Thursday, March 26, 2020

Bustin' Out

Being cooped up during a statewide shutdown can make a person go a little stir crazy. Luckily, we are still allowed to get out and exercise - particularly if we can do it while still maintaining some distance. A solo bike ride is a perfect way to do that, isn't it?

I've recently heard that in some other countries battling terrible COVID-19 outbreaks, officials have even banned cycling. This surprises me a little, since a person can go for a pretty solid bike ride without interacting with anyone else, especially if they get outside of a city, so it seems to me the risk of spreading the virus is awfully low (and I do take that risk seriously). Interestingly enough, here in Ohio, not only is bike riding permitted, but bicycle shops are still open even as many other businesses have been ordered closed. Apparently bike shops have been deemed "essential businesses."

We're experiencing some awfully nice weather today. Yesterday started out rainy but eventually warmed up and the sun came out by the end of the day. Today continued that trend and we had brilliant sunny skies and the temperature got up to about 60. A perfect spring day - and a perfect day for a bike ride.

Stopped for a picture by a hidden stone wall in the park.
I got out for a nice ride into the national park on the recently finished Sequoia. I have to say I am really pleased with the way that bike turned out. Everything on it seems totally "dialed in" to make for a fast but comfortable ride. After my initial "shake out" ride, but before wrapping the bars, I ended up swapping the stem. I had started with a 9cm stem, but by the time I'd gotten home from that initial ride, I had decided that just a bit more reach was called for. It just so happened that I had a perfect 10cm stem in my stash of parts and so I swapped them. Having been out on a couple rides since then, I can say it was the right choice and a proper improvement in fit.

In the valley, I did see a number of other people out, walking dogs, or jogging, and a few others riding, but on the whole things were pretty quiet. Not Dawn of the Dead quiet, but subdued. Car traffic, particularly, was light. I rode along one of the two main valley roads that parallels the Cuyahoga River, looped around some backroads and one abandoned road that isn't much more than gravel these days. There is a bridge out on the main valley road, and so to bypass the closure, I also had a short hop on the canal towpath which luckily wasn't a soupy mess today. The bike handled it all nicely, though not as "cushily" as the 650B project (there's a big difference in tire volume going from 32 to 37mm!). But it is a very capable multi-surface bike, and everything I was hoping it would be.

I was really glad to be able to get off the couch for a while (which has a very distinct butt-shaped impression in it these days) and enjoy a perfect spring day.

Wherever you are, I hope you're staying healthy and staying sane.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Cycling Cinema: Toto' al Giro d'Italia

Being more or less stuck indoors "sheltering in place," there's lots of time to watch movies. As I was searching YouTube for some classic bicycling-themed movies, I happened on one that really sparked my interest: Toto' al Giro d'Italia, an Italian film from 1948.

Though not well known here in the U.S., Toto' was the stage name of a popular Italian film comedian (some would rank him among that country's most popular) who made dozens of films through the 1940s and '50s. His "proper" name was (get ready for it) Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneo Porfirogenito Gagliardi de Curtis di Bisanzio. Or more commonly, Antonio de Curtis. Since many of the films were showcases for his performing talents, they often featured his nickname "Toto'" in the titles. As the title of this film would suggest, Toto' al Giro d'Italia has di Curtis' Toto' character racing in the Giro d'Italia alongside many of the greatest racing cyclists of the era, including Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Louison Bobet, Ferdi Kubler, Fiorenzo Magni, and more. It's a very impressive cast!

There was only one problem. The film is only available in Italian with no English subtitles. OK- so, in YouTube, it is possible to get subtitles (in Italian) - then through the settings, one can get those Italian subtitles "auto-translated" into English. Unfortunately, these "twice-translated" subtitles are only just barely better than useless. If you want to watch this film, you have to work for it!

Some examples:

"instead print I would like to work this bicycle"
"I do not see it badly so I move forward but I go up the hair apples but you're done"
See what I mean?

Still, between the actions and inflections and the mostly ridiculous subtitles, I was able to get enough of the gist to enjoy the film, even though I probably missed a lot of the best gags. If anyone out there wants to take a stab at the film, here's a bit of a synopsis that might help give some context.

