Thursday, March 28, 2019

New Bikes for the Retro-Kids: Update

One of the new bikes for my daughters is just about finished - nothing left but a few final adjustments. We had a beautiful spring morning with clear skies and brilliant sunshine so I took the bike down to the Cuyahoga Valley and an old Akron landmark for some photos.

This bike started out as an early '80s Centurion LeMans, with a nice-looking lugged steel frame in the mixte configuration. I got it as mostly just a frame and fork (it had a headset and bottom bracket - neither of which I reused) for about $75. It was powder coated in a purple color picked by my younger daughter.

The bike has a classic look and great proportions. 

Here you can get a look at the unicorn head badge I installed. You can also see the basket is resting on a little Dia Compe ENE rack which attaches directly to most Dia Compe (and Weinmann, I presume) center pull brakes. One thing I have to point out is that those little racks are a PAIN to install. For one thing, the brakes have to be completely disassembled to attach the rack, but worse, (learned after installing two of these in my time) I've found that they cannot simply go on without a fair amount of modifications - including some drilling and a lot of bending, etc. 

I used Esge/SKS plastic fenders. The tab for attaching the fenders to the fork crown will often hit the headset unless it's either bent or set off a little from the crown. I think this was a pretty nice solution, and the bolt was plenty long enough to make it possible. I installed the locking nut for the brakes and got the brakes set up first, then put the fender tab on behind that and finished it off with an acorn nut. This way, the fenders can be attached or removed without messing with the brake at all, and it has a nice, finished look.

Plastic fenders look pretty good when they're installed right. They're also light, durable, quiet, and cheap. 
Drive train shot. The crank is an '80s vintage Sakae with 34/48 rings. Derailleurs are 3rd generation SunTour Cyclone from the mid-'80s. The wheels were built by me - vintage Suzue hubs with Sun CR-18 rims. I used a new old stock SunTour 6-speed freewheel, 14-28 teeth. Some will notice that I was able to attach the rear brake on the middle set of stays which gives a nice straight cable run for the Dia Compe center pull brake. 
Bars are Velo Orange Left Bank model with a Kalloy stem. I like these Tektro brake levers (FL750 "City Bike" levers - also available from Velo Orange) - they have a simple design, a deluxe look, and are high quality. Shift levers are vintage Shimano EM thumb shifters. They have a fine ratcheting mechanism, very similar to the SunTour power ratcheting levers - but are a bargain price for new old stock examples.
Brooks C17s (the short nosed "ladies" model). I managed to find a pair of these for about half-price. For some reason, the S-model must not be very popular because I never see the regular version for under $100. Go figure, but it worked out well for me, so no complaints. I'm using the regular version on my commuting bike and like it well. Seat post is an inexpensive Kalloy.
The Mustill Store is one of the oldest buildings in Akron - it was an old grocery store and butcher shop beside the Ohio & Erie canal. Lock 15 is right in front of it, and it was a regular stop for canal travelers in the 1800s. It is now a museum.
I'll have the second bike done soon - but in the meantime, if you want to look back at the earlier posts on the projects, look HERE and HERE.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Modifying Kool Stop Brake Pads

Updating vintage brakes with modern pads and cables is a great and easy way to improve their performance. Modern cables often have less friction, which can lighten the "feel" of an old pair of brakes, and modern brake pad compounds are quite a bit better than what was available "back in the day." If you have vintage brakes and are still using vintage pads, those pads may not have been anything great to begin with, and by now they are probably so hard and dry that it's a wonder they can stop a bike at all.

I've found the brake shoes from Kool Stop to be a good choice for improving older brakes - they come in a couple of different compounds (black, or salmon), have some adjustability for toe-in, are fairly inexpensive, and will work with a lot of different vintage brakes. One issue with them, however, is that they are made to be uni-directional, with a long "tail" that sometimes interferes with the forks on older bikes. In some cases, the tail of the pads gets caught up on the forks with the result that the brakes won't open up wide enough to get the wheel out. Kool Stop does make a version they call "Continental" pads which are shorter and simply rectangular - but they also don't have the toe-in adjustability, which in my view is a strike against them.

The good thing is that the longer pads can be easily modified - and here I'll show you how.

