A Bike to Make You Smile

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Last summer, I set aside my 1987 Panasonic MC 7500 frame, after transferring many of its components to a 1989 Bridgestone MB3.  I rode the Bridgestone through the summer and fall, but found myself riding it less and less, and ultimately it sat unridden since last December.  Although that frame is similar in size to the Panasonic, its geometry is slightly different, with a longer and sloping top tube and shorter chain stays.

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You can see the slight differences in frame geometry in the above photos. The Panasonic is a more traditional frame, with more of the rider’s weight closer to the front end of the bike.  For commuting and all-round riding, I like having the weight more evenly distributed, especially given that I haul stuff primarily on the rear rack.

While frame size issues can often be overcome with the right mix of handlebars, stem, and seatpost setback, when a bike isn’t ridden, there’s usually a reason, and sometimes no amount of tweaking the components will solve the problem.

The Bridgestone didn’t make me smile.  So, with anticipation, I brought out the Panasonic frame from storage and began the process of bringing it back to life.  I first did a complete inspection of the frame and fork, cleaned all of the threaded surfaces, applied clear touch up paint where needed, and washed the frame.  Then I polished and waxed it (with several coats), and also treated the inside of the tubes with WD-40.  Then it was time to build it up.

 

I had some inspired moments, deciding to use some period correct Shimano cantilevers, which offer much better modulated braking power than the new Tektro’s I had previously used.  At the rear is a U brake, very fiddly to set up, but the Dia Compe set installed there works fine, so long as I set the pads very close to the rime.

I also decided to go with a double crankset, instead of the single chain ring I had always used when riding the bike previously.  Wanting to keep the weight down (smaller riders benefit greatly from weight savings) I selected a Shimano Crane long cage rear derailleur, along with the drilled Stronglight crankset that I had been using with the Bridgestone.  Velo-Orange porter bars, SunTour bar mount ratcheting shifters and a 6 speed Shimano freewheel finished out the build.

I reinstalled my hand built 26” wheels, which have a V-O rear hub and Quando front hub, both with cartridge bearings, laced to SunRims CR18 rims, which have held up well (although the rear Quando hub failed prematurely a few years back, replaced by the V-O hub).

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I’m riding the bike this summer without fenders, because I’m researching some different fender options.  As I was getting under way for my first test ride I suddenly remembered that riding a bike with cantilevers, sans fenders, can be a safety hazard.  This is because if the front brake cable fails, the straddle cable can get caught up in the tire and fork crown and cause an endo, with related potentially dangerous injuries.  So, I hastily installed a tire saver to hopefully prevent disaster, even though my cables are all new, just in case.  A reflector bracket will also work for this purpose.

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My first test ride on the new build was a delight.  This machine has carried me through cold, rainy winters, and has hauled a lot of groceries and garden supplies.  It’s a beautiful but well used frame, made with double butted Tange tubing, and featuring lovely chromed rear stays.  It’s 80’s color scheme is very visible, especially with the bright orange donor fork that replaced the original fork long before the frame came into my stable.  The bike is a good friend, and it does, indeed, make me smile.

Sunshine Pro-am Hubs vs. Ofmega Gran Premio

Front hubs – Sunshine Pro Am on the left.

Rear hubs, Sunshine Pro Am on the right.

I recently needed to build a wheelset for a bike with 122mm rear spacing.  That meant that I could re-use its original Sunshine Pro Am hubs (spaced at 120mm on the rear), taken off the original tubular rims, or select a NOS hub set of similar quality and from the same era (mid-1970’s).  This might expand my hub choice options, because I could probably more easily locate a 126mm rear axle set, which the rear dropouts can easily accept without having to spread the rear triangle.

I ended up locating a 1980 NOS Ofmega Gran Premio 6200 hubset, with low flanges and 32 holes front and rear.  I had previously restored a few bikes that featured Ofmega components, so was familiar with Ofmega’s quality.

Ofmega Gran Premio 6200

Both sets were similar in weight, with the Ofmega set being only slightly heavier, probably due to the longer rear axle and fewer holes in the flanges. To verify my initial impression of the quality of Ofmega components, I researched the history of the company and discovered that its beginnings are murky at best.

According to VeloBase, the Italian component maker was founded by Mario and Dino Perotti sometime in the 1960’s, when they obtained patents for various bottom bracket designs.  It is posited by the disraeligears site that Ofmega had a relationship to the OMG Company, which in turn may have included the Gnutti brand in its portfolio.  By 2006, Ofmega appears to have finally shut down, although the exact date and cause of its demise is unknown.  For better or for worse, Ofmega is best known for its colorful and strangely shaped rear derailleurs, which evoke derision or amusement, depending on your perspective.

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Sunshine/Sansin’s history is similarly opaque.  I had believed that Sunshine was somehow part of Maeda and SunTour, but I wasn’t sure.  After a number of failed English language Google searches, I tried searching on Yahoo’s Japanese search engine, and came across a Wikipedia post (in Japanese) that I used Google translate to read, then took a picture of the brief entry, shown above. This confirmed that Sunshine was indeed a division of Maeda industries, a company with a very long history going back to 1912. This lead me to focus on what Maeda was doing in the 1970’s when my Sunshine Pro Am hubs were made.