The film opens with a scene in heaven (at least, I assume it's heaven) where the emperor Nerone and Dante are watching the goings on down on earth, as well as commenting on the film's opening credits.
We soon meet Toto' - or Professor Casamandrei - who is in love with the beautiful blonde Doriana (Isa Barzizza).
As the professor tries to win over Doriana, she tells him "I will marry you when you win the Giro d'Italia" (or at least, that's the best sense I could get from the tortured subtitles). In other words - never.
The professor is then determined to race the Giro, but there's a problem (well, multiple problems really, but this first one is pretty major) -- he can't ride a bike.
He tries lessons - but it obviously isn't going well.
Discouraged at his prospects, the film takes a cue from Faust, and the professor is visited by a devil who makes him a deal: I'll help you win the Giro d'Italia if you sign your soul over to me.

There was literally a direct reference here (assuming I was deciphering the subtitles properly) to the 1946 Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life. The demon refers to a second-class angel who earns his wings by helping an unfortunate human. The demon explains that he is a second-class devil, and can only become a first-class devil by delivering a human soul to hell.
The professor is won over by the demon's promises and signs the contract. Suddenly, he's able to ride like a pro.
I could be mistaken, but I think this really is Toto' doing the stunt riding in this scene. If so, it's pretty impressive.

At the sign-in for the Giro, the professor is mocked for thinking he can race with the pros. In this shot, you can see Toto' flanked by Magni, Coppi, and Bartali.

There's lots of footage of the great racers on the road.

Effortlessly, the old bearded professor zips past them all.  Or "goes up the hair apples" if you follow the subtitles.

Flanked by beautiful girls (including Doriana) the old professor pulls on the Maglia Rosa and leads every stage.

All the great racers as well as the reporters try to figure out the secret to the professor's racing success. For instance, when they discover that the professor smokes cigars, suddenly all the racers are puffing away on cigars at the starting line.

Coppi comes in puffing like mad on a massive foot-long stogie.

Later in the race, with the professor holding a commanding lead, the demon reminds him of their contract, and tells him that he plans to collect as soon as the race is over (something about reading the "fine print"). Suddenly the professor doesn't want to win and starts looking for a way to get out of the deal. He tries getting arrested. Tries getting disqualified. But with the demon pulling all the strings, nothing works and his victory (and death) looks assured. I won't give away the end, but ultimately, Toto's salvation comes down to a plan cooked up by his devoted and doting mother.

Toto, Doriana, and all the great racers celebrate after the race with a fun lip-synched operatic chorus.

It took a lot of effort, and I know I was missing a lot, but I liked this movie enough that I'd love to find a properly translated version. There are lots of copies on DVD out there, mostly from European sellers (on eBay, for instance), but it isn't clear if any of those have English subtitles, and regardless of whether they do or not, they all seem to be Region 2 discs which don't work on U.S.-market DVD players (U.S. is Region 1). I'm going to keep looking.

If you're up to the challenge (or maybe you actually speak Italian!) I'd recommend giving Toto' al Giro d'Italia a try. You can see the full movie on YouTube, or right here:


Friday, March 20, 2020

Corona Virus Blues

"Corona," "COVID19," and "Social Distancing" seem to be the buzzwords of the day.

Here in Ohio, where our governor seems to be more pro-active than many, all of our K-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, have been shut down for just over a week now. That decision came while the state had just 5 known cases. Ours was the first state to take such a step, though many others have followed suit since then. I'm actually giving our governor a lot of credit for trying to get out ahead of things, and doing so at a time when many other politicians in his own party were trying to downplay the crisis as some kind of hoax (including the ones who were selling off $millions$ in stocks while saying publicly that there's nothing to worry about). Of course, everyone seems to be taking it seriously now (and trying to claim they've done so from the beginning!). But enough politics.

The "home office"
For me, as a teacher (and as a parent with two kids) it's meant spending a lot more time at home - most of it shut inside. My wife works at Kent State University, so she's also been working from home. Understand - the school shutdown is not a break or vacation. We're expected to keep "providing instruction" while we're home, and the kids are supposed to be getting and completing lessons online. This has been a challenge because I'm having to take everything I do in my classroom - face-to-face and in-person - and try to convert it into lessons that can be sent out over the internet. And our administration is checking in on everyone to ensure that we're actually posting lessons and assignments, and not treating this like an extended Spring Break.