I just installed these new Kool Stop Eagle Claw Salmon shoes on this set of vintage Dia Compe center pulls. You can see that the tail of the pads extends back into the fork. In this instance, the spacing is actually not too bad and the brakes will probably open up wide enough despite the pad/fork interference - but I'm going to trim them anyhow.
 One thing you need to know about the Kool Stop brake shoes is that they are molded around a steel "foot" that runs most of the length of the shoe - stopping just short of the tail end of the pad. If you cut the shoe, you want to make sure you clear the metal foot.

Looking at the braking surface of the shoe, you can see there are two "rain grooves" that divide the pad into 3 sections. The metal "foot" that is inside the shoe ends just about where the second rain groove is at the tail end of the pad. That little ¼ in. section at the tail is the part we're going to cut off. You could probably use a basic utility knife for this, but I personally prefer a straight razor blade (nice, new, and sharp) for the job.
The blue lines show the approximate location of the metal foot. I suggest cutting on a bit of an angle through the tail end of the rain groove and outward - to make sure you don't run into the foot. If you do hit and expose it, it's not the end of the world (once on the bike, it's doubtful anyone would notice) but I'm anal retentive enough that it would drive me nuts.
Cuts like butter.
The cut is smooth and straight. When on the bike, the cut will disappear. 
It's usually only necessary to do this to the front pads - as the rear brakes often have a little more space between the seat-stays - and the brakes are usually oriented so that the long tail of the pads points away from the stays to the rear of the bike.
On the bike, you can't tell the shoe was cut, but it has increased the clearance. The next thing is the mounting posts. On the threaded versions of these shoes, the post is really long. It's possible they make it long so it works with more models of brakes - but I can't imagine any brake that needs the posts to be as long as these are. No problem. After the brakes are set up, with the position and angle you want, it's easy to cut off the end of the post with a Dremel tool. I do it with the pads mounted in the brakes, and use a file or a small abrasive wheel (also mounted in the Dremel tool) to smooth the end. If you cut the post prior to mounting, you might find it hard to get the nut started on the threads after cutting.
That's all for now. More updates on the bike projects will be coming soon.

Monday, March 11, 2019

New Bikes for the Retro-Kids: Headbadges

I'm making progress on the new bikes for the Retro-Kids - bit by bit. One update I'd like to share at the moment is on headbadges.

After getting the frames powder coated, I decided not to re-decal the bikes. With these entry-level Japanese bikes from the '80s, they aren't exactly collectable or valuable, and I figure a person can do whatever they wish with them - no need to "preserve" any kind of history. As previously shown, I did outline the lugs to dress them up a little - and next came headbadges. I decided to "personalize" the girls' bikes by choosing badges that reflect a little of their personalities and tastes.

The purple bike started out as a Centurion Le Mans and did have a badge originally (a big "C" for Centurion) that had to be removed before painting. Instead of simply re-attaching the original badge, I searched through eBay listings and found something pretty cool from a seller in China. There are a number of sellers who offer reproduction badges for known brands, as well as some unique "no-name" badges that can personalize a bike like I am doing here. The badges are metal and are applied with double-sided adhesive tape - the same stuff that is used for attaching automotive trim.

In this case, my younger daughter really loves unicorns. I was able to find this badge with a pair of rearing unicorns. I know she's going to love it.
For the second bike, which had started out as a Miyata 100, I had to get a little more creative. My older daughter really loves dragons, but searching through vintage and reproduction badges (including the same sources that provided the unicorn badge above) I couldn't find anything that seemed suitable. But looking through some jewelry pendants at the craft store, I happened to find a very cool pewter dragon and I thought "that just might work."

First, I filed off the loop at the top where the pendant would attach to a chain. Then I curved the pendant to fit the shape of the head tube and attached it with 2-part epoxy.
To make a form to curve the pendant, I bored a 1¼-inch hole in a block of wood, then split the block to reveal a half-round channel. I placed the pendant face down into the channel, then put a piece of pipe on top of that and tapped it with a hammer. The pendant gently curved to fit flush onto the head tube.

Here are a couple more progress pics:

I was able to find two sets of these old '80s vintage Sakae cranks - new old stock, but without chainrings. I had a couple of chainrings already that were the right size, and was able to find a couple more easily enough. The 110/74 bcd is still pretty common today. So both bikes will have the same cranks.
I also got a great deal on this 3rd generation SunTour Cyclone rear derailleur. It was in really good shape cosmetically, except for the logo (which was just screened on) was scratched up. I simply removed the logo completely with some fine steel wool and aluminum polish. These old SunTour derailleurs were fantastic, and this particular generation Cyclone was very robust. I have a matching Cyclone front derailleur to go with it.
That's all for now. More updates to come. . .

