Reinterpreting a 1978 Peugeot PR65

I’ve had a  blue 1978 Peugeot PR65 in my shop for some time.  The bike was 100% original when I acquired it, and is in beautiful condition.  I had put it together after its arrival from France, but was unhappy with the ergonomics and with some of the components.

There were two versions of the PR65 in 1978, but only one appears to have been built with the Reynolds 531 tubing used on this bike – the “luxe” model.

The paint quality is very nice, and the bike looks nearly new.  All of the nicer components of this era are present – a Stronglight TS 3 arm crankset with 48/38 rings, Mafac Racers, Mavic rims and Bluemels fenders to name a few.

Plastic Simplex components removed.

Simplex shifters removed.

But the incredibly uncomfortable ergonomics (long top tube combined with low stem and no rise porteur bars) along with the ugly plastic-infused Simplex components made me want to make some changes, which is not something I will usually do with a 100% original bike.  But, a bike that gets ridden is always a better bike than one that is not.

A good example of the hideousness of Simplex’ obsession with plastic during this era is shown above.  A normally elegant downtube cable guide is made into a bizarre monstrosity.  Often these plastic components will break, especially the plastic clamp for the front derailleur, so I also regard these plastic Simplex components as unreliable.

Simplex dropout as modified to accept both Shimano style and Huret derailleurs.

Notch engagement on the Huret derailleur.

B screw engagement for a Shimano style derailleur.

First up was the need to do something about the Simplex dropouts, since I wanted to have other rear derailleur options.  I decided to attempt to file notches in the the plain round unthreaded dropout, and to tap it out to 10M.  I created both a “7 o’clock” notch for Shimano style derailleurs, as well as a set of notches for Huret.  The process took quite a while, but I was successful.

Wanting to be true to the bike’s French heritage, I chose to use replace the Simplex components with Huret, selecting a Svelto for the rear derailleur.  The Huret front derailleur is a bottom pull style that needs housing, so an appropriate Huret cable guide with a housing stop is also needed, as shown above.

Replacing the bars was also not a simple swap, due to the French sized steerer tube.  Since I wanted to use a modern upright handlebar, I needed to sand an appropriate stem down to French size (22.2 to 22.0), which also takes a bit of time and patience.  This is a vintage Cinelli stem mated to a set of Nitto tourist bars.  I needed some strong and reliable shifters to handle the Svelto rear derailleur, and these lovely vintage Suntour bar mounts do a great job.

The bike as now configured is amazingly comfortable – perfect for commuting and for exploring.  If I were to keep this bike, I would probably cold set the rear triangle to 126mm (from 120mm), and build a set of 650b wheels around a nice, vintage hubset.  This would allow use of wider tires than the 700c x 28mm tires shown above, which is about as wide as the bike will accept with the Bluemels fenders.  I’m planning to list this bike soon on my store page, so I’m hoping it will find a new home and have a chance to get back out on the road, as the bike certainly has many miles to go, and will get you there in true French style.

Selecting a Vintage Crankset

1940’s Stronglight 49D

All of my bikes, from “newest” to most vintage are set up with vintage cranksets. I prefer the quality of the finish and materials as well as the reliability of the chainrings and crankarms to newer models.  Of course, there have always been lower end models in any product line, but even low budget vintage cranksets are often superior to their modern day counterparts.

Even my 1990’s Terry ( a NOS frame which I built up with vintage components) features an early ’80s Shimano 600 crankset that has simply never worn out over decades of use. This model is a triple, with separate drilling on the inside of the spider which allows the 30T inner ring to be installed.  Some triple cranksets are equipped this way, rather than reducing the bolt circle diameter (“BCD”) of the spider.

Stronglight 99 with drilled rings, 86mm BCD

T.A. Cyclotouriste crankset with 50.4 BCD

Vintage cranksets are often beautifully made, using a square taper connection to the bottom bracket, and featuring a variety of crank arm lengths, generally ranging from 160mm to 175mm, and bolt circle diameters which vary from the tiny Stronglight 49 & T.A. models 50.4mm diameter used on touring bikes up to 144mm used on high end racing bikes which need larger rings.