Funny thing is that my own children and I never have Spring Break at the same time. I teach in a school district where I can't even hope to afford to live. The school where my children attend always schedules their Spring Break a couple of weeks after the school where I teach. This is the first time we're all home together - and we can't go anywhere! In addition to the schools, our libraries, museums, restaurants, and most other "attractions" are closed. Ironic.

One of my daughters suggested "well, dad, we can probably go for some bike rides together." Just add that to the many things I love about that kid. So far, however, the weather hasn't exactly made a family bike ride very desirable. For most of the past week it's been pretty chilly.

Today was an exception - sort of. The temperature got up into the 60s, but it was raining quite a bit in the morning. We had a reprieve from the rain right around lunchtime, so I decided I needed to get outside. Though I really wanted to take the newly finished Sequoia, the streets were still very wet, and there was still the threat of more rain to come, so I opted for something with fenders. I got my lessons for the day posted online, then took the Rivendell out for a ride into the valley. I was glad for the fenders because otherwise the bike and I would have been covered in road grime, and I'd have had that horribly uncomfortable wet stripe up my backside. I was out for about an hour, battling strong winds which seemed to come from every direction, then made the long climb home. The rain started again just minutes after I walked in the door. That's good timing. Tomorrow the temperatures are supposed to be back down in the 30s again - not too cold for me alone, but cold enough to dampen the idea of a ride with the kids. Well, we have at least several more weeks at home ahead of us. Let's see what happens.

I've been hearing from people who've been using their "self isolation" time to work on bicycle projects. That's a pretty great way to spend the time. Obviously I just finished a project and don't really have the means at the moment to start another one. But my basement work area is kind of a disaster, so I suppose I should use some of this time to clean and organize it.

Wherever you are - I hope you're staying safe and healthy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


Well, it's pretty much done. The vintage Sequoia is built, adjusted, fine-tuned, and fully rideable.

I love starting a new-old bike project. But I always feel a little bummed when it's finished. Oh, there's the feeling of completion, the satisfaction of riding it, and admiring it of course - but I love the whole project of putting a new bike together. Choosing colors (if it's getting new paint), picking out the components, assembling it, and fiddling with every little detail until it's "just right." For me, the preparation, the choices, the shopping, and the building, are as much a part of the fun as the riding and the ogling. Is it just me, or do others feel the same way about that?

Sometimes I think I should turn it into a business - building or renovating old bikes for other people. In fact, I often wish I could do exactly that - essentially open a bike shop. However, I have this feeling that I'd hate parting with the bikes once I was finished with them. Anyhow, it's just a dream - not likely to become a reality.

I've got some pictures of the completed Sequoia to share:

(my back yard hasn't really started to green up yet). A nice overall drive-side view. I really like the proportions of the Sequoia. There's something really "balanced" about it. I was able to get my bars up nearly to the level of the saddle - without having a gangly amount of stem showing - and I have the classic "fist full of post" showing on the seat post.

I'm pretty happy with the colors of the saddle and bar tape. The brown saddle has just a bit more "red" to it than what I seem to be able to get into the bars, but the saddle may darken a bit as it gets used.
I think the choice of "aero" brake levers was a good one here. I still have the cables from the BarCon shifters hanging out there, but it looks "cleaner" than it would if I also had cables running out the tops of the levers. I thought about running the shifter cables all the way up to the tops of the bars, but decided that was too many bends and would impact the shifting.

I've been debating whether to do another coat of shellac on the bars. One more will give them a little more of a leather-like shine - but might also make them a little darker than I want them to be. Decisions, decisions.
'80s vintage Specialized cranks are such a nice-looking example of the style of that time. This pair appears to have never been used. SunTour Superbe pedals have sealed bearings and replaceable cages (and I have a spare set of cages). Bottle cage is from Velo-Orange.

I really wanted to use an '80s vintage Specialized sealed mechanism headset on this (I have one, new-in-the-box), but the stack height was just a bit too much for the fork steerer. Dangit, why did people back then cut fork steerers down for only the shortest possible headsets?

The SunTour Cyclone M-II derailleurs are a great complement to the frame. This long cage version handles my chosen gearing very well.

