Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Carry-Out Ride

With much of the state still in shutdown mode, one of the few treats a person can look forward to these days is an occasional "carry-out" meal.

Our little theater is closed - along with the salon, record store, 
and shoe repair shop. Some restaurants are still open
I live in a terrific old neighborhood in Akron, where there are quiet residential streets, lined with cool old houses - mostly built between 1900-1930 - and a lively little business district in the middle of it all, with bars, restaurants, a movie theater, and a bunch of other small local businesses. Lately, many of the places are closed, and we're worried that some won't be coming back when the shutdown ends. But some of the restaurants have been able to keep open on a carry-out-only basis, and today I made a run for some take-out Chinese food.

I have a vintage Mercian that I use as my "city bike." It's set up to be a light, speedy, errand runner, with an easy-on/easy-off basket for carrying a few essentials.

I haven't shown or written much about the city runner here on the blog before, so today seems like a good time to rectify that.

That basket attaches in seconds to the rear rack with spring-loaded grippers. Perfect for picking up takeout Chinese, or a light load of groceries.
And here are some clearer pictures so you can see some details:

This was the second Mercian that I had bought, in what would eventually become a pretty sizable collection. It's a 1979 "Classic" model (previously known as the "Olympic"), which I found around 2003 or so. I got it as a bare frame and fork, with gold paint that was badly beat - but it was cheap, and like an abandoned puppy, just needed some love. I shipped it off to the Mercian shop in Derby, England where it was refinished in this cool blue with cream (or more accurately buttercream) head tube. I built it up with an eclectic mix of parts.

Mustache bars work nicely on a city bike like this one, and I've always liked the look, too. The wheels are Mavic MA2 rims on Campagnolo Record hubs. I bought those hubs when I was 19 years old and used them to build my first set of wheels (they didn't hold up well) then later took those apart and re-used the hubs to build these.

My brakes are SunTour Superbe, updated with modern pads. I've got 32mm tires under those plastic fenders.

I installed a vintage Blackburn rack, a sprung Brooks Flyer saddle, and bar-end shifters.
My drivetrain consists of a TA crank, SunTour Vx rear derailleur, and SunTour ARX front derailleur. The pedals are basic MKS touring pedals.

The old Mercian city runner occasionally catches some admiring looks and complements when I'm out running errands with it, though that didn't happen today. From the picture above, you can see that the square is far from "lively" these days.

By the way, the Chinese take-out was pretty tasty, and it's always good to be supporting one of the local businesses when we're able.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Cycle Cinema: A Boy, A Girl, and a Bike - RIP Honor Blackman

British actress Honor Blackman died last week at age 94. She was perhaps best known (at least in the U.S.) for her role as "Pussy Galore" in the James Bond film, Goldfinger. British audiences knew her before that for her role as the leather-clad, motorcycle-riding Cathy Gale in the British T.V. series, The Avengers.

But Blackman led an interesting life well before either of those roles made her famous.

Blackman as "Pussy Galore" - in Goldfinger, 1964.
As Cathy Gale in The Avengers - 1962 - 64

In World War II, Blackman, still just a teenager, was a dispatch rider for the British "Home Office" - delivering messages by motorcycle between military headquarters and field units. It was very dangerous work, and it was primarily done by young women as the men were on the battlefield.

Blackman aboard her Triumph motorcycle, risking her life for war effort. (Damn, I love this picture)

Blackman's acting career began shortly after the war ended, and one of her earliest films was a cute little "romantic comedy" called A Boy, a Girl, and a Bike, 1949.

I'm not going to kid you that it was a great film in any way. But it is entertaining, and features the British cycling club-riding scene as a major part of the story. There's lots of footage of riding and racing around the Yorkshire area of England, and the story is decent - if a little under-developed in places.

