Winter Ride Around Canby, Oregon

For the past several years, I have been drawn south to Canby from my Portland home base for winter cycling.

The Willamette River bends in a sharp s-curve at Canby before heading north toward its confluence with the mighty Columbia River.  Its beauty calls to me.  Fall colors, winter which promises spring, and the mesmerizing quiet of the ride offer a compelling contrast to cycling in Portland.

Today, I followed this little town’s cycling loop, rather accidentally.  I’ve ridden here a lot, and have ventured east of town up onto the plateau that sits above the river, and boasts the best of Oregon farm country – hazelnut groves, vegetable crops, and horses, cattle, sheep, and llamas a-plenty.  The basic route depicted above is a totally flat 11 mile loop.  It’s easy to add side trips to your journey, as there’s lots to explore around this sweet little town.

I’ve recently converted my 1980’s custom Meral 650b bicycle to more upright style handlebars.  On today’s ride one of my goals was to evaluate the bike’s ergonomics with the new Velo-Orange Tourist handlebars.

I wasn’t sure how to think about the brake levers for this bike – I wanted to stay true to its French heritage, and resisted purchasing new brake levers for the upright bar.  I finally settled on these black vintage Mafac levers.  I also removed 3 cm of bar material from each bar end of the V-O tourist bars.  I have found that modern upright style bars are generally too wide and long, and without cutting them down can give your bike an out of balance appearance, not to mention being uncomfortable.

To keep the bars free for additional hand positions I opted for stem mounted shifters.  These SunTour ratcheting shifters performed just fine, but I did have to adjust the position of the rear derailleur on down-shifts, whereas upshifts were near perfect.  I may replace these with some stem mounted Simplex Retrofriction shifters once I have a mounting option identified.

Oregon City Falls

The City of Canby sits along the Willamette River, upstream from the falls and locks at the historic town of Oregon City.  Today, the river was swift moving.  Maybe, I was too.

My 1980’s Meral is built with Reynolds 531 tubing, with a fully chromed fork (and with chromed main tubes underneath the dark lavender paint). That, plus converting the bike to 650b has made it one of my most treasured bicycles.  Happy riding in 2019!

Setting Up SunTour Cantilever Brakes

Black finish SunTour XC-Pro cantilevers with single spring adjustment at the rear of the arm

Champagne finish model with dual spring adjustment in front

Having recently set up two different versions of early 1990’s SunTour cantilevers, I thought it would be helpful to share my insights while they are still fresh in my mind.  While each of these cantilever models is called by the same model name, they could not be more different.  The champagne finish model pictured second has its adjusting springs and washers on top of each caliper, whereas the black finish model pictured first has only one caliper with an adjusting nut that sits below the caliper arm, but with two holes in the other caliper arm for additional spring tension adjustment.

The champagne finish model was more difficult to set up, which was counter-intuitive, given that each caliper arm could be dialed in for separate spring tension.  The above photo shows one caliper arm of the dual spring model disassembled.  SunTour provided a special cone wrench with each new XC-Pro Champagne finish brake set model sold (perhaps as a warning).

SunTour cantilever smooth post brake shoes

If you want a completely accurate engineering description of these brake calipers, you’ll find that at BikePro’s archived articles.

However, online guidance as to the particulars of setting up these brake arms is limited to the Sheldon Brown site, with its repellent advertising.  So, I consulted my print materials including my collection vintage mechanic’s manuals.  Oddly, the only really helpful print resource was Park Tools’ manual, which is also available online.

SunTour Model 59030334 Cantilever Instructions

Fortunately, both NOS brakesets I was installing included the manufacturer’s instructions. The dual spring adjustment champagne model, which was part of my Rivendell Appaloosa build, was my first attempt at setting these up.  The instructions include a helpful cutout to measure your straddle cable angle.  These dual spring XC-Pro brakes want a 90 degree angle.  I got pretty close to that, and called it good.  But, most illuminating about SunTour’s instructions for these cantilevers is the sequence of the steps, which doesn’t match my protocol about setting up brakes. SunTour advises positioning the brake shoes first, which in my experience is the very last step in any brake set-up.  After that, SunTour advises how to install the straddle cable (very low) so that the cable angle is correct (90 degrees) and so that the brake pads sit very close to the rim.  Then comes the spring tension adjustment.  Let’s just say that things did not go as planned when I initially set up these brakes on my Rivendell Appaloosa.  But, after some trial and error I finally arrived at the right spring tension adjustment, and the brakes are now performing well.

Spring tension 19mm nut under the brake arm

Only one arm has a spring tension nut.

Meanwhile, I set up a later version of these cantilevers on my Bridgestone MB3.  This XC-Pro model has its spring tension adjustment on only one arm, adjusted with a 19mm wrench from behind the brake arm.

Above are scans of the single adjusting nut model of SunTour’s XC-Pro cantilever instructions. This model uses a spring adjustment nut (19 mm) on one arm, and which sits underneath the brake arm.  These brakes allow for changing the spring tension by moving the spring from a low tension to high tension setting on the other brake arm, as shown in the scans above.  Setting up these single spring adjustment brakes ended up being less time consuming than their dual adjusting nut siblings.  The adjustment nut is only useful for centering the brake shoes, with spring tension controlled on the other arm with the hi-low setting. This model calls for a 96 degree straddle cable angle.  I didn’t quite achieve that with the setup on my 1989 Bridgestone, but they are still working fine with a slightly lesser angle.  I used the NOS SunTour brakepads (aka “bricks”) on the Bridgestone, after filing some material off their surface.  Even though not well regarded as brake pads, they are working nicely, and have not squealed (yet).