When it comes to restoring bikes like the Sequoia, I figure a person has a lot of leeway in choosing components. I mean - yeah - one can always build a bike up however they want, making it as modern or retro (or mix it up) as they wish. But at the same time, I like to fit a bike with components that seem the most suitable to the era it was built in, as well as how they'll fit with the way I'm going to use the bike. And some bikes just scream for certain kinds of components. For example, a '70s vintage Italian racer just wouldn't seem right without the full Campagnolo Nuovo Record gruppo - am I right? But these early Sequoias (and their stable-mate, Allez) were available a couple of different ways. They were sold early on as framesets, to be completed by their owners, or by individual bike shops. For that reason, it isn't unusual to find them equipped with whatever their owners or the shops saw fit. Shimano 600 was a popular choice for components back then -- I've seen a few that were equipped that way. They were also sold by Specialized as complete bikes - often with a mix of different parts (though predominantly SunTour). Many of the complete early bikes were sold with Superbe derailleurs (with a now-rare long cage version in the rear). For mine, I went with early '80s Cyclone for the derailleurs and hubs, and Superbe for brakes and pedals. If I could have found a long-cage Superbe derailleur in condition as nice as that Cyclone, I might have used it - but the Cyclone is no slouch. Most of my components are consistent with an early '80s bike. The main exceptions are the aero levers (DiaCompe did make aero levers when this bike was made, but mine are the second-generation version from a few years later) and the crank (the "S" logo marks it as mid-late '80s, though otherwise it looks almost exactly like the earlier version). And my Brooks saddle is modern production - but then, have they changed in 100 years?

Here's the complete parts breakdown:

Frame: 1982 Specialized Sequoia, 62 cm. Repainted by Franklin Frames.
Wheels: SunTour Cyclone sealed bearing hubs with Araya rims, 32 mm Panaracer Gravel King tires.
Crankset: Specialized ST-4, 50/36 chainrings.
Bottom Bracket: Phil Wood, 108 mm.
Rear Derailleur: SunTour Cyclone M-II, long cage.
Front Derailleur: SunTour Cyclone M-II.
Shift Levers: SunTour BarCon.
Freewheel: Shimano 600, 13-28.
Brakes: SunTour Superbe with DiaCompe AGC 251 aero levers
Pedals: SunTour Superbe, with Specialized toe clips and Soma Fab. straps.
Bars: Nitto mod. 176, 44 cm
Stem: Nitto Technomic Deluxe, 100 mm
Seatpost: Sakae-SR Laprade, 26.8 mm
Saddle: Brooks B-17, antique brown
Headset: Tange Levin
Chain: SRAM PC-8

Monday, March 16, 2020

When They Come Out "Right"

As a follow up to the post about picking colors and "attention to detail" in the finishing of a bike, I just wanted to share a few bike builds that I think came out "right" and would be hard to improve upon.

This light blue Rivendell has long been a favorite of mine, and really helped hone my bicycle aesthetic. In my opinion, the honey colored saddle, with cotton bar tape shellacked to match it closely is a timeless look. Honestly, I can't think of any way to finish this bike that would look better. The aluminum fenders, with an even line all the way around the wheels, and right down to the tan saddlebag with leather piping, pull the whole bike together.

This emerald and ruby 753 Mercian turns a lot of heads and is the one "prize winner" in my collection. On this one, I went with a black suede '70s vintage Cinelli saddle which seemed like the perfect choice for this 1979 bike built for lightness. I used black cotton bar tape with only one or two thin coats of shellac to seal it without imparting a shiny look - to better go with the suede. Here, I used vintage translucent red cable housing which is a spot-on match for the ruby contrasts on the Mercian. The lettering on the downtube is gold, which seems like the perfect complement to the ruby and emerald paint, and gold outlining around the lugs ties it all together.

My retro-mod black and blue Mercian has a modern Fizik saddle that is black with a blue stripe down the center. That blue bar tape, also made by Fizik, is exactly the same as the stripe in the saddle - both of which are almost exactly the same shade of blue as on the head tube and seat tube bands. It was really just a stroke of luck in finding a saddle and tape that were such a close match. Lastly, I went with solid red cable housing, which picks up the red pinstriping on the frame and the red Mercian lettering on the downtube.

My early '80s red Mercian came with black lining around the lugs, and black lettering on the downtube. That made an '80s vintage Selle Italia Turbo saddle, along with black bar tape and cables, the natural choice. Black toe straps with silver end buttons finish off the package.

