Old School Touring

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

Of all the fads and trends in the cycling industry, the touring era that accompanied the 1976 BikeCentennial in the U.S. was probably the most positive.  While not everyone wants or needs a touring bike – a touring bike is a bike that can work well for all kinds of riding.  And, due to economic conditions during this era – favorable exchange rates for the Japanese yen and the oil crisis of the early 70’s – the U.S. market was flooded with low cost, high quality touring bikes in the mid 70’s to mid 80’s.  These bikes often survive intact, as they were quite well made to begin with, and were usually equipped with top of the line components.

Japanese brands like Centurion, Nishiki, Bridgestone, Fuji, Miyata, Panasonic, and Univega were among the most well known manufacturers to build high quality touring bicycles.  Raleigh, Peugeot, Trek, Specialized, Austro-Daimler, Gitane, Motobecane, Mercier, and others also joined in to build some of the nicest touring bikes ever mass produced.

These touring bikes of the late 70’s and early 80’s hold a special place in my heart.  Their excellent build quality and beautiful design represent freedom, exploration, and adventure.

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This lovely 1985 Nashbar Toure MT is a great example of the quality that could be had for a reasonable price.  The frame was built for Nashbar by Maruishi – a Japanese builder not as well known as others, but still producing a beautifully brazed machine of double butted cro-mo steel.  The gorgeous blue sparkle paint and well brazed seat cluster show off its quality.

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All the finish work is top notch.  This is a bike I would keep for myself if it were my size.

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Brazed on rack mounts

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Sealed Tange headset

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SunTour downtube shifters.

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SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.

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Sealed cartridge bearing hubs. No maintenance required.

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Classic Blackburn bottle cage.

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2nd bottle cage mount underneath the downtube.

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Seat tube has no bottle cage braze-ons – left clean for mounting a frame pump.

There are so many nice features on this amazing bike that it’s hard to list them all.  One reason that the bike is so pristine, however, is because long ago the SunTour Mountech rear derailleur had failed, and the bike was put away, thankfully in a dry, clean space.

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So, I replaced the rear derailleur with a Shimano 600 long cage mechanism from the same era.  It works perfectly with the original 100% SunTour drivetrain.

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Triple crank with half step gearing.

This bike was built in the days of gear shifting pattern obsession.  Half step gearing was a way to have a routine shifting pattern that would maintain cadence as the terrain changed.  In practice, at least for me, I prefer not having to constantly double shift, so I am not enamored with half step gearing and have, when confronted with it, replaced the large middle chain ring with something smaller, such as a 40 or 42.  But, some riders love half-step gearing and more power to them (pun intended).

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Araya 27 Inch rims.

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Nashbar logo on the downtube.

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Sealed cartridge bearing hubs, Suntour freewheel.

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SunTour Mountech front derailleur

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SunTour chromed forged dropouts with single eyelets on the rear.

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Powerful Dia Compe cantilevers.

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Lowrider fork mounts.

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SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.

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Beautifully machined BB shell.

It would be tough to find a similarly engineered touring bike with these quality components, for a price that even remotely comes close to what you can buy this bike for now.  One problem is that most cyclists associate Nashbar with low end liquidation components, rather than any kind of quality.  But, back in the 1980’s, the arrival of the Nashbar mail order catalog was an exciting event.  I ordered many wonderful and interesting components for my old 1976 Centurion from Nashbar back then.  Today, however, the company is known for its discounted and discontinued parts, rather than for quality bicycles, for better or for worse.

This wonderful old touring machine is going to a friend’s stable in Southern Oregon, where I know it will be ridden and appreciated.  I hope to join him and his spouse on some wonderful rides through Southern Oregon wine country, and I will be a bit jealous his bike.2016-09-13-001

 

Tired

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While sitting around in my back yard staring off into space and listening to the birds, I suddenly got the urge to turn my Panasonic winter bike upside down to take a look at the bottom bracket and the frame from underneath.  Every now and then, it’s a good idea to get a different perspective on your bike, especially with an older frame, and one such as this that has so many cosmetic challenges.  Once I had the bike upside down, the afternoon lighting suddenly illuminated something I wasn’t actually looking for:  huge sidewall cracks in my 6 year old bullet proof commuter tires.  As I looked more carefully, I also saw that the tread (which still shows no wear) is also separating from the sidewall casing.  Uh oh!

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These are Nimbus Armadillo 26 X 1.5 inch tires, and they are aptly named.  I have never had a flat during the entire time I have used them.  They are not particularly comfortable tires, but the trade-off in commuting reliability has been worth the sacrifice to comfort.  The front tire had fewer sidewall cracks than the rear tire, as one would expect, but I decided not to take any further chances of a blow-out and replace them.

