing so might be beyond the capability of most home mechanics and even some shop mechanics. Just like our computers, phones, televisions, appliances, and other electronic goods, integrated controls on a bike become yet another situation where "repair" really just means "replace."

Keeping brake levers and shift levers separate means that individual components can be much simpler with less to break or wear out. If they need maintenance or repair, they can be easier to work on. And if something does need to be replaced, one can often replace the individual part or component and not a whole system. If one crashes and damages a traditional brake lever, the shifting components are unaffected, and replacing a brake lever alone is a lot cheaper than an integrated component. Or conversely, if the shifter needs to be replaced, the brake levers are unaffected, and so on.

Also, both down-tube shifters and bar-end shifters are less vulnerable to damage. And the bar-ends levers are still easy to reach and can be operated without removing one's hands from the bars, though it might mean moving the hands away from the brake levers for a moment. If you really must brake and shift simultaneously, as I'm sure everyone does regularly, you've just lost some convenience.

Bar-end shifters have been around a long time - at least since the 1940s, if not earlier. The overall style of bar-end shifters hasn't really changed much since they were first introduced, and many of them look outwardly similar, though the internal mechanisms have changed some. Here are a few notable ones, old and new.

When Campagnolo introduced its first parallelogram derailleur, the Gran Sport, they also offered a bar-end lever, going back at least as early as 1953 (judging by their catalogs). The examples above, with the familiar blue covers, probably date to the '70s but were made for a couple of decades (as I understand it, the smaller parts are not interchangeable with the earlier Gran Sport ones). I once had a pair of these, and my main complaint was that they had to be set very tightly to prevent slipping or "auto-shifting" but when they were tight enough not to slip, they were awfully stiff to move.

Simplex bar-end control: earlier basic friction version. I have no personal experience with these, but mechanically speaking, these aren't all that different from the Campagnolo version shown above, and I'd expect them to work similarly. 

Simplex Retrofriction Shifters: These came out in the 1970s and have the same spring-clutch mechanism that made their Retrofriction downtube levers such a revelation. I've never used the bar-ends which are harder to find than the downtube mounted version (which I have and do use) - but that spring in the middle of the lever lets them work smoothly with a light touch, and without slipping.
SunTour Power Ratchet Bar-Cons: These were introduced in the early '70s and became among the most popular bar-end controls of all time. The concept is similar to that of the Simplex Retrofriction ones shown above, but the execution is a little different. These have a fine ratcheting mechanism that allows a light touch and action without slipping. The ratchet means you can feel the tiny little 'clicks' when moving them, so they're not quite as smooth as the Simplex - but it's still a very effective solution.

One of the great things about the SunTours is that they were made for many years with only the slightest changes, and they are almost completely re-buildable. Most (maybe all) of the small parts are interchangeable from one year to the next, so they're virtually immune to obsolescence. And believe it or not, you can still find the parts.
Here's an interesting one - Shimano "Fingertip Control" bar-ends. No group name on them, but I sometimes see them listed for sale as Dura Ace. Circa late '70s, I believe. These have a large coil spring inside which counterbalances the spring in the derailleur. No clicks or ratchets. No clutch. Just one spring working against another.

This is what the Shimano shifter looks like inside - it's very simple, really. Here's how they work: The spring in the rear derailleur is typically "high normal" - in other words, its natural position is to be in the high gear (smallest cog). The spring in the lever is "low normal" - in that it wants to move the derailleur to the lowest gear (largest cog - and by the way, this is all completely reversed for the front derailleur). To set them up, you have to move the lever against the spring to the opposite end of its travel and hold it in place while you pull all the slack out of the cable at the derailleur and then tighten the pinch bolt. It helps to have one of those cable pulling tools, aka a "4th hand tool." When you have them all set up properly, the two springs basically fight it out, tug-of-war style, and the derailleur stays in place where you put it. The movement takes a fairly light touch as there is very little friction. The same mechanism was also used in early Shimano Deore "thumb shifters" for mountain bikes.

Some more modern/current options:
Modern Shimano Indexing levers - available for 8, 9, 10, and even 11 speeds. My Rivendell has the 9-speed version - nearly 20 years old and still going strong. I don't know about the 10 and 11-sp. versions, but my old 9-sp. ones can be switched from indexing to friction, but the indexing is bulletproof so there'd be no reason to switch them. The bodies, or "pods" have been copied by other makers because they are compatible with many standard downtube shift levers - which means customizing options.

Current production Dia Compe levers. Notice that the pods are identical to the Shimano pods shown above. The levers have an extra-fine version of the SunTour Power Ratchet mech. Grant Petersen/Rivendell was instrumental in getting that ratchet mechanism resurrected, originally for a near-exact re-issue of the late '80s SunTour Sprint shifters (dubbed "Silver"), which they would then pair with the Shimano pods for some smooth-action bar-ends. Dia Compe later made this more "traditional" styled lever with the same internal mechanism. The levers themselves can be mounted on the pods, or on the downtube.

The latest version of the Rivendell Silver shifters (Silver 2) is without a doubt styled with bar-end and thumb-shifter applications in mind. Currently available from the Rivendell website.

I have bar-ends on a number of my bikes. I like them for their convenience and for all those "-ity's." You know the ones I mean: simplicity, reliability, durability, and repairability. It's nice to know such things are still valued enough to be an option in a throwaway world.