On this recent build that I completed for one of my daughters, I had an inexpensive '80s vintage Japanese-built mixte powder coated in something similar to a Bianchi "Celeste" color. Actually, my daughter chose the color, but I strongly agreed with her choice. I then picked out a rusty brown Brooks C-17 saddle, and matched it with handgrips that I made from cork wrap, and twine - stained and shellacked to match the saddle, and for longevity. Silver plastic fenders look good, keep the bike (and the kid) cleaner - and give the bike a refined look. The stainless steel rack usually holds a pair of canvas panniers with leather trim. All together, it's got a truly classic style.

NOT MINE - but a bike that I think is a real stunner. One of my riding friends in Michigan, Jason P., is one of those guys who really knows how to finish a bike. I've seen several of his bikes, and his attention to detail is even more refined than mine. Nothing, not even the smallest item such as an adjustment screw on a derailleur, escapes his attention. All his bikes I've seen are showpieces, yet they do get ridden - as well they should. This Smolenski has a gorgeous bone white paint job with flame red contrasts. Then Jason had a vintage SunTour Superbe Pro group highlighted with gold plating. The combination of the white and red, black and gold - it's really something. Like I said - a stunner.

ALSO NOT MINE. Another friend that I know through the Classic Rendezvous group, Kevin K, has a really nice collection of bikes pictured on Flickr (you can see his collection HERE), and he's another one whose bikes just look "right" to me. This vintage Cinelli SC is just one of many that illustrate his attention to detail. Kevin's Cinelli is a great example of matching the bar tape to something other than the saddle. Here he's got the classic Cinelli saddle in black, and his bars wrapped in red cotton tape to pick up the little red details in the frame, like the lug fills, and the Cinelli lettering on the down tube. Even the rubber hoods on the downtube shift levers complete the package. A real beauty.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Match Your Shoes to Your Suit

Whenever I select a frame and components to build up a bike, I'm one of those people who really likes to pay attention to details. Whether picking out colors for paint, choosing the "right" saddle, choosing bar wrap, matching up the right components for the bike and its particular "mission," and even down to selecting cable housing or toe straps -- I enjoy putting together a bike that not only works the way I want, but also satisfies my aesthetic taste.

When it came to picking out the saddle for the Sequoia, I had an extended moment of indecision. I knew I was going to use a Brooks leather saddle - that part was easy. But which color would look the best with the bike? The frame color is kind of a medium/dark blue, and Brooks saddles come in black, brown, and honey/tan (and occasionally some limited runs of other colors like blue or green). Which to choose?

I did a quick search online for pictures of bikes like mine and found that the vast majority were paired with black saddles. That seemed like the "safest" choice, but I wasn't sure it was the best one for me.

Blue suit, brown shoes.
Ultimately I took my inspiration from what some people might think is an unexpected source: the sartorialists at the men's fashion magazine, Gentleman's Quarterly. Yep. GQ.

You see, when I'm at work, I wear suits. Every day. Well - sometimes on Fridays I'll wear casual pants with a sport coat. I mean, I'm only a teacher, but I believe in dressing professionally. It's something that started when I was the leader of the teachers' union and I frequently had to meet with administrators or school board members (most of whom are local businessmen) and found that they took me and my demands a lot more seriously when I was dressed like them, if not better.

See the similarities?
So, I've found that a lot of men wear black shoes with everything. It's the "safest" choice. The default, if you will. But it's not always the best, stylistically. A lot of guys will wear black shoes with a blue suit, for instance. That's okay - but the better choice is actually brown.

With a navy blue suit, you'd want to go with a darker brown shoe. A lighter blue, and you could either go with a medium brown, or maybe more of a tan shoe. And then you match the belt to the shoes. If you still wear a watch (many people don't anymore) and if the watch has a leather band, ideally you'd want the band to match the belt and shoes, too.

Well, I figure the same advice can be applied to a bike. For example, I think my light blue Rivendell looks awfully nice with a honey tan leather saddle. And then, like matching the belt to the shoes, I often like to match my bar wrap (and toe straps, too!) to the saddle.

It seemed to me that in this case I could either go with the "antique brown" or the "honey tan" leather for the Sequoia's medium blue paint. In the end, that suit and shoe combination pictured above struck me as being "right" and helped make my decision. The antique brown leather saddle, combined with brown shellacked bar tape would be my combination.
By the way, I found this handy guide for matching suits and shoes online. You're welcome.
Sometimes inspiration comes from odd places. Then again, I'm reminded that noted fashion designer Paul Smith has done several collaborations with Mercian cycles in England and often gets inspiration from bicycles. So maybe not so odd.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sunday Shake Out Ride

The vintage Sequoia is nearly complete. We had gorgeous weather today - our first truly spring-like day this year - and with that in mind, I made it a priority this weekend to get the bike road worthy.