Stronglight Model 80 with 86mm BCD

1980’s Ofmega crankset with 144mm BCD

Selecting the right vintage crankset for your bicycles involves many considerations which include:  crank arm and chainring material (steel vs. alloy);  chainring spider design (5 arm vs 3); chain-line and spindle length, crank arm length, torque settings for the attachment bolts, the attachment to the spindle ( square taper ISO vs. JIS, or cottered), number of rings (1,2 or 3); and the all important measurement –  bolt circle diameter (BCD), which determines the smallest ring you can use.  Other ancillary considerations include whether or not to use elliptical chainrings, threading characteristics of the crankbolts and bottom bracket, and what kind of pedal threading you have on the crankarms.

The smaller the BCD, the smaller the chainring you can use with the crankset.  This is very important.  Cyclists who need lower gearing want cranksets with smaller BCDs, so that they can ride steep hills and haul stuff, whether it be a change of clothes, a touring kit, or the week’s groceries.  Unfortunately, many off the shelf cranksets feature large bolt circle diameters, often 130 which can only accept a 38T ring as the smallest. While this shortcoming can be overcome by a triple crank with a smaller inner ring BCD, many cyclists including myself prefer the simplicity of a double crank.  There are many examples of older triple cranksets, but plenty of vintage double cranksets are designed for a wide gear range.  How did they do it?  A smaller bolt circle diameter is the answer.

This T.A. Cyco-touriste crankset shown above is one way to achieve a wide gear range using a two ring crankset.  You’ll see that there is a large tooth difference between the outer and inner rings.  That means it is necessary to use a front derailleur specifically designed to handle the big shift between the inner and outer rings, such as the Simplex Super LJ shown above, which has a large inner cage plus a relatively steep angle on its parallelogram, plus a long cage rear derailleur.

1947 Stronglight crankset with Rosa rings and reverse threading on the non drive side crank bolt, lockring, and BB cup.

If you are using a single chainring, you can’t go wrong with a Stronglight 49D which can accomodate virtually any chainring size that is made. Older French bicycles sometimes featured reverse threading for all the BB components, as on my 1947 Camille Daudon.  French cranksets generally have French pedal threading on the crankarms.  However, it is not difficult to tap out French threading to English if needed, as long as you have the right tools. Velo Orange has a good discussion of this process here. There are still plenty of French threaded pedals available if you find yourself in need.

PWB Prague Warsaw Berlin Favorit crankset

1940’s Rene Herse 3 arm crankset

1947 Peugeot cottered 3 arm crankset

1970’s Stronglight 3 arm crankset

Most vintage cranksets have 5 arm spiders, but some have 3 arms, such as Rene Herse and Stronglight as well as other vintage models, as shown above.  If your crank has a 3 arm spider, you’ll be limited in ring choice, since 5 arm cranks were the standard for many decades.  However, 3 arm cranks are lighter weight, and can look quite elegant without sacrificing strength and reliability.  And, believe it or not, cottered cranks are not necessarily low-end.  Many are very lightweight and strong, as in the beautiful Favorit PWB set on my 1950’s Oscar Egg mixte, shown above.

Sugino crankset with 152mm arms

While much is written, studied and debated regarding the right crank arm length for your cycling endeavors, I hold to the most logical analysis:  shorter cranks for shorter cyclists.  As Georgena Terry has quipped, if we were all 3 feet tall, we would design bikes suited for our bodies’ geometry.  Isn’t that obvious?  Apparently not, but I encourage riders to experiment with a variety of crank arm lengths, as well as to research the health risks associated with riding too long crank arms for one’s height.

Most off the shelf crank arms come in the 170 mm length.  But there are many lengths available, ranging from the shorter 152mm arms up to 185mm or more.  Shorter arms are ideal for bikes with lower bottom bracket heights (which I prefer), and for most of my bikes I use 165mm.  For me, this length offers a comfortable cadence, and minimizes pedal strikes while cornering.

Spindle length is important because it determines whether you can use a double or triple crankset.  The longer the spindle, the greater the clearance of the chainrings from the chainstays.  However, you also need to make sure that your chainline is proper given the crankset and spindle you have chosen.  Ideal chainline is when the chain follows a straight line back to about the middle of the rear cogs when it is inbetween the two rings (or on the middle ring if a triple).  While chainline can be adjusted by rearranging the spacers on a rear axle, it’s also important to make sure that you are using the correct spindle length to insure the best placement for the chain. You can also add spacers to the drive side BB to move the chain out a few millimeters, which is especially helpful if chainstay clearance is a problem.  Park Tools has a good discussion of chainline concepts here.

1941 Goeland with Cyclo cottered crankset

Crankset selection can seem daunting, but it is important to remember that most vintage cranksets, whether square taper or cottered, will be an attractive and reliable addition to your current ride.

