Sunday, June 27, 2021

New In Box

I thought I'd take a moment to share a recent find that I've added to my collection of vintage parts: a first-generation SunTour Cyclone derailleur, new-in-box - or NIB.

I've always been a SunTour guy, and the Cyclone has long been a favorite. I have a couple of them, both in short cage and long-cage GT versions, and one of them gets pretty regular use on one of my vintage Mercian bikes. I have a second-generation version (M-II) on my Sequoia. Clean or lightly-used examples come up for sale frequently, but finding one like this is rare these days.

The box has seen better days, but it doesn't matter because what's inside is still perfect.

Lift the lid, and there's this clear plastic display cover, and a red plastic tray that is form-fitted to hold the derailleur. Notice there's also a little compartment to hold the hanger "claw" that one might have needed if their bike didn't have an integrated derailleur hanger. The original manual is tucked underneath the red tray, out of sight.

It's really very lovely packaging - it isn't hard to imagine the components in a bike shop's glass display case, tempting a younger version of myself.

With the clear plastic cover removed. 

And here it is, freed of its packaging. The date code on the back of this example is "R D" which, according to the Vintage Trek site means it was made in April 1975 - well within the first year of production.

There were some very small changes made in the first generation Cyclone derailleurs during their production run - mainly in the design of the upper pivot arm. These very first versions have a shorter, more compact upper arm, while later ones have a slightly longer arm that drops the parallelogram a few more millimeters. It was a subtle difference, but it probably increased the largest cog size they could handle. Or at least, that's my guess.

These early Cyclones were one of the lightest derailleurs a person could buy, at only 175 g. They were beautifully finished and detailed, and cost less than anything in their class. In 1975, a Campagnolo Nuovo Record cost $40, as did a Huret Jubilee. A Shimano Crane (Dura-Ace) was $20. The Cyclone was $16, and shifted better than all of them. I think they get more respect today than they did when new. Price-snobbery tended to make people think SunTour was "lesser" somehow because they were cheaper, when the only "lesser" was the price.

I don't have any immediate plans for this one. It was just one of those things where I spotted it for sale and the price was too good to pass up. Not much else to say about it - so I guess that's bye for now.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Tour is Coming

It's almost time for the Tour de France. 

Okay, if I'm being honest, I will probably miss most of it. But I just saw a fun promotional ad for the upcoming Tour coverage from TV2, a subscription TV station based in Denmark.

The ad pokes some lighthearted fun at we men of a certain age -- an age that I have to admit now includes myself (and probably a lot of others who read this blog) -- squeezing into lycra and trying to recapture their youth. I think the relevant term here is "MAMIL" or "Middle Aged Men In Lycra."

Though the men could perhaps be described as "vintage," most of the bikes are not, with a notable exception where I could distinctly see some downtube shifters.

Note this very dramatic - and dusty - reveal:

Seriously - I can smell the dust.

Not much else to say here - except enjoy the video!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Year That Wouldn't End . . . Is (Finally) Ending

It's a rare thing when my school/work year extends past the end of May - but here it is, June 17, and we're still in school - albeit for another day. Between the extra weeks added to the end, along with pandemic quarantines, COVID protocols, mask mandates, shutdowns, "virtual" lessons online, altered schedules, video conferencing, and Zoom, my colleagues and I have dubbed 2020-21 "The Year That Wouldn't End."

Yet the end is finally near. Or should I say, the end is nigh?

An omen? This guy was eyeing me rather suspiciously on my ride to work Wednesday morning. The locals call them buzzards, but really, they're more properly called turkey vultures. Still . . .

In the previous post, I pointed out that I had reached my bike-to-work goal for the year with just a few days to spare, so this post is an update with some final numbers and new pictures.

So, I will officially finish the year with 103 bike commuting days, for a bike-to-work average of 65.6% (gotta get that .6 in there!). That's 2,935 miles of commuting for the year. My 9-year total is 843 days with a long-term average of 55% which means I'm meeting/exceeding my goals more often than not. I've only fallen short of a 50% average 3 times since I started biking to work regularly. I guess you could say that's not half bad (groan).

Unfortunately I must drive on the final day as I still have bikes hanging on the classroom walls that need to go home for the summer:

I still have some packing to do . . . 

And now, let's end this with a couple more pics:

Keeping a tally of the days on the classroom whiteboard

Taking time to smell the flowers  - or at least photograph them - on an early June morning.

Self portrait, with bicycle. June 17, 2021

Well, that's it for 2020-21. Make the most of the summer . . . 

Monday, June 14, 2021

100 Days

I'm in the final week of what has been a pretty unusual school/work year. At the beginning of it all, back in September, I had set a goal for myself to reach 100 days of riding to work for the year.