I got all my cables hooked up, brakes and derailleurs adjusted, pumped up the tires, and after a few spins around the block to make sure things were working more or less as they should, I took it out for a real "shake out" ride into the valley.

I still need to wrap the bars. I didn't want to do that until
after making sure the stem length felt right and levers
were placed where I wanted them.
Some first impressions: I don't know if it's the well-designed frame, or the 32-mm Gravel King tires (probably both), but the ride is is really nice - definitely what I'd been hoping for. We currently have a lot of broken pavement, and the bike seemed to soak it up very well. The bike also handles predictably - not super quick (remember it's not a racing bike), but well-composed. I had an experience on my descent into the valley where the handling was very reassuring. The descent is fast and twisty, and I discovered a huge patch of badly broken pavement right at the apex of a tight, blind curve. Just coming around the curve and "surprise" - but the bike stayed planted and I barely broke my line through the turn. Like I said: reassuring.

On my ride, I had only two things that I needed to address: I pushed my saddle back about a centimeter (the seat tube angle on the Sequoia is a bit steeper than one would expect for a bike like this), and I had a bar-con shifter that needed to be tightened slightly to keep it from slipping. You have to get just the right balance for those. Other than that, everything felt right and worked just like it should.

Down in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this is the perfect time to see the great blue herons. There is a heron "rookery" in the park, and now - before the leaves come back - you can easily observe the huge, almost prehistoric-looking birds nesting. There are dozens of nesting pairs easily visible in the trees.

Unfortunately I only had my cell phone for pictures and couldn't zoom in enough to get a really good image of the birds. Trust me - those dark masses in the branches are nests - and there are herons in them. 

Back home again. A few posts back, I'd mentioned I wasn't certain how well the Cyclone front derailleur would handle that wide spread of gearing (50/36 chainrings) - but honestly, it shifted like a champ. Shifts both up and down were crisp and immediate. Could not be better. Let me just point out that I've installed vintage Specialized-branded toe clips and leather toe straps from Soma Fabrications.

I just want to come back to that ratcheting bar-end shifter for a moment. On one side, there is this slotted round, domed "nut" that fits almost flush with the body. These things sometimes get lost, and the shifters don't stay adjusted without them - but it's also a little difficult to get them properly tight. The end of the screw comes up through the middle, and fills up some of the slot so a screwdriver doesn't quite get enough bite.
My solution: I took an old flat-blade screwdriver, and with a small square file, I filed a notch in the end of the screwdriver to clear the end of the screw. That allows me to tighten the domed nut much more easily. Also, a drop of blue Loctite is a good idea in the final assembly. I've never lost one of domed nuts.
I was pleased with the fit and feel of the bike, and so now my next job will be to wrap the bars and get some shellac on them. When finished, they should be a good match for the saddle.

Well - that's all for now.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Fixing a Crimped Seat Tube

In a recent post, I mentioned that when clamping a bike into certain types of work stands, it is not a good idea to clamp the jaws onto a frame tube as the thin-walled tubes can be easily damaged. For that reason, I always clamp around the seatpost, which tends to be thicker and less likely to suffer.

The red Mercian is one of my "go-to" bikes.
As mentioned in that post, I've seen multiple frames that had been damaged from a work stand clamp, including one of my prized Mercian bikes. The damage to the Mercian was not readily noticeable and I didn't even see it when I first took delivery of the vintage frameset, but the seat tube just a few inches below the seat lug was crimped slightly -- the size, shape, and location of the crimping was totally consistent with the jaws of some work stands. I could see it if the light shone on it just right, but the real issue presented itself in trying to install the seatpost. It seemed that the right size seat post should have been 27.2 mm, as that was what would fit into the seat lug properly. The problem was that I couldn't insert the post more than a couple of inches. A few inches in, it would get impossibly tight. For a while, my solution was to use a smaller diameter post (I think I needed to go down to 26.8) and put a shim at the top where the seat lug/binder would clamp around it. I say, that worked, but I didn't like it as a permanent solution.

