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.

Cycling Bags & Panniers

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Carradice Long Flap saddlebag

I have used quite a few cycling bags over the years.  But, bags and panniers can be tricky.  How well they work depends not only on the mounting system designed for the bag, but also on what kind of rack system you have, or whether you have racks at all.  And, for saddlebags, the question of whether they will work for you depends a great deal upon your bike’s rear triangle geometry, as well as whether or not your are using fenders. In order to use front bags and panniers you need not only to have a front rack, fork braze-ons, and handlebar or stem mounting system, but the success of carrying a front load also hinges on whether your bike has the right front end geometry to carry a load there.

I have always had a special obsession with bike bags, which started back in my touring days when I would load up my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour and head out to explore my surroundings.

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I was happy that my handlebar bag and rear panniers were purchased from REI – a consumer cooperative being somewhat radical back then (even though REI was founded decades earlier).  The handlebar bag mounted with a removable rack which rested on the handlebars and stem.  The lower part of the front bag was secured to the front dropouts via a stretchy cord, which as you can see in the above photo, got overstretched so that I had to tie a knot in the cord to keep tension on the bag while underway.

I liked the rear panniers, but didn’t like the front bag so much.  It interfered with the beam of my battery powered head light. And, probably the Pro-Tour’s geometry was not ideal for carrying a front load.  However, one nice feature was the map case on the top of the bag.  In those pre-iPhone days, having my maps at the ready proved invaluable, although I will say that often my maps were totally wrong!

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Velo Orange Handlebar Bag

Eventually I stopped using front bags altogether until I began building up my 1980 Meral as a 650b Randonneur, a few years ago.  Even so, I am not all that thrilled with front bags, finding them fidgety, noisy, and irritatingly intrusive on my hands.  Perhaps a decaleur could solve these problems.  But, for now, I only occasionally use this really nice Velo Orange front bag.  I have not used low rider front panniers, but have occasionally used small panniers mounted to the front racks of various bicycles I have ridden.  Mastering a front load requires a bit of saddle time.

Below is a list of some of the many cycling bags I have used over the years, as well as my comments on their utility.  If you have been searching for the right bag for your bike, perhaps this highly personal list will be of use:

Jandd

IMHO, Jandd is the gorilla manufacturer of cycling bags.  Their bags last forever.  They never wear out.  They are intelligently designed and reasonably priced, given their longevity.  They are not particularly pretty, but offer the best in bike bag value and utility.

Here are the Jandd bags that I have used over the last 35 years:

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Grocery panniers – large, securely mounts to most racks, holds an actual grocery bag, unlike other competitors which are much smaller and less robust.  I have a set of Jandd grocery bags that I purchased in the early 90’s and they are still in use.

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Hurricane panniers – These are the grocery panniers on steroids.  Excellent mounting, total weather protection, tons of visibility.  But, there are also very heavy weighing about 2 lbs each, unladen.  I use these on my Panasonic winter/errand bike.  A perfect utility bag.

Jandd Trunk rack bags – I used a Jandd trunk bag for many years.  It never wore out, and I finally gave it to a friend, as I don’t use trunk bags any more.

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Jandd Throw-over small panniers – I am using these “small” panniers on my 1980 Meral.  They are deceptive in nomenclature and appearance – I have managed to jam all kinds of stuff into these bags.  Lightweight, fits any rack.

Brooks

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Brooks Roll Up Panniers – who can say anything bad about a Brooks bag?  These are beautiful bags, with appropriately lovely packaging.  They are NOT waterproof, and they do not have any attachment at the base of the bag.  I am using these on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, which is perfect for what they are designed for.

Ortlieb

Terry Symmetry in Ashland

Various “roller” models – Ortlieb bags are the perfect Portland commuter bag, being totally waterproof, easy to mount on any rack, and with a lot of visibility.  Newer models have internal organizing pockets.  These are my commuting bags of choice.  I have these smaller panniers, pictured above, as well as an older set of larger panniers.  The smaller model is actually able to carry quite a bit of stuff, and I have successfully loaded these panniers with way more than I would have anticipated, so I use the smaller bags pretty much all the time.

Electra Ticino

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Electra Ticino Large Canvass Panniers – I hate these bags and have them sitting in my shop – awaiting some kind of disposition that I haven’t thought of yet.  The bags are narrow, heavy, and feature the worst mounting system I have ever seen.  After having these bags pop off the rack while riding at speed, and thankfully not crashing as a result, these bags are on my s$#t list.

Detours

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Detours seatpost mount quick release bags – I own three of these bags.  These are excellent bags for bikes which cannot take rear racks.  However, based on a recent search it looks like these bags are no longer offered by the company.  That’s too bad as I find these bags quite useful.  They are not as big I would like, but can still hold enough stuff for a day’s adventure.

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Sackville Bags from Rivendell   For awhile I used these Sackville front and rear rack bags, which I purchased from Rivendell.  The color scheme went well with my 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist.  However, these bags have no internal pockets, are not expandable, and so are of very limited utility.  They do have visibility, as you can see from the above photo.  Because of their limitations, they are sitting in my shop now awaiting some purpose in their lives which I haven’t thought of yet.

Other Bags I Have Used:

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While too numerous to list here I have tried out many different kinds of cycling bags.  Trunk bags, which I used for a time, put the weight up high and also make it difficult to throw a leg over (depending on how tall your rack is).  I no longer use trunk bags at all.  Saddlebags often interfere with your thighs while pedaling, and can also swing from side to side while you are climbing.  Mostly, I only use saddlebags on bikes that I will not ride vigorously, and where I can position the bag to sit far enough away from my legs – mostly this would be on larger bicycle frames.

For most riders, carrying weight on the rear of the bike will feel the most stable and natural, but it is is a good idea to think about your bike’s geometry and purpose before embarking on a new bag/rack experience.  You can measure your bike’s angles by using an angle finder, and you can take a rudimentary trail measurement of the front fork rake by following instructions which are readily available on the internet.