Need an IPA?

Older vintage cantilevers do not have spring tension adjustment.  So, if you needed to change the tension to improve brake performance you needed a 3 hole cantilever boss, or you needed to “strong arm” the spring to change its tension.  While that’s where newer cantilevers can offer improved braking performance, setting up these cantilevers correctly is another thing altogether.

Stem Mounted Shifters

Stem mounted shifters were often standard equipment on bike boom “10 speeds”.  Consequently, they picked up a reputation of being low-end components, even though the only difference between these shifters and others (downtube, bar-end, and handlebar-mount) was their placement on the bicycle.  During the 1970’s no one thought that bike boom 10 speeds were bad, per se.  In fact, Americans embraced these bicycles, which were a welcome alternative to the heavy, clunky, no gear bikes of their childhoods.  Stem shifters were not derided back then and even high-end bikes were sometimes equipped with stem-mounted shifters, including treasured Schwinn Paramounts of this era.

What would be the reason to use stem-mounted shifters instead of bar mount or bar end shifters, which also offer the option to shift without changing your posture on the bike?  As many cyclists know, downtube shifters can be tiring to use if you have to do a lot of gear changing.  That’s one reason why transportation cyclists prefer bar mount shifters, and touring cyclists love bar ends.  Bar ends work well with drop bars because they are positioned well on the lower drops, pointing straight back at the rider and offering easy access.

But stem mount shifters offer several advantages that bar ends and handlebar mount shifters don’t:  for riders using upright bars they free up the bar to allow for multiple hand positions, and even if you love bar end shifters (as I do), not all handlebar shapes are ideal for their mounting position at the end of each bar end, depending on the shape of the handlebar you are using. Bar end shifters can only be used with road diameter 23.8 bars, as opposed to 22.2 bars which are the standard width for upright bars (although note that many upright bars are now offered in both widths).

And that’s where the lowly stem shifter comes in.  Recently I have been converting some of my drop bar bikes to upright style bars.  Since I’d like to be able to keep as much “real estate” on the new upright bar as possible, for multiple hand positions, I thought about using stem shifters.  I went to my parts bin to see what was there, and that’s when it dawned on my why these shifters are not necessarily desirable.  First of all, the levers on some of these examples are HUGE.

This SunTour model towers over its counterparts of this era.  And, SunTour offered such a clunky-looking mount to the stem, with a lot of unnecessary material.  That made me think about using an alternative system to get the shifters up onto the stem.

Before taking to the internet for research I experimented with using V-O’s thumbies mounted on the stem.  While maybe not such a crazy idea if using a single chain ring up front, the two shifters mounted on the stem may look pretty whacky, depending on your perspective.  But the main problem with this idea is the positioning of the cable stops which point straight down.

With new ideas welcome, I researched the current stem mount shifters available in the markeplace.  The above pictured Dia-Compe ENE stem mount shifter is an interesting innovation.  First of all, the shifters are designed to be at rest pointing forward, which means that when engaged they will not be pointing ominously toward one’s private parts.  And, the cable stop is fully adjustable, as shown on the above technical diagram.  That is a very nice feature.  However, it looks like these shifters may no longer be available, at least in the U.S.

Before heading that direction by purchasing a new component or shifter mount, I made several attempts to install vintage stem shifters on a current project.  One must firstly separate the characteristics of the shifter itself from the stem mounting issues.  These Shimano FingerTip shifters have always baffled me, but today I decided to put dismay at bay by setting these shifters up.  These ratcheting shifters have a manually operated stop (see photo above) which allows one to set up the shifters by pushing in the stop to keep the shifters in their upright position.  Once the stop is released, the counterbalance spring offsets the pull from the derailleurs, keeping everything in balance for easy shifting.  Shimano made a bar end version of this as well.  The cable stops on these shifters point straight ahead. It would be ideal if they pointed more downward.

After ruling those shifters out I ended up installing SunTour’s ratcheting shifters, which have a nicely angled cable stop and look okay from the front of the bike.  While I don’t care for SunTour’s over-engineered clamp style, the appearance is not terrible and I can live with it.  But, best of all, these are SunTour ratcheting shifters which were so well-engineered and offer easy and subtle gear changes.  As part of setting up this shifter mechanism, I disassembled the shifters, cleaned the parts with alcohol and lightly abraded the washers with emery cloth to improve the shiftiing quality.  Mission accomplished.

Stem mount shifter clamp – photo courtesy of Rivendell

Another option is to use a new stem mounted shifter clamp, allowing one to use any shifter of your choice.  This component from Rivendell looks interesting.  The cable stops are angled at about 45 degrees, and that might be just about right depending on the placement on the stem.  Meanwhile, I’m going to use my stem mounted ratcheting SunTour shifters and will follow up again with an evaluation of their performance.