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On hand, the only 26″ tires I had were some Panaracer Pasela folders which are the extras I carry when I am using my Terry on tours or longer rides.  They are 26 x 1.25, so are about  6 mm narrower than the old Nimbus Armadillos.  But, they will have to do for now, and they are perfectly decent tires. I didn’t have any Schrader valved tubes which would fit these narrower tires.  But, it’s really no problem to use Presta valves with Schrader rims.

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While you can purchase special grommets which will adapt a Schrader rim to a Presta valve, I have always just used a boot made from a small piece of rim protector, as shown above.  I’ve never had a problem with this approach.

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While the bike was upside down, I looked at the bottom bracket, the brakes, and the chainstays.  The bike is getting some rust in the area where it experienced some massive chain suck, so I’ll need to file that down and paint the area to keep it protected.  I also like to look at the U-brakes from this perspective.  The straddle cable is very fiddly and difficult to access when the bike is right side up. You can see how narrow the straddle cable has to be to accommodate this design. Otherwise, everything looks good!

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The narrower Pasela tires look a bit odd with the wide Planet Bike fenders, but the ride quality will probably be nicer, and the bike will be faster (fun!).  Meanwhile, I have ordered a set of Compass’ 26 x 1.5 McLure Pass tires.  I look forward to trying them out on this bike.  The tires will be much lighter than the old Armadillos, and should provide for an amazing ride in comparison.  Flat resistance will probably be not as good, but I am hopeful.  I have been using Compass’ 650b Loup Loup Pass tires on my Meral and have been amazed at their comfort and performance – and I’ve had not a single flat on those tires.

Stronglight Competition Headset

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While problem solving a fork issue on the 1940’s/50’s Mercier Meca Dural that I have been restoring, I thought about changing its headset so that I could mount a different fork with a slightly shorter steerer tube.

That effort was, sadly, unsuccessful.  But in the process, I had to compare various French headsets that I had on hand to determine which one might solve the problem of needing a slightly shorter stack height.

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1950’s Stronglight Competition Headset

One of the headsets in my bin was a 1950’s Stronglight Competition headset.  The rest of the French headsets I had one hand were 1970’s French headsets – probably all of which were made by Stronglight, but which are unbranded.  When I began comparing this older headset to the (relatively) newer ones, I was amazed at the difference in quality.

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1950’s Stronglight Competition headset cups and cones

The cups and races are beautifully machined, and are of much higher quality than the their 1970’s counterparts, shown below.

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French headset – 1970’s

The photos don’t quite do justice to the quality differential.  But, if you hold these cups and races in your hands and look at them with bare eyes, the difference is clear.  According to this helpful post from Classic Lightweights, the 1950’s Competition headset is made from hardened chrome nickel steel, and feature V shaped races which provide for more bearing contact (thanks to Jim at Bertin Classic Bicycles for clarifying this important distinction).  The newer 1970’s versions are made from lower grade steel, and have U shaped bearing races.

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The nice branding on all of the pieces really motivated me to try to make this headset work on my restoration project.

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Peugeot fork – 1970’s – looks great on the Mercier Meca Dural frame

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Original Mercier steel fork on the right, Peugeot fork on the left

The original fork was seriously compromised with rusting and pitting on the fork blades.  I had sanded off the pitting and have been searching for the right solution which would result in either an original newly chromed fork, or an original newly painted fork.  I was not able to find any painter or chrome-plater in the Portland region that I wanted to trust with this vintage fork.  So, I looked around at the forks I had on hand.  One of them was a 1970’s fork from a silver Peugeot.  The steerer tube was shorter than the original fork by about 5 mm.  Drinking some Kool-Aid, I decided that maybe I could make this work, after all, the fork looked perfect with the Meca Dural aluminum frame, as you can see from the above photo.

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After doing a bit of research, I determined that I could eliminate the lock washer and instead apply some Locktite to the steerer threads.  That would save about 2 or 3 mm.  But, to make this work I needed to Dremel off the pin on the top of the 1970’s headset that I originally envisioned as my solution to the problem.  Okay, that was easy.

Unfortunately, when I dry mounted the fork into the headtube, I forgot about the space that the 5/32 inch bearings would need.  So, I ended up with only 2 or 3 threads showing on the steerer tube above the upper cup, after installing the bearings.  That’s not enough.  You really need at least 5 or 6 threads showing in order to feel confident that the steerer tube will stay in adjustment, especially if you are going to remove the lock washer.

So, it’s back to the drawing board with the fork.  I either need to find an appropriate replacement fork, or the right company to chrome-plate or paint the original fork so that the bike can be restored to its original glory.  But, the 1950’s Stronglight Competition headset gives further evidence to the quality of vintage cycling components as compared to their modern day counterparts.