The film begins with the wealthy David Howarth (John McCallum) - a car-loving jerk who views cyclists as nuisances who "think they own the road" - as he then forces a bunch of them off the road with his car:
David getting annoyed (honking impatiently) as he comes upon the local cycling club, the Wakeford Wheelers. . .
. . . Then whistling away as the entire club is left to pick themselves up off the side of the road.
Of course, one of those "nuisance" cyclists is the lovely Susie Bates, played by Blackman, riding alongside her on-screen boyfriend, Sam Walters (Patrick Holt) - one of the club's leaders.
Not long after, David and Susie run into each other again (literally) when David knocks Susie off her bike and damages it.

Before long, however, he decides that the best way to get to know Susie is to get himself a bike and join the club - which sets up a bit of a love triangle story. Sure, she's been going with Sam for a while, but she doesn't try to resist the attention she's getting from David. The problem is, they're from different worlds. David is from a classy family of blue-bloods, while Susie and Sam are decidedly working class. I won't go too much into it or give it all away, though one could probably guess how things will turn out.

As mentioned, the entire story is set against the backdrop of the club riding scene of the late '40s, and there are numerous shots of riders in the Yorkshire countryside, riding along roads lined by craggy stone walls, and a couple of races between the rival clubs in the area.

And barely a car to be seen anywhere. God, it looks idyllic.

One thing I found interesting, from a historical/trivial angle, is that the racing depicted in the film is of the "Continental" style or "massed start" racing, while most club racing in Britain in those days was in the form of time-trialing. What this means is that the clubs depicted in the film (if we were to make the "leap" that this was not just a movie) would have to have been affiliated with the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) which advocated for massed start racing - and put them at odds with the National Cyclist's Union that governed British racing in those days. The Taylor Brothers were among the first to join the BLRC, which got them kicked out of the NCU. Another early advocate for British massed-start racing was Henry Rensch, of the "Paris" bicycle brand (a point that I'll come back to shortly).

As a product of its time, some of the riding footage looks a little goofy by today's standards (No - I'm not being overly critical - one has to just accept these things when watching old movies like this) as the film sometimes switches from decent on-location exterior shots of riders out on the road, to "close-ups" that are clearly done in a studio.

(On the road)

(NOT on the road)
And some of the actors really ham it up while trying to "act" like they're riding - bouncing and flailing all over their bikes:

My favorite. That's Sam and David (in white) - rivals for Susie's attention - teaming up to defeat a rival club.
I mentioned that some aspects of the film's plot are a bit under-developed. One is a fairly interesting sub-plot involving some unscrupulous bike shop owners who run a sideline business as bookies - and coerce a troubled teen into stealing bikes for them to re-sell. That plot line doesn't really get resolved satisfactorily - but it does bring up a fun point for bike-obsessed anoraks:

When was the last time you saw the finer details of bike construction used as a plot device? One of the club members, whose bike was stolen, describes to the police that even if his stolen bike were repainted, it could be identified positively by its brake cables that route through the top-tube. Now, here's some serious bike anorak trivia: Though he calls his bike "a foreign make," when we eventually see the stolen bike up close, it is a Rensch-built Paris-brand bicycle (actually a British bike with a foreign name). Recall that Rensch was one of those early advocates of massed-start racing in Britain - and the model shown here is probably their "Tour de France" model.
Being made just a few years after the end of the war, there are a couple of points in the story that demonstrate that Britain was still in recovery. One is that it's mentioned that many goods are still being rationed (in one scene, Susie's father complains that his mother-in-law is taking all his rations for "sweets"). And then there is a plot point involving a member of the Wakeford Wheelers club who is wanted by the police for desertion - a point which literally comes out of nowhere in the final 10 minutes of the film - another one of those "under-developed" elements I mentioned before.

But on the whole, despite whatever flaws it may have as a film, A Boy, a Girl, and a Bike is an enjoyable movie, a good diversion while we're shut in during the pandemic, and a nice showcase for the young Honor Blackman.

I hope you'll enjoy it!