This past spring has not exactly been cooperative, weather-wise, what with lots of rain - and even snow in April (!) - to where I was starting to worry I might not reach my goal. But today, with just a few days left to go, I hit 100 days.

I anticipate that I'll be able to ride a few more days before week's end, which should give me a bike-to-work average of 64 - 65%, depending on how many more days I can squeeze in. 

The fact is, 100 days would be pretty respectable in any school/work year (usually August through May, but because of the COVID pandemic, this year was September through June) but this year it works out to be even better because we had a shutdown for most of December and January. During that time, we were engaged in "remote learning" and I was basically teaching from my living room. Those are almost never good months for riding a bike in Northeast Ohio, but since I was working from home, the days didn't count for or against me. The result is that my overall numbers might be a bit lower than what they could have been, but my average held up through the worst of the winter. Once we returned to our regular work schedule in late January, my average started falling (as it always does in the winter months) - from 72% before the shutdown to 64% by the end of February. 

I've held a steady average of about 64% since then, which has actually been frustrating. I kept hoping to increase my average through the spring, but between the uncooperative weather and various commitments that made driving necessary on some days despite the weather, I just couldn't do it.

So, how does this compare to previous years?

This has been the 9th year that I've been riding regularly to work. In that time, it has been a long-term goal to do at least half of my commuting by bike. I have met or exceeded 50% in 6 out of the last 9 years. 

My best year was 132 days, 76% (2017-18).
My worst year was 61 days,  35% (2014-15)

This year, at 64-65%, will rank as my second-best. 

While I anticipate adding at least a couple more days to this year's total, I can do some easy calculating that 100 days at 28.5 miles per day is 2,850 miles. My car (VW wagon) averages around 28-29 mpg in mixed driving, so we can also figure that I probably saved around 100 gallons of gas in the past year, which at current prices (about $2.80/gal) comes out to around $280 that I didn't spend on gas.

As of today, my combined numbers for the past 9 years are 840 days (out of 1523) for a long-term average of 55%. That's 23,940 miles, and a savings of roughly 840 gallons of gas, and somewhere around $2300 in fuel cost savings. 

Some pictures from the past year:

A beautiful morning for day 100. I decided to leave the black commuting mule at home and ride an old favorite for the occasion. There's rain and a possible thunderstorm in the forecast for the afternoon, but I just had to risk it. The morning was just too nice.

A misty morning in early June. There must have been some mist/condensation on my lens, giving this crazy flare effect. A ruined photo - or what Bob Ross would call a "happy accident"? You be the judge.

Snow in April. Jeezzz.

Full moon in October.

A misty morning in September.

The forecast for the next few days looks good, so I'll add to my totals and post an update soon. That's all for now . . .

Monday, June 7, 2021

New Dura Ace Anticipation - And a Look Back

A lot of the bike blogosphere has been making much of the fact that 2021 marks Shimano's 100th anniversary. Much is also being made of the fact that the company's usual 4-year cycle for major component redesigns was interrupted by the pandemic, so while 2020 might otherwise have marked the introduction of a new version of their top of the line Dura Ace group, many are now salivating at the prospect of a 2021 introduction to go along with the company's anniversary.

Just so we're clear on this, the current iteration of Dura Ace is their 9100 group, which is an 11-speed setup, available in cable-op or electronic shift versions (electronic Di2 is labeled 9150). Since Campagnolo has moved up to 12-speeds, most of the cheerleader blogs are hoping that the next generation Dura Ace (9200, presumably) will also shift 12 cogs in back. And there's a lot of anticipation that the electronic version may even be wireless to go head-to head with SRAM.

By the way, here's the current 9100 rear derailleur:

Sorry - but as far as I'm concerned, that thing is just fugly. Yes, it will shift an incredibly wide range for a road racing derailleur, but it hurts my eyes. 

In fact, I'd say the same for the whole group:

I have no doubt that the new 9200 Dura Ace, if it is indeed introduced in the upcoming months - or whenever it gets released - will work flawlessly. And I also expect it will look similarly hideous.

It really increases my appreciation for the stuff of the past.

It just so happens that I have nearly complete Dura Ace 7400 group from 1984 in my possession. I think it would be impossible to fault the performance of that group. But not only did it work impeccably, it also looked beautiful - crisp, simple, minimalist, and finished with jewelry-like attention to detail.

Here's the rear derailleur:

This particular example has just a bit of road rash on it, but overall still holds its own. The logo is unharmed, and functionally it's still perfect. The smooth, but crisp design was cutting edge in 1984, and still looks great today.

The front derailleur is similarly sleek, compact, and minimalist.

The shift levers are simple and smooth - but the thing that made them revolutionary was hidden inside. The clicking detents in the right lever were the heart of the SIS (Shimano Indexing System) that upended the industry. These are the original 7400 - 6-speed version, and could be switched to normal "friction" mode in the event one needed it.