I thought about sending the frame off for a professional repair. Had the damage been worse, or been on any other frame tube, I probably would have sent it out. Being that it was pretty shallow and on the upper part of the seat-tube, which is open at the top, I thought I could probably try fixing it myself first. I hope nobody with frame building and repairing experience cringes when they read that, but I had a pretty good idea of the mechanics and the process of it and decided it was worth a try.

First, it's good to have an understanding of what a dent or crimp like this actually does to a tube.
The red line in this diagram should give an idea of what kind of distortion happens when a tube gets dented. It's not just that there is a "low" spot, but there is also typically a corresponding "high" spot on either side of it. The crimp I was dealing with was very similar in depth to this one - pretty mild - and was about 4 inches long - like the jaws on some work stands. So it seemed that for the best result, I'd want to address the "low" spot from inside the tube, while working at the "high" spots from the outside.

Having corresponded with framebuilders and others with frame repair experience over the years, I've learned about a couple of different tools that they use to remove dents. To work from the inside of a tube (if one has access to the inside, as in a seat-tube or head-tube) to remove the "low" spot, they might use some kind of tubing expander tool. And to work the "high" spots on the outside of a tube, they'll use frame blocks like these:

Blocks like this are made to exactly match the proper outside diameter and roundness of a frame tube.  Even if one can't work the inside of a frame tube (like the top tube or down tube), blocks like these can often remove or at least greatly lessen the severity of a dent.
If one isn't in the business of doing these kinds of frame repairs, then the cost of tools like this can be pretty expensive. My home-garage solution consisted of a cheap "sacrificial" seatpost, and homemade wooden frame blocks.
Although it doesn't have any kind of expanding feature, with the shallowness of the dent I had, it seemed to me I could get decent results from an extra-long seatpost in the desired size. The main requirement for my plan was that it have a forged one-piece design as opposed to the kind where the head is bonded to the post. I knew I might have to apply some significant force on it during insertion and removal, and I didn't want the head to snap off. Such posts can be found for about $10.

For the frame blocks, I took a block of wood and bored a nice straight 1-1/8-inch hole through it with a forstner bit, like this one:
Next, I split the block in half with the grain. I didn't want to saw it in half, as that would remove some material and my resulting bore would be somewhat less than 1-1/8 inch, and no longer perfectly round. Another way to do it is to cut the block in half first, clamp it tightly together, and then bore the hole between the blocks.

To perform my operation (and again - try not to cringe), I started by inserting the extra long 27.2 mm post into the seat tube. When the post started to encounter resistance, I kept twisting and lightly tapping it in. I made progress very slowly, tapping and twisting until I knew the bottom of the post was well past the crimped part of the seat tube. Would I be able to get it back out? Well, it seemed to me that as long as I could twist it (even if it took some effort) I'd be able to get it out. But I also calculated that if I successfully removed the crimping, it would come out easier than it went in.

To work the outside of the crimp, I heavily greased my wooden blocks and placed them around the dent and put them into my vice. It is important not to tighten the blocks all the way, but to get them to where there is just a slight bit of resistance, and then twist the frame back and forth between the blocks. You have to work slowly, twisting the frame, slightly tightening the blocks - continually twisting, tightening, etc.. It takes some patience as you don't want to force anything or do too much too quickly. I didn't have much trouble because my dent was not particularly deep or sharp - and it was definitely lessened by tapping the seatpost down through the dent.

After I got the blocks tightened all the way and could twist the frame freely between them, I could tell it was done as well as I was going to get it. I took the blocks off and removed the seatpost. I knew immediately that the crimping was better because getting the seatpost out was much easier than getting it in. That shouldn't be a surprise - the seat tube was now much rounder than when I started.

It's also important to note that the frame block operation can often destroy the paint. I was lucky. Whether it was because I was using wooden blocks, or lots of grease, or because the damage was so minor to begin with, but my paint only got a bit "scuffed" but wasn't badly damaged. I was able to buff it back to where you could hardly tell. Even in good light, it's really hard to see there was any damage at all. Best of all, I can get the proper seatpost inserted without trouble.