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Red Dots Cycling Caps

If you're like me (and if you're reading this you probably are, at least a little) then you probably appreciate the classic look of a traditional cycling cap. Vintage caps with team logos, or favorite component brands, or tires, or what-have-you, are kind of a "must have" accessory in any retrogrouch's cycling kit. I'll sometimes wear one under my helmet on a cool morning - or keep one rolled up in a jersey pocket to hide "helmet hair" when I'm stopped for a snack.

Unfortunately, being rather "large of head" I sometimes find it difficult to find caps that fit me well. Often, the vintage classics are too small. There are some options, however. I'm guessing a lot of Retrogrouch readers are familiar with Walz caps, which offer some classic-looking caps and custom-made options, and in two size ranges. The Walz caps are well made - and made in America if that's important to you - and have developed a bit of a following.

Not too long ago, I found another source for great-looking high-quality caps - this one from Canada: Red Dots Cycling. You can find them on Etsy. Like Walz, the caps are hand made and come in a variety of classic-looking styles and in two size ranges. The prices are pretty comparable to Walz as well.

The style of Red Dots caps is traditional and classy. Some of the combinations are somewhat muted, while others have a bit of whimsy.

Here's one that I have - the wine red with white/light blue stripe is subtle. Wear it away from the bike and it says "I'm a cyclist - but I'm not trying to be obnoxious about it."

It's not unusual for the Red Dots caps to have a tame or "muted" color on the outside, but with a shocking surprise "pop" when you flip the visor up.

They also have some thicker wool caps with earflaps for cold weather.
Look through their site on Etsy and you can find some cool designs in stock to suit a range of tastes - or you can choose a "custom" option to pick your own colors (that costs extra, if that needs mentioning). Most of the caps are made with a cotton or linen fabric that is fairly light and feels nice to the touch and is breathable. There's a stiffener in the brim, and there's often (but not always) a contrasting color on the flip side. The quality is good, and in my experience they seem to fit well. I get the larger size and it's comfortable.

I've got several Red Dots caps and really like them - I'd say they're worth checking out.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Battaglin Portofino - Where Steel Imitates Carbon Fiber

Battaglin bicycles began in 1981, shortly after Giovanni Battaglin won the Giro d'Italia/Vuelta a EspaƱa grand tour "double." The bike brand achieved its greatest fame when Irishman Stephen Roche won the "Triple Crown" of cycling on a Battaglin in 1987 - winning the Giro, Tour de France, and the World Championships in the same season. Some years later, the brand took a "break" for a couple of decades but was revived a few years ago as "Officina Battaglin" with a new line of modern steel-framed bikes.

The "flagship" of this new Battaglin is the Portofino - a bike which at least one of the bicycle industry cheerleader websites called "The first oversized lugged steel road bike." Obviously this would not be the first time one of these sites showed a lack of historical knowledge about their subject matter.
First "oversized" lugged steel bike? Well - "oversized" is a relative term, isn't it? First lugged steel bike built to bloated carbon fiber proportions might be a little more accurate, but doesn't quite have the same ring.

The Portofino is made with Columbus Spirit tubing, and has similar proportions to many of the oversized aluminum and carbon fiber bikes available today - including a massive tapered head-tube designed to be mated to a bloated carbon fork. But yes, it does feature lugged construction, which on a bike like the Portofino seems almost anachronistic -- and this coming from a person who loves lugged bikes. Needless to say, the lugs had to be specially designed and made to accommodate the unique design.
I notice that the bottom part of the lower head lug had to have this "scallop" built into it to clear the massive fork. Meh
Also not a fan of the seat lug which has this socket for the seat stays cast into it. The stays basically get "plugged in" and brazed in place. Such designs are kind of a time saver for the builder, but to my eye tend to look kind of clunky. But worse - unless they cast different seat lugs for each available frame size (each with a slightly different angle for the seat stays - which will vary slightly with frame size) then the fit of the stays - or the way they "line up" with the angle of the socket - can be compromised. Was that done in this case? No idea. It looks "right" in this frame size - but I haven't seen others.
It's purely a racing machine - for good pavement only. That's a 25 mm tire in there. 
Don't like the matte brown and coppertone? It's apparently also available in a chrome finish with "chromovelato" colors applied over it - like storied Italian bikes of the '80s.
Okay, so what about that "first oversized lugged steel frame" claim? Well, like I said, the term "oversized" is relative. Technically (and historically) speaking, most steel bikes built today are already oversized.