The crank had that same crisp-edged aesthetic. It was smooth and low profile - without being overtly "aero." It was almost as though Shimano was doing a complete about-face after their less-than-successful aerodynamic Dura-Ace AX group.

The brakes were a sleek design - and were about as good as single-pivot sidepull brakes would ever get. Only available in short reach, as far as I know. If one needed a longer-reach brake, the 600 brake (most readers probably remember that 600 was later renamed "Ultegra") from that time looked similar, and were available in a 55mm reach version.

The pedals retained some of the aerodynamic styling of the 7300 AX group, but without the bizarre "Dyna Drive" innovation with its oversized spindle (which required a similarly oversized pedal hole in the crank). These had a low-profile design that allowed for more cornering clearance - not that pedaling through corners is really a recommended practice, but tell that to criterium racers in the '80s. The design would have been welcome on track bikes, too. One issue I have with the pedals is that the toe clips are yet another "does not play well with others" example from Shimano, as they are a unique design meant to integrate with the pedal. Also, there was an attempt to make a unique Shimano shoe cleat that would also integrate with the pedals and clips. The toe clips have little "wings" that would interloc with matching "wings" on the leading edge of the shoe cleat, with the intent being to make a more "positive" attachment to the pedals. All of that was rendered obsolete when Shimano embraced clipless pedals a couple of years later. But good luck finding either the special toe clips or cleats today. (luckily, the pedals do work with common non-Shimano slotted cleats - or with flat-bottomed shoes, but it's less than optimal).

Though I didn't take a photo to post, I also have a nice pair of wheels with the appropriate Dura Ace hubs (freewheel, not cassette) and the correct Dura Ace seatpost. In fact, I think the only thing I don't have is the headset.

Here's a scan of one of the ads explaining SIS, from early 1985:

Funny thing is that even as a teenager in 1984, I was already showing serious retrogrouchy tendencies. I remember reading all the hype about indexed shifting, and all I could think was "who needs that?" and dismissing it as a fad. Keep in mind that in 1984, I was still very much a SunTour guy. One thing that the ads and articles about SIS never mentioned was that one of the key elements of the new Dura Ace derailleur design was taken straight from SunTour, whose slant-parallelogram patent had just expired.

Another thing about indexed shifting that made me skeptical was that I knew it wasn't really "new." Shimano had several versions of their Positron system which brought indexing to low end entry level bikes and never caught on. Even SunTour had an early indexed shifting system called "Mighty Click" which failed to catch on. In fact, click shifting systems actually can be found all the way back to the beginning of multi-gear bicycles. But unlike Positron and most other indexing attempts, Dura Ace was a top-level group aimed at pros and serious racers - which brought that "trickle down" appeal (unlike the economy, "trickle down" does actually work in marketing bicycle components). And the engineering of the design - as a whole drivetrain system - was what really transformed things.

Other attempts to create indexed shifting usually focused on either the shift lever, or the derailleur - either one having precise detents built into their mechanism. But SIS integrated the whole drivetrain and shifting system. It wasn't just the clicking levers. It was about optimising the chain, the profile and spacing of the sprockets, the movement of the derailleur in each gear position, and even the cables and housing. As the competition tried to answer with their own indexing systems (SunTour's Accushift, and Campagnolo's Synchro) that full-system integration was the stumbling block they had to overcome. And by the time the competition figured that out, Shimano was working on integrating even more of the bicycle's components.

Okay - so was this all a good thing for the industry? From a retrogrouchy perspective, probably not, as that increased specialization and integration came at the expense of simplicity and compatibility - and ushered in an industry-wide race to obsolescence. But to be fair, the precision that made this Dura Ace group work so well gradually filtered down the line to more cost-conscious component levels to the point that even an entry level bike will function like a top-of-the-line machine -- and for the general bike-buying public, that's probably a good thing.

I remember all the "excitement" among my college bike club friends when SIS made its way to the second-tier 600 group, then later 105, and so on. The whole time, as more and more of my friends were clicking, I saw no reason to jump on the bandwagon. It's funny when I think back on it, but I didn't get a bike with click shifting until my Rivendell in 2001 (20 years ago!), which I built up with Ultegra 9-speed and bar-end shifters -- which by that time was more than 10 years after everyone else had moved on to STI integrated brake/shift levers. Even now, while my main commuting bike has STI, and I have a very nice retro-mod Mercian with Campagnolo Ergo, I still do a lot of my riding on bikes with traditional friction shifting. 

I don't currently have a project bike in mind for that 1984 Dura Ace group. But if I do end up using it someday, I still like to think that I might substitute some old Simplex retrofriction shift levers just to be contrary.

Once a retrogrouch, always a retrogrouch.