From there I discovered that Howie Cohen of West Coast Cycles (and creator of the NIshiki brand in cooperation with Kawamura of Japan), was instrumental in encouraging Japanese component makers to bring high quality bicycles and components to the US market. Howie has passed away, but a website dedicated to his work lives on.  Howie had personal relationships and went cycling with many of the leaders of Japan’s cycling industry, and successfully convinced them that Americans were sick and tired of riding our heavy one speed balloon tired clunkers.  He turned out to be right.

I ended up deciding to re-use the bike’s original Sunshine Pro Am hubs, which I built using Velo Orange 650b rims.  I had a set of Grand Bois 32mm tires that I had originally planned to use for another project which never materialized.  The tires were relatively easy to mount, although it did take a few inflation/deflation attempts to seat the tires correctly on the rims.  As you can see from the above photos, the highly polished V-O rims look quite fine.

I’m glad I went with the Sunshine hubs – this is my new (old) 1975 Centurion Pro Tour, converted to 650b.  I will share more about the conversion in an upcoming post, but let’s just say for now that I am having a blast riding this well-handling and beautiful old machine.

Vintage Mopeds and Scooters: the Precursor to e-bikes?

1962 VeloSolex moped

A lot of DNA is shared among vintage bicycles, motorcycles, scooters and mopeds.  Pneumatic tires, Bowden cables, chain drive, frame and fork geometry, as well as components including stems, seatposts, handlebars, grips and brake levers were utilized in common across these vintage machines.

I had an early introduction to scooters when my parents trucked home a Honda CT 90 to our rural farm back in the late ’60’s.  Once the little motorbike was off the flatbed, I was stricken with intrigue.  My parents made the mistake of “allowing” me to ride this little machine on the rural roads around our hay farm in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon.  At age 12, I propped my 9 year old sister on the back, and proceeded to ride far afield of my parent’s requirements, even crashing the bike into a ditch in a particularly unpleasant and embarrassing experience.  But most of the time, my spirits soared whenever I threw a leg over.  Even though I had my internal hub 3 speed bike to explore logging roads and irrigation canals, this gas powered machine allowed me to venture much further beyond the limitations of my little kid muscles and my clunky 3 speed Sears-Puch diamond-framed bicycle.

1897 Millet motorized bicycle

Motor-assist bicycles were first introduced over 120 years ago, back in the late 1890’s.  By this time in history bicycles were widely accepted and utilized for transportation, leisure and sport, but with the advent of the internal combustion engine (first developed in 1794) inventors made headway with adapting an engine to a bicycle frame. The above pictured bike utilized an air-cooled radial 5 cylinder engine incorporated into the rear wheel.  The rear fender doubled as the fuel tank.  It used a twist grip throttle, and could be started with pedals, much like modern mopeds.  The bike reached a maximum speed of 21 mph at 180 rpms.  The pedals served not only to start the bike up, but to provide for an alternative option should the engine fail.

Another fascinating approach to power assist on a bicycle was developed by Wall Auto-Wheel. First patented in 1908, this device could be added to any bicycle.  The 118 cc air-cooled single cylinder engine was mounted in a sub-frame which attached to the bicycle at three points.  There was a lever control at the handlebars which operated the throttle.  The whole unit was “lightweight” at 45 lbs.

1947 Whizzer Luxembourg

In the U.S, Los Angeles based Breen-Taylor Engineering developed the Whizzer bicycle engine in 1939.  This was a motor kit which could be added to any bicycle.  As you can see from the above photo, this was no small feat, and required many modifications and enhancements to allow this 150cc engine to perform with relative safety.  Whizzers were often added to the very robust American steel frames offered by Schwinn and others during this era.

After WW2, many different kinds of motor-assist bicycles entered the marketplace.  One of the most common was the “moped” which used pedals to start the bike and assist it on steep inclines when the engine was stressed.  While VeloSolex dominated the market in Europe, many other manufacturers stepped in to provide competition, such as this VAP model depicted above.

The above photo depicts Motobecane’s offerings from 1962.  French bicycle builders embraced the idea of motor-assist and many manufacturers offered mopeds and motor-assist bicycles.

Wall Auto Wheel added to a BSA bicycle. Photo courtesy of http://www.oldbike.eu

But are these historic innovations really comparable to today’s e-bikes?  In some ways they are:  they attempted to take existing bicycle engineering to add motor-assist to the bike, thus extending the bike’s range and reducing fatigue for the cyclist.  Not all vintage motor assist bicycles incorporated the concept of rider pedal assist.  And, as is obvious now, gas powered engines, especially 2 strokes engines, are not environmentally friendly.  Are e-bikes environmentally friendly?  That’s an issue worth exploring, given that the batteries needed to power these bikes require harvesting materials that may have a negative effect on the planet.  That may be outweighed by a cyclist leaving their car at home and commuting on their e-bike.  And, the health benefits of riding an e-bike have been documented in numerous studies.  The behavior of e-bike cyclists was a concern for me initially, but I have noticed that here in Pdx, e-bike riders behave no differently than the rest of us, for the most part.  So, I say, if it has two wheels, get on it and ride!