Friday, April 10, 2020

A Stumpjumper Diversion

I've mentioned this old 1st-generation Stumpjumper on the blog a few times over the years, but recently a reader asked to see and read more about it. I've never devoted much blog space to the old Stumpie, but it's a pretty cool old bike, so why not?

The bike was a replacement for me for another vintage mountain bike that got destroyed in an unfortunate roof rack incident. That bike was a Schwinn Paramount PDG bike. The PDG, or Paramount Design Group, bikes were made for Schwinn by Panasonic/National Mfg. as opposed to the Paramount shop in Waterford, Wisconsin. It was a really nice bike, so the accident was particularly tragic. The frame was folded in half, but most of the components were salvageable. I found this old Stumpjumper soon after, and it was cheap, but it was awfully rough-looking. I stripped it all down and took it to a powder coating shop where they coated it in this shocking green (I call it "Kawasaki" green - as it's very similar to the color on their racing motorcycles). Then I built it up using a lot of the parts I had taken off the Paramount, with a few changes or "updates." I'll highlight much of that as follows.

I originally used the bike as my kid-hauler - with a Burley trailer attached, or later, a Trail-a-Bike trailer (and sometimes both simultaneously!). It's now the bike I usually grab for relaxing rides with my kids on the canal towpath in the national park, or I'll attach my flatbed trailer and use it for hauling groceries (including big jugs of water).

This bike was probably from 1982 and has the distinction of being one of the first mass-produced mountain bikes to hit the market. As you can see, the geometry on these early models was really slack. I could be mistaken, but the head and seat tube angles are probably somewhere around 68 degrees. That matched the geometry of the original mountain bikes when they were first created in Northern California. And that geometry was used because it pretty much mimicked the geometry of the old Schwinn heavyweight "tank bikes" that those California guys were converting into off-road "Klunkers." I've heard (but can't confirm) that Mike Sinyard of Specialized took an early Tom Ritchey-built mountain bike to Japan and basically said something like "make me a few thousand of these." Though Tom Ritchey's bikes were beautifully constructed, these early Stumpjumpers have some nice build details in their own right.

One of the cool details on the early Stumpjumpers was this "bi-plane" fork crown. It had a lot more character than the welded "unicrown" forks that would soon follow (and all to be replaced by suspension forks within a few years after that). You might be able to see that I have a twin-legged Pletscher kickstand holding the bike up. That was really helpful when loading up trailers that were often hooked up to the bike.

I also really like the lugged construction. This seat lug, with the seat stays attached to the binder "fastback" style, is a lovely detail that was dropped after a year or two. It wasn't long before lugged construction like this totally disappeared on mountain bikes - replaced by tig-welding. Nothing wrong with welding, but lugs lend so much more visual interest.

The lugs at the head tube are simple but nice, too. Also, although the frame tubes look positively "skinny" by todays standards, they were actually slightly oversized for the time. The top tube and down tube are both ⅛-inch larger than typical "road" tubes of the time.
One change I made to the typical mountain bike equipment was to add mustache bars. That's a Nitto "dirt drop" riser stem getting the bars up near the level of the saddle. I have Mafac road brake levers mounted, and Rivendell "Silver" shift levers mounted at the bar-ends. The bell is a large Crane "Big Hammer" which is one of the loudest bike bells I've seen/heard. The extra loud "ping" cuts through crowds of earbud-wearing pedestrians like nothing else - a great thing on the towpath.

Sugino AT crank, SunTour XC derailleur, and some cool old pedals. I think the pedals are from Sakae, and they have a neat little grease fitting in the body for maintenance.
Late '80s SunTour XC derailleurs came off the old Paramount. So did the wheels with SunTour hubs and Sun Mistral rims.
I have a Brooks Flyer saddle (basically a B-17 with coil springs underneath), and a well-aged Carradice saddlebag attached. I've covered the bag with badges and pins from the trail or bike shops (and a few were home made from beer bottle caps). 

