My Favorite Multi-Tool

Like most cyclists, I’ve tried many a multi-tool over the years.  But, my Topeak “Alien” multi-tool, which I purchased sometime in the 1990’s, is my favorite.  I’ve been using this tool for decades, and it still looks and functions as new.

There are many things to love about this tool, not the least of which are the many individual tools available.  I think this model has 26 altogether.  While some of them may only be needed occasionally, when cycling far from resources, or just commuting home on a miserable rainy Portland evening, the abundance of tools available in this single mechanism has meant the difference between needing a rescue or being able to make it back in one piece.

Because I ride so many different bikes, some of them many decades old, having the box wrenches (8, 9 & 10 mm) on hand has helped me adjust Mafac brakes, tighten fender bolts, and make derailleur and shifter clamp tweaks.  Two of the box wrenches also feature 15 and 14 gauge spoke wrenches.  There is a serrated knife and bottle opener which can come in handy while camping, as well as a chain breaker.

There’s even a pedal wrench which can be deployed by attaching it to the supplied 8mm Allen key.  I’ve never had to use this, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

The multi-tool comes in two parts which are separated when you depress the Alien logo button, which allows the two sections to be pulled apart.

One of the most useful features of this multi-tool is that the box wrenches, knife, chain breaker, and screwdriver can be locked into place so that they don’t move around as you are trying to use them.  The plastic body also has two integrated tire irons. I’ve never used these because I always carry separate tire irons, but in case you find yourself without your favorite tire irons, these are always there.

My version of the Topeak Alien tool came with instructions which I am amazed that I still have, as well as a handy carrying case.  The weight of the tool is about 275 grams on my scale.  That’s sort of like carrying around an extra bottom bracket, and really is nothing to seriously worry about.  My model is no longer produced, and has been replaced by the Alien II and Alien III models.

The individual tools in this kit are made from stainless steel, and they have really held up well.  A close competitor is the Crank Brothers M19 multi tool, also made with steel (high-tensile), which I’ve also used over the years.  While both multi-tools are excellent choices, I think the Topeak’s range of functionality across different types of bikes from different eras gives it the edge.

Huret Allvit Rear Derailleurs

1966 Huret Allvit Advert

Despite being about the right age to have experienced a Huret Allvit rear derailleur in my youth (they were standard equipment on Schwinn bicycles and were manufactured in the multi-millions by the mid-1960’s), I missed out on the now well-reported unpleasant experience.  Due to my parents purchasing proclivities, I ended up with Sears’ (Puch) internally-geared bicycles, and then eventually a Shimano-equipped Volkscycle, that latter of which I put many miles on before figuring out that something better was out there.

Late 60’s to early 70’s model

I’ve been recently working on the restoration of a Robert Ducheron machine whose date of build has yet to be determined.  The bike was equipped with components dating from the 1950’s to the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.  It arrived with a fully matched group of Huret Allvit shifters and derailleurs.  R. Ducheron bicycles come highly prized, he being one of several artisanal French builders from the golden era.  So, if Allvit derailleurs were spec’d by Mr. Ducheron, it would indicate confidence in their performance and reliability.

I had started to disassemble the mechanism, while noting that the spring has two notched positions for controlling chain tension.  I also noted that the pulleys have adjustable cone ball bearings, rather than bushings.  Not something expected on a low-end product.  I also recalled that I’ve set up a few Allvits on bikes I’ve sold over the years, and remember being surprised at how well these “low-end” derailleurs shifted.

1962 Rebour drawing showing parallelogram

The above drawing, from a 1962 copy of Le Cycle magazine, shows the Allvit in all its glory, and with no less than 4 chain tension settings on the pulley cage.  You can also see that the parallelogram is positioned at the bottom of the arm, which means that it can match the height of the freewheel cogs to engage them without tons of chain gap.

1962 Rebour Huret Allvit

But, here is another 1962 Rebour drawing from the same edition of Le Cycle showing 3 chain tension positions.  It would appear that there were several configurations of the Allvit, even within the same model year.

1966 Huret Allvit Advert

And, here is a 1966 advertisement from Le Cycle magazine, with this version showing 4 chain tension options. 

Here is the full page of Rebour’s drawings in the Le Cycle 1962 edition, with accompanying text.  According to the narrative, at this point in history, the Allvit had been equipped on a number of racers and tandems, winning the Poly de Chanteloup on numerous occasions. If this derailleur is truly low-end, how could these results be possible?

And the answer is nuanced.  As time went on, the derailleur was cheapened, a process typical of the economics leading up to the 1970’s bike boom.  The steel arm, now covered, proved to be flimsy and easily bashed out of adjustment, and the pull required to move the parallelogram proved to be very high, causing cable failure.

So, with that in mind, I plan to continue my overhaul of the Allvit, aided by the above instructions, courtesy of disraeligears.co.uk, an English language version well worth having.  I’m hoping that with plenty of lubrication and adjustment, I just might get performance worthy of the Poly de Chanteloup!

A Sunday Ride to Oaks Park

Care for a dance?

Sunday rides are a ritual for me, even in winter.  But today’s glorious sunshine accompanied by a warm spell (60 degrees!) made getting out on a bike today a real delight.  I often ride out Springwater Trail, along the Willamette River, to visit Tadpole Pond, and the wetlands of Oaks Bottom, accompanied by a swing through Portland’s bustling Sellwood district.  Today, I decided to stop in at Oaks Amusement Park, one of the oldest continually operating parks in the U.S.

Being an amusement park, there are fun rides, including this swooping roller coaster which now induces a slight feeling of nausea, even though I once relished joining my pals for a spin on this magnificent, multi-colored joy machine.

But in addition to having the option to get sick, Oaks Park also offers picnic areas along the river, an historic wooden-floor roller rink complete with a Wurlitzer pipe organ, and is the home of the Herschell-Spillman Noah’s Ark Carousel, which is itself listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  I like visiting the park in the winter, when it’s closed, to enjoy the quiet river views and to marvel at the nostalgia-inducing feel of the place.

I’ve been riding my 1975 Centurion Semi-Pro, which I converted to 650b about a year ago.  I re-used the Sunshine Pro-Am hubs, laced to V-O rims, and installed Mafac Raid brakes to accomplish the conversion.

The Grand Bois Cypres 650b 32 mm tires are holding up well.  They are a nice alternative to tires offered by Rene Herse and Pacenti.  However, it appears that these tires are no longer available, although some models can still be purchased on eBay.  Below are photos of the bike’s features and current components.  In addition to re-using as many of the original Dura Ace pieces as made sense, I tried to stay true to the bike’s 1970’s roots.

Original Dura Ace FD

SunTour thumb shifters with bare helical casing

Stronglight 99 with 47/34 rings

Mafac black washer RAID calipers

Fender spacers – split to facilitate the installation of wider tires

Frame transfers – Dura Ace, USCF, and Tange Champion #1 tubing (faded)

Wrap-around seat stay, chromed

Jim Blackburn rear rack

Tange Falcon headset

My ride was capped off by watching a hawk flying overhead, chased by a murder of crows, only to land nearby with its prey in its talons.  My iPhone camera was no match for that photo opp, but the memory of that scene will live on, accompanied by many other memorable Sunday Rides.