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.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Motobecane 650B Conversion Project - Cockpit

The next part of my Motobecane 650B conversion project involves "cockpit" items - bars, stem, and levers. On most bikes this should just be a matter of choosing parts you like and which fit your budget, but I chose an old French bike which means I made it a little more challenging for myself.

The only other French bike I've ever built up was a mid-'80s Vitus aluminum (remember those? Aluminum tubes in cool anodized colors, "screwed and glued" into polished aluminum lugs) and all its frame-fit and threaded components were made to modern British or ISO dimensions. But older French bikes used unique dimensions for such items as bottom brackets, headsets, bars, stems, and freewheels. Here was the reality as far as French headsets were concerned: Pressed-in parts, like head-tube cups and races, were the same size as their British and Italian counterparts. Threaded parts were unique and incompatible with other national dimensions. And the inner diameter of the fork steerer was slightly smaller and required a smaller diameter handlebar stem - 22.0 vs. 22.2.

For my conversion, I did spend some time looking around for 22.0 stems. New ones are pretty much non-existent. Used ones come up on eBay, but many are questionable from a safety standpoint (AVA "death-stem" anyone?), and most of them are only available for French dimensioned handlebars which run from about 23.5mm to 25mm diameter, while most better quality road drop bars today are 26.0 (actually, nowadays, 31.8 - but that looks bad on a vintage steel bike if you ask me). Finding a vintage stem with a the right extension, or a longer (taller) quill is yet another wrinkle. Unless someone is looking to keep an old bike "period correct," I think it's a good idea to go with a modern stem - and that means 22.2.

I've read that it isn't too difficult to modify a 22.2 stem to fit a 22.0 steerer. On Saint Sheldon's site, it points out that you only need to remove 0.1 mm of material, and "a few minutes with some sandpaper will usually do the trick."

More about that to come. Read on . . .

I've got new Grand Cru "Course" bars from Velo Orange, a Nitto Technomic stem, and some Dia Compe brake levers. Not shown: a pair of vintage SunTour BarCon shift levers. The brake levers are current production (model 204) non-aero levers - probably still being made for people who want to participate in events like L'Eroica. There are a couple of versions of the 204 lever, but I found these ones with built-in quick releases which I thought might be a great idea for a project like this one. I'm going to be using centerpull brakes (which don't have a quick release to open them up for wheel removal), and large-volume tires on fairly narrow rims. Anything that makes it easier to open the brakes up wide enough to let a tire pass through is a good thing.
These are the shift levers. I had them in my collection for a while just waiting for the right bike, and I think this is the one. They looked OK when I got them, but as is typical with used ones, the nuts-and-bolts hardware was scuffed or rusty. I found a seller on eBay selling replacement hardware kits - including those little round-head finishing nuts (which often go missing!).
So, about that stem. I chose a "regular" model Nitto Technomic, which has a high-polished finish - as opposed to the Technomic Deluxe which is anodized. I figure that after slimming-down the quill, I'd be able to put the stem on my buffing wheel and make my work invisible. But with an anodized stem, there's no matching the finish once the anodizing has been removed.

I wrapped the upper part of the stem with plastic (yes, I just re-used the plastic bag it was shipped in) to protect its mirror polish while I work on the lower part of the quill. The next thing is just to wrap some coarse-grit sandpaper around the quill and get to work.
OK, "a few minutes with some sandpaper" is a bit misleading. I worked at it till my hands were sore and tired, took a break, and came back to it and worked till my hands were sore again. Let's just say that it was a lot more than a few minutes - but I did get it there.

After working my way up through finer and finer-grit papers, then some steel wool, I got a pretty smooth finish on the lower part of the quill. You can just see a line between the the part I worked and the part I left untouched. Considering that the part I narrowed would be stuck inside the fork steerer, I could have just left it like this, but with a few more minutes on the buffing wheel, the transition disappeared.
Once the bars and stem are installed on the bike, you'd never know all the work it took to get them to fit.
A little trick I use to get my brake levers set to the same position on both sides. Rubber-band a straight-edge to the lower part of the bar. Locate the lever to where I want it. Some people set it up so the the tip of the lever just touches the straight-edge - or, in this case, I went with about a centimeter above - then duplicate that on the other side.
Is it me, or the lower section on these bars really loooonnnggg? And longer with the addition of the bar end shifters. Anybody have experience with these bars - maybe recommend cutting an inch off them?