I want to point out again that I normally leave frame repairs up to the experts, and I don't necessarily recommend other people try to do what I did here. Unless someone feels really confident in their home-wrenching skills, I might say this is one of those "Don't try this at home" situations. As I'd said earlier, if the damage had been worse than it was, I might not have even tried it myself, and even as I was doing it, I proceeded slowly and with a lot of caution. But in the end, I was happy with the result, and satisfied knowing I did it myself.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Putting It All Together

I've been making some progress putting my vintage Sequoia together, though I've been taking it slow. There's not a rush (weather hasn't exactly been beckoning me to get out to ride it), and I see nothing wrong with doing a little at a time - plus, I get to enjoy the project longer.

It occurs to me that I have built up dozens of bikes from framesets over the years - maybe many dozens. I suppose everybody does things a little differently when they build up a bike, but when I take a bare frame and start building it up, I follow a pretty consistent process. Here's what I've done so far with the Sequoia:

In the previous post, I showed that my first step after getting the frame back from the painters was putting on decals. Next comes installing components. For me, the first thing I do is install a seat post - in this case, a new-old-stock SR Laprade - and the reason it's the first thing is because when I put a bike into a workstand, I always want to clamp the bike by the seat post rather than one of the frame tubes. I've seen more than a few frames that were damaged by clamping the workstand jaws around a frame tube. With the frame held firmly in the workstand (by the seatpost!), I can start installing the rest of the components.

My next step is usually the headset and fork. To press in the headset cups, I use a homemade headset press -- just a threaded rod, some washers and a couple of nuts, and some wooden blocks to help keep the press aligned and to help prevent damage to the cups/races. Some modern sealed bearing headsets (like Chris King) require a dedicated press and special adapters to prevent damage (and I assume to preserve the warranty), but my homemade press seems to work just fine on traditional old style headsets like the one I'm using.

After the fork, I usually install the bottom bracket and then the crankset. For my bottom bracket, I have a Phil Wood. Yes, they're expensive, but they are trouble-free and seem to last forever (I've got one on my Rivendell that's going strong after nearly 20 years!). Mine was sold as "used" but it looked and felt like brand new, and cost barely more than half what they usually cost. One additional feature of the Phil BB  besides its extremely long service life is that it has a little bit of adjustment laterally, so a person can fine-tune their chainline.

I had a slight change in my components since I last wrote about my selections. I had mentioned that I was hoping to find a Specialized crankset (preferably the early '80s "flag" logo version) for the Sequoia. Since writing that, I did find my "close second" - a Specialized ST-4 triple. The design of the ST-4 looks almost identical to the original "flag" crank, but was made a few years later and can be identified by the slash "S" logo. The one I've got appears to have had almost no use at all. I did take off the inner chainring to make it a "compact" double with 50/36 rings.

Next comes the derailleurs. The rear one is a simple bolt-on operation. The front needs to be properly aligned with the chainrings. I like to get the height set up so that the cage is about ⅛-inch above the large chainring -- super close but without any danger of the cage hitting the ring. I sometimes see bikes with a huge gap (like 1/2 inch or more) between the front derailleur cage and the chainrings and all I can think is how the heck does that thing even manage to make the shift? For the angle, I usually start with the cage parallel to the chainrings, though I sometimes tweak that by a degree or two after I get the chain installed and see how the shifting is.

The Cyclone M-II has a "B" adjustment screw to set the angle. Later, after the wheels and a chain are installed, I'll need to set that for the best shifting with my chosen freewheel. While I was at it, I also installed my dropout adjuster screws.

After the derailleurs, I'll put in my wheels, followed by brakes.

I was pleased to see how much clearance there is in the frame with these 32-mm Gravel King tires. I think I could install fenders if I wanted to, though that has not been part of my plan. Or without fenders, I could probably fit even larger tires some time later - I think it could fit 35-mm tires.
The brake pads are all the way at the bottom of their slots to reach the rims. Wow. I did not expect that. But like I said - lots of clearance!
The pads aren't quite at the bottom of the slots on the front brake, but still, plenty of room.
Bars and stem are next, followed by brake levers. I decided to use the Dia Compe aero levers with this build.
Then comes the shifters - whether on the down-tube, or bar-ends as is the case here.
Pedals are next - SunTour Superbe pedals with brand new cages.
And then the saddle. I had major indecision on saddle color, but I think this will be good. More on that later.

Well - that's all the major stuff. The next steps will be installing the cables for brakes and shifters, along with chain, toe-clips and straps. Then all the adjustments and fine-tuning. Lastly, wrapping the bars. That will all be covered soon. Stay tuned. . .