These early Stumpjumpers only came in dark blue (as this one was) and maybe silver - but the shocking green looks so cool on the bike that it seems like a natural. It gets attention - mostly positive. I've got plastic fenders mounted on it and they work well enough - though the gap between the fenders and tires is more than I like to see. I originally had fatter tires on the bike, and the "fit" was better - but then I changed to more "road-oriented" tires and never bothered to re-fit the fenders. I may go back to fatter someday.

Hope you enjoyed the closer look at my old Stumpie.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Work Commute

Regular readers know I sometimes write posts about my bike commuting, with updates about how I'm doing, how many days I've ridden, or my latest bike-to-work average. Heading into Spring, I had been on track to have one of my best years. Maybe not my "all-time" best (I had tallied 132 days and maintained an average of 76% a couple of years ago) but it could certainly have been in the top two or three. By mid-March, I had ridden 82 days and had an average of 61%, and I was certain I'd be able to increase that once the weather started improving in April and May.

Well, then, as everyone knows, all hell broke loose and it began to look like the end-times.

But we've had warmer weather the last couple of days and so I decided to ride to work today. It had rained a bit in the early morning hours, and there was a chance for more rain to come, so I took a bike with fenders because showing up to work soaking wet really sucks.

I packed what I needed for the day and headed out from home under cloudy skies, but it was pleasantly warm.
I decided to take a different route to work than what I've usually done, going by way of the metro parks and the national park. That means a nice fast descent to the valley and a pretty wicked "S" curve in the steepest part of it. It's one of those rare places where you can actually go faster on a bike than you can in a car.

My policy on tackling the "S" curve is that if cars don't pass me by the time I get to it, I make sure they can't. About 100 yards from the first bend, I take the lane, and I don't feel bad about it. The speed limit is only 30 mph. With some effort, I can hit 40 heading into the first turn. By the time it straightens back out, a good rider can hit 50. With or without a legal speed limit, a car simply can't match it.
Taking the lane is pretty important here. I mean - that first curve bends away and downhill so it's impossible to see what might might coming up in the oncoming lane. Of course, there's always some A-hole driver who decides they must pass the cyclist anyhow - because, you know, they're in a car, and you're only on a bikeSo there. Then they suddenly discover in horror that they're about to get hit head-on - or they realize they're going in to the turn way too hot (for a car, anyhow) and they end up slamming on their brakes to keep from going off into the woods. 

None of those things happened today, though. I did have a guy on a motorcycle come up close behind me just before that first turn, but I put on a bit more speed, kept him behind me, then opened up a wide gap by the time I came out the other end. He caught up with me at the traffic light at the bottom of the hill and gave me a thumbs up.

I got caught by a few sprinkles along my route, but on the whole it was a good commuting ride. Near the end, I had a long climb to match the descent at the start.

Fifteen miles - and about an hour - I pulled up at work. A quick shower, a cup of coffee, and I was ready to face another day of online teaching.
Thanks for indulging me.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Escape With The Kids

We've just wrapped up our third week of sheltering at home and all of us have been feeling bottled up, but especially the retrokids. Not only that, but they've been doing their schoolwork online and in some ways if feels like they're getting more work to do at home than they had when they were in school, so that's been overwhelming. But Saturday we had beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures that lured us outside.

We loaded our bikes up and headed to the national park to ride the canal towpath. It was our first ride together this season. We had no real destination - anyplace we would normally stop to visit is closed - but it felt good for all of us just being outdoors. Apparently a lot of other people were thinking the same thing, as the path seemed almost as busy as it would be on any good weekend - with riders, walkers, and joggers everywhere. In fact, if a person was hoping to get some exercise while still keeping some social distance, it was pretty tough to do. For us, that meant that some of the places where we would normally stop to explore, instead we pedaled on by when we'd see people congregating. Better to just keep moving.