Say what?

From the early 1900s up through the 1980s, almost all quality steel bikes came with pretty standardized tubing dimensions. Specifically, this meant a top tube of 1-in. diameter (25.4 mm), and seat and down tubes of 1 1/8-in (28.6 mm) diameter. French dimensions were slightly different and strictly metric -- at 26 mm and 28 mm. Those "standards" were settled upon early on as being an ideal compromise for strength and weight for steel tubing. As higher strength steel alloys and butting became available, the weight could be brought down a bit by reducing the tubing wall thickness while keeping the outer dimensions the same.

When aluminum bikes started making the racing scene in the early 1970s, first with ALAN of Italy, and later Vitus of France, they utilized those traditional steel tubing diameters (understand, those were not the very first aluminum racing bikes - there were some lovely aluminum racers in the pre-war era - notably the Caminargent, which had octagonal-sectioned aluminum tubes bolted into ornate aluminum lugs). Those ALAN and Vitus frames were very light, but larger riders tended to dismiss them as "whippy" or too flexible. Their 1" to 1 1/8" dimensions were great for steel, but to use that for aluminum is to ignore the fact that Al is only about 1/3 as stiff or strong as steel. The stiffness issue was addressed by an MIT engineering student, Gary Klein, who experimented with bikes built from much larger diameter aluminum tubing (I believe, in the range of about 1¼ - 1¾ in. - though I could be off). Increasing the diameter of a tube greatly increases the stiffness, while the weight still remained below that of a steel frame. Before long, Cannondale followed that design model and popularized it. "Oversized" dimensions started to become commonplace.

Even though the traditional dimensions worked just fine for steel bikes (at least, for road bikes) the quest for greater stiffness made its way to steel bikes as well. The rise of mountain bikes also meant that builders were looking for ways to increase strength and stiffness. If larger diameters worked for aluminum, they would work for steel, too. One of the first steel road bikes to utilize oversized dimensions that I can recall is the Masi Volumetrica - developed in Italy by Alberto Masi in 1981 (go back to the late 1800s, before tubing dimensions became more standardized, and I'm sure there are much earlier examples). Other builders started to offer larger dimensioned tubing by the end of the decade - typically 1 1/8-in top tube, 1 ¼-in. downtube. By the late '90s, most steel bikes were built to the newer OS dimensions - but still looked "skinny" by comparison to all the welded aluminum and later carbon fiber bikes popping up everywhere.

Are there any benefits to be had from going to the diameters used in aluminum and carbon fiber for a steel frame? I really think not. People often talk about the "magic" ride quality of steel -- and this even includes people who are otherwise devoted to non-ferrous bicycles. But the ride quality which people praise isn't solely due to the properties of the material by itself. It's about the properties of the material (whether steel, titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber, or even wood) and being applied in the best way into a frame design - using the right diameters and wall thicknesses, the right geometry, taking into account frame size, and rider weight, etc.- to make the most of that material's potential. Many people talk about aluminum as giving a stiff harsh ride while others nod knowingly in agreement, but then how does that square with those early ALAN and Vitus frames being described as "comfortable" but maybe "too flexible" for a big rider? And I've known many people who've ridden steel bikes that were too stiff for their own good. There are some people for whom today's OS steel frames are overkill. It seems to me that the massive diameters being used in a bike like the Portofino would just take the stiffness to a new level. I haven't ridden it, but I imagine a bike like that would chatter over pavement imperfections, skipping over broken pavement like a stone over a pond. The 25mm tires wouldn't help.

I guess if someone wants a steel bike that won't look out of place in a sea of fat-tubed aluminum and carbon fiber, the Portofino is a fine way to go. The polished steel lugs definitely make it more distinctive than all the welded or "popped out of a mold" alternatives. But . . .
. . . for those who want their traditional lugged steel bike to look a little more . . . well . . . traditional, Battaglin also makes a model called Marosticana - made with Columbus SL tubing and more "normal" tubing profiles.