That's all for now. Stay tuned. . .

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Chater-Lea Returns

Chater-Lea is one of those grand old British names of bicycle lore (as well as motorcycles and even cars). The brand dates back to the end of the 19th century, and they produced high-end bicycle components at least up through the 1950s and maybe '60s before going under. They made a range of bicycle components, but were probably best known for cranks and pedals.

Yes, motorcycles - and cars too.

An old set of CL pedals, probably from the 1950s.
(photo from Classic Rendezvous)
The brand has recently been revived by some investors (a "product strategy" firm - whatever that means), with pedals being the first of their new products. The revival of the brand and the release of the pedals was announced in a somewhat fawning article in Forbes and has been the subject of a lot of chatter among vintage bike enthusiasts, such as in groups like Classic Rendezvous and other bicycle forums. Reception has been somewhat mixed.

In the Forbes article, we get quotes from the new company's founder like this:

"It's for people who really care about materials, design, manufacturing . . . The analogy we use - and we think about this a lot - is high-end watches."

"We're aiming away from the peloton. Somebody enjoying the view, enjoying the ride, enjoying what's on the bike in the same way that when you buy a high-end watch you really enjoy telling the time."

Ok - that's goofy. People don't buy expensive watches because they "really enjoy telling the time." They buy them as a show of wealth, prestige, status. And that likewise makes me feel like this new iteration of Chater-Lea is about conspicuous consumption and rich people who view bikes as just more "lifestyle goods."

Another clue comes in the fact that, according to the Forbes article, the new Chater-Lea - which officially launched about two years ago with a Twitter feed and a website - has been set up as a "DNVB, or digitally native vertical brand." Wha' the hell is that? Apparently, a DNVB is "maniacally focused on the customer experience" and is a "means of interacting, transacting, and story-telling to consumers via the web." It is "born on the internet" and "aimed squarely at millenials and digital natives." A DNVB is totally integrated as a brand, a product, a website and social media - and I presume, a lifestyle. And now aren't you glad you know?

Ok, so what about the pedals?

Well, they are pretty, and apparently made with fine materials - like laser-cut stainless steel. They are clearly meant to be used with flat shoes - as I don't see an obvious way to attach toe clips or straps, or a "flip tab" to help a rider get into pedals with clips or straps. They are not simply a copy of the original company's products, an example of which you can see above, but a completely new - albeit retro-inspired - design. No word on price, but something tells me that all the talk about "high-end watches" isn't just about aesthetics.

The good: I like the laser-cut "CL" in the cage - which is even a little prettier in style than the old versions. I understand that they use traditional bearings (as opposed to sealed cartridge bearings) that are of excellent quality.

One thing I'm not so sure about - and it was a criticism leveled by people whose knowledge of these things far exceeds my own - is the way the cage (which is one piece) wraps around the body and is attached by very tiny little brass rivets. Some question whether that might be an issue for long-term durability.

My own preference would be to see a spindle body with a more traditional "H" shape, with the cages attached to the body with nicely-machined screws - which would probably be stronger, and allow for replacement should the cages become worn or damaged.

In fact, if we're talking about bicycle pedals that would appeal to the "high-end watch" set - combining the best of materials and design, it seems to me that the best traditional pedals I've ever seen and or used were those made by TA up until a few years ago.

The TA pedals used both ball and roller bearings (pedals are the ideal application for roller bearings), had a lovely knurled duscap with a little grease fitting, and the cages (and even the little flip tab) were replaceable. I've got a pair on my Rivendell. They weren't cheap, but have the potential to last a lifetime. As far as I know, TA is still in business, making cranks and chainrings. They really need to bring these things back.
The Chater-Lea website shows drawings for some other products they may be working on, including a crank and some toe clips:

My thoughts: the crank looks like it could be really pretty. The toeclips have me wondering again about little tiny rivets. I mean, who looks at a device as simple as a toe clip and says "this needs to be made with more pieces parts and held together with rivets"?
It's nice that someone is interested in reviving a grand old name from the past, with a commitment to making high quality goods that are (at least presumably) more than just a name slapped on products mass produced in Taiwan. But I question things like "lifestyle goods" and marketing concepts like "digital native vertical branding." In the end, though, I doubt it matters much. I don't think people like me are really the intended market - but if the intended market isn't a retrogrouch like me, then who is it? Hmmm - maybe it's someone like me, but with a lot more money.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Motobecane Conversion

As mentioned in my last post, I've started working on a 650B conversion on an old Motobecane. I picked up the frame pretty cheap - the paint was tired, but the frame seemed to be in good shape structurally, seemed to have good wheel/tire clearance, and I thought it might make a good candidate for such a project.