There was one spot where we stopped that was quiet and we could be undisturbed. Riding alongside the old canal, we noticed an area where there were clusters of turtles sunning themselves. It's nice to see that my kids still get a thrill out of spotting animals on our rides together.

This was just one of several logs in about a hundred-yard stretch that was crowded with turtles looking for some warmth

It occurred to me that it was almost exactly a year ago that I finished building these bikes for the retrokids, and in the past year they've gotten a lot of enjoyment from them.

It was great to escape the house to get some fresh air and exercise. The current circumstances make a person appreciate that all the more.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Schwinn Super Sport Bike Project (not mine)

One thing I'm hearing from a lot of people during the COVID-19 shutdown is that there are a lot of bike projects getting done. I was just nearing completion of my Sequoia project when the shutdown happened and won't be starting another bike anytime soon. But I did recently get an email from Steve A. from Papillion, Nebraska about a project he was just finishing: a 1970s vintage Schwinn Super Sport.

I've written about bikes like the Super Sport here in the blog before (HERE). It was one of the lovely and under-appreciated hand-built bikes from Schwinn. Unlike the bulk of Schwinn's bikes of the time, which were welded together with heavy seamed steel tubing (made in-house at the Chicago Schwinn factory), the Super Sport and its stablemates, the Superior and Sports Tourer, were fillet brazed by hand from straight-gauge chrome-moly tubing in the same corner of the factory that produced the top-of-the-line Paramounts. The Super Sport was placed above the welded Continental model in the Schwinn model lineup, but below the slightly more upscale Superior or Sports Tourer (depending on the year). With its Ashtabula one-piece crank and Huret Allvit derailleurs, many customers probably didn't know what set the Super Sport apart from the cheaper Varsity and Continental models, and many dealers probably didn't do a good enough job explaining what made them worth the extra money. In any case, people who know how to spot them in the wild can sometimes get a good bargain on them and end up with a very attractive and sweet-riding bike.

That's where this example comes in. Steve found it on the Omaha Craigslist for about $20 and then did a complete down-to-the-frame restoration. Here are some before and after pictures.

The bike was complete and original - but obviously in need of a lot of TLC. At first glance I see a lot of rust, and a very dried out Brooks saddle. Otherwise, it looks to be all there.
Steve had the frame sandblasted, then repainted it himself using actual vintage Schwinn opaque blue paint. It's amazing the 45-yr-old can of paint was still good - but mixed up with the right solvents and loaded into his air sprayer, it worked great. He also hand-rubbed the finished paint to get the proper sheen. A few parts were rechromed, others cleaned up, and some replaced. It looks here like it just rolled out of the Schwinn dealer showroom.

Some close ups:

A very rusty crank and chain.
Gleaming. He had the crank re-chromed, and I see he added some period-correct-looking toestraps and clips - a nice upgrade. The pedals were able to be cleaned up and re-used.
Lots more rust, and lots of chips and scratches in the paint.
Gleaming and beautiful. Steve was able to find a pair of new or nearly-new Schwinn-branded Huret derailleurs, and a new Schwinn-approved freewheel to replace the old rusted items. He kept the original wheels, but spent a lot of elbow grease buffing and polishing to bring them back to life.
Another look at the bottom bracket area and that very rusty crank (and integrated kickstand - also very rusty).

Very nice. See that little round decal near the bottom of the seat tube? That's where Schwinn identified the tubing as Chrome Molybdenum. It looks like that might have been missing in the "before" picture. Proper water-slide type decals came from a seller on eBay.

Brakes were replaced with correct vintage parts (with new pads added), and he was able to find a nice-looking vintage replacement for the head badge on eBay to replace the beat-up original.
All in all, this is one nice-looking bike. Steve should be proud of his work. I told him that all he needs now is a vintage Schwinn dealer price tag and people would think it was brand new. I'd like to thank him for sharing the bike and its story, and letting me share it with all the Retrogrouch readers.