Product Review: North St. Grocery Panniers

While searching for locally made COVID masks, I came across a Portland cycling bag company I wasn’t previously aware of.  North St. Bags is located in SE Portland, and was founded by Curtis Williams back in 2009, a bold move considering not only the difficulties of small manufacturing on U.S. soil but also that the Great Recession was fully underway.  The company makes not just cycling related bags, but backpacks and travels duffels as well as PPE gear for virus protection.

The bags pictured above are the “Gladstone Grocery Panniers”, and are available in a number of colors.  However, you can’t go wrong with basic black, no matter what bicycle you ride, and the bags look quite handsome as mounted on my 1975 Centurion Semi Pro.

I’ve used many bags and panniers over the course of my cycling adventures spanning the last 50 years (and hopefully continuing for many more!).  Those many decades of experiences have made me very picky about my cycling bags.  I want a bag that is so well constructed that it will last for a long time if not forever, and to have all the right features that actually work, rather than just looking good.

Most important is how well the bag connects to the rear rack and whether that connection is versatile enough to work on various rack heights and styles, as well as providing for adjustment when used on bikes with shorter chain stays which need to  position the bag more toward the rear of the rack to eliminate heel strikes while pedaling.  These bags fill the bill, with 3 positions for the hook and a very sturdy connection to my vintage Blackburn touring rack.  It was a little difficult stretching the elastic loop enough to get the hooks over the rack tubing, but once on they are completely secure, with no danger of them popping off on rough roads.  However, it might be difficult to mount them on a really tall rack.  This hook system also only works on racks that have a place for the hook to connect to at the bottom of the rack.  Most, but not all racks have this, and that’s why some manufacturers use the “Ortlieb style” connection which can absolutely fit any rack.

The stitching is straight and there are no loose threads or sloppy corners.  The bags close with a buckle and tightening strap, feature two long handles, as well as D-rings for attaching a shoulder strap, which can be purchased as a separate accessory.

I also purchased this organizing pocket which can be attached with Velcro to the bag’s interior.  This model doesn’t come the the strip already sown in, but it’s easy enough to DIY it myself.  Most of their other panniers do feature the strip sown in, and it would be nice if that feature were consistent across the company’s product line.

Here’s where I will position the pocket once I have the Velco strip, as well as a view of the bag’s interior.  It looks reasonably cavernous, but we’ll see about that shortly.

Now for the true test:  how do these grocery panniers compare with the the best grocery panniers out there – Jandd’s.  I’ve been using their grocery panniers, pictured above on the left for at least twenty years, and the bags still look new and have shown no wear.  They have an interior frame which keeps the bags from sagging when loaded down.  The frame collapses and the bags can be folded up when not in use.  Of course, the North St. bags are not constructed with a frame so they do sag a bit when weighted down with a grocery bag filled with a few canned goods and some veggies.  Anything much heavier and they might sag significantly.

Another concern is how the top hooks are positioned:  they place the bags significantly higher than the rack.  Strapping stuff to the top of the rack, as is often needed for oddly shaped items, is more difficult due to the high placement of the bags.

One advantage of these North St. bags over the Jandd bags is the cover, which could help to keep groceries dry during a typical Portland autumn downpour.  I use a rain cover with the Jandd bag, stolen off one of my old motorcycle panniers, but these bags have a long flap.  Unfortunately, it is not long enough to actually cover a grocery bag.  As to being waterproof in general, the bags are not advertised as such but are constructed with Cordura, a tough fabric which is very water resistant and should keep water out for a while if the flap can be fully cinched down.

Panniers can swing from side to side, especially when heavily loaded.  One way to minimize this is to position the mounting hook very low on the bag.  The North St. bag can be easily pushed away from the rack, and has a lot of “swing potential”, due to the high placement of the hook on the bag.  For comparison, the Jandd bag, shown on the right, has the hook placed much lower.  I’ve never felt the Jandd bag swing back and forth while climbing with groceries, and I don’t know yet how the North St. bags will perform as I haven’t tested them out long enough, so on that count, the jury is still out.

I’ll be using these bags over the coming fall and winter, and will plan to update this post with my conclusions.  But, so far I can say that these bags are well-constructed and practical.  They easily hold a full bag of groceries. They are very competitively priced at $60 each, a price so low that I wonder if there is any profit margin at all.  As many readers know, I am highly critical of our American-style consumerism which focuses only on price and not on quality.  These bags seem to offer both, and that’s one reason to consider them for your next pannier purchase.