The model is the Grand Jubile, which was one of the better-quality models from the brand. In the early '70s the model was built with Reynolds 531 tubing and came equipped with Huret Jubilee derailleurs (hence the model name, I suppose) while another model, the Grand Record, came with Campagnolo Nuovo Record derailleurs (again - reflected in the name?). Above those in the company lineup were the "Le Champion" and "Team Champion" models. I did some research into the frame to figure out when my particular bike was made and how it might have been equipped originally. Big clues came from the frame tubing - Vitus 172 - and the rear dropouts, which were marked "SunTour." Those details meant that this bike would have been from 1977 - the first year for that switch in tubing choice, and by which time it would have been switched from the French Huret Jubilee derailleurs to SunTour. The Vitus tubing doesn't have quite the same cache as the Reynolds, but the quality is still quite good.

There are the catalog pages from 1977. As you can see, the Grand Jubile was available in "gunmetal gray," or in the "flam red" like mine. (scans from
The paint on my example was really dull and oxidized. There are also a lot of chips and scratches. I was able to do something about the oxidation by using some polishing products from Meguiars. This is what it looks like after the first two steps - a definite improvement. I may take some time to touch up the worst of the chips and scratches if I can find a good match.

I've used these "Mirror Glaze" products from Meguiars on a few vintage bikes with great results. Start with #1 medium cut cleaner, followed by the #2 fine cut cleaner - and the shine really starts to come back. Finish up with the #7 glaze - and then top it off with wax.
I like these lugs - they have a cool shape to them, but I find them a little puzzling. The catalog says they are Nervex Professional, but there are some notable differences between these and the Nervex Professional lugs I'm familiar with, and I haven't been able to find any exact match from any of their old catalogs. All I know for certain is that they were used on a few different Motobecane models for several years through the 1970s.
This is the Nervex Professional lug shape that I'm familiar with - the ones on the Motobecane have some similarities - but many differences as well.
The headset here is a French-threaded model from Velo Orange. It's mostly aluminum, but with steel races, and the quality is much nicer than what this frame originally came with. However, getting it installed took some time and effort. I was able to remove the original parts easily enough, and the new cups and races pressed into the head tube without much trouble. The trouble came with the fork crown race. I gave it a good try with my crown race setter but it simply would not go on. I took the race off and measured it with my digital calipers - 26.4 mm (just as marked). I measured the crown race seat - 27 mm (actually, it varied slightly depending on where exactly I took the measurements - from about 26.8 to 27.1). I looked up "French headsets" on Sheldon Brown's website and found this: "Headset crown race: 26.5 mm (sometimes 27 mm)". Great. I don't have a crown race cutter. I spent some time with a small file and carefully got the crown seat to 26.5 - and sanded a little off the inside of the race. A bit of grease and a couple light taps with my race setter and we were good.
There's the seat lug - and a badly damaged Vitus tubing sticker. There's also an ugly and delaminating sticker from the bike shop that I assume sold the bike originally. I can't read the name of the shop, but it appears that they were also a Raleigh dealer (I can just make out that much of it) and they were in Tacoma, Washington. I'll have to work at it to see if I can get that off.
Here's that shop decal - in process of being removed bit-by-bit.  I eventually got it all off, and used some "Goo Gone" to remove the leftover adhesive. I'm not going to worry about the tubing sticker - though reproductions are available.

The next step will be to install the bottom bracket and then the crank. For the crank, I got a nice Velo-Orange crank that someone must have used a short time then removed for whatever reason. It had a couple of minor scuffs or scratches, but it was also just a fraction of the price of a new one (they currently run about $200).

In terms of style, the VO crank doesn't look significantly different from what would have been there originally. The gearing is a very useable 48/34. I've got a couple old pairs of pedals to choose from, but haven't decided which ones to use.
That's all for now. My next update will look at modifying a current model stem to work with a vintage French bike. Another fun challenge. To be continued. . .