Reconversion Therapy: 700c to 650b to 700c

I’ve had a long and interesting relationship with this early 1980’s Meral Sportif.  It’s actually the bike that inspired me to start this blog.  I acquired it as a frame and fork back in 2012.  It was going to be the platform for a 650b conversion – the first one I had attempted.

While the conversion to 650b went fine, there were some issues with the bike:  the frame was slightly too small for me, and the bike had serious toe overlap with the fenders I had installed.  I later changed the build in a number of different ways, installing upright bars and different fenders that had a flush connection to the front stays, so as not to engage my shoes.  I put a lot of miles on the bike, and enjoyed tweaking the components, but a couple of years ago I stripped it down to the frame, and set it aside, not knowing what I would do with it.

Recently I have been searching for a project that I could actually start and finish within a reasonable period of time, having become frustrated with a number of other vintage builds presenting road blocks at every turn.  And, I have been wanting to move toward selling many of the bikes in my too large collection.  Due to the pandemic there’s not only a shortage of new bikes and parts, but also a renewed interest in cycling.  So, this seems the perfect time to thin out the stable.

My first thought was to accept the bike as it is:  a small frame designed around 700c wheels. I focused on making the bike true to its French heritage and to its original purpose as a sport riding machine, but with enough all-rounder gear to make it useful for all kinds of riding.

I

I was pleasantly surprised to find that even with these 32mm Paselas, there’s enough room for fenders at the fork crown and rear brake bridge.  I installed a set of beautiful Shimano 600 side pulls, which work very well with the Dia Compe levers on the Phillipe bars.  The bike has its original Shimano 600 headset, French sized, so I didn’t mind mixing all kinds of components, both Japanese and French.

The drive train consists of a Sugino GT crankset with 50/45/34 rings, paired with a NOS Suntour Ultra 13-30 6 speed freewheel.  This gives a wide gear inch range of 30 – 104 – perfect for full speed blasting and hill climbing.  I used a Shimano Deore long cage rear derailleur, the same one I have always used with the bike, as well as a vintage Shimano front derailleur.

Gear changes are seamless with these Suntour stem-mounted ratcheting shifters. It’s nice to have the shifters close at hand rather than on the downtube.  Previously I had installed a converted Huret shifter clamp, allowing Shimano pods to be mounted.

The “new” 700c wheelset consists of vintage Campagnolo Record hubs laced to new Mavic Open Pro rims, a set that I built a while back.  As expected, these wheels are smooth running and spin forever.

The rear rack adds utility, but with the porteur bars up front, a front rack would fit nicely as well.  The frame size is 49 cm (seat tube) X 51 (top tube), perfect for someone about 5’2 to 5’4, but with a shorter inseam than my 30 inches.  I’ll be listing this bike along with some of my others over the winter months and I hope its new owner gets to enjoy it as much as I have.

 

A 1965 Sears 3 Speed

Sears offered many bicycles over the years (all built by other manufacturers), but some of the best ones were those made by Puch/Steyr in Austria.  This 1965 model is very much like the one I rode in my youth over logging roads and along irrigation canals, picking up treasures on my way and loading them into its front basket.

While definitely a copy of the iconic Raleigh Sports bicycle, it also has its own certain charm.  The color scheme, with its black paint and cream accents (probably originally white), surprisingly classy head badge, and “windows” on the head lug make it especially appealing.

This is the bike as it came to me in its unrestored condition, except for a replacement Brooks saddle which I added for these photos.  The original saddle shipped had broken seat rails, and of course I planned to replace the saddle anyway.

This bike has a Sturmey Archer 3 speed AW hub, as opposed to the Puch/Steyr licensed copy found on other models.  You can barely see the “65” date code on the hub in the above photo.

The bike also has Weinmann brake calipers and a proper 3 piece cottered crank.  Other models often featured the cheaper and ugly Ashtabula one piece cranks.

I’ve always been puzzled by the odd “street sign” logo on the top tubes of these bikes.  Is it meant to indicate the way ahead?  The road less travelled? Or??  But, the seat tube logo is very attractive and evocative of the styles of the 1960’s.

The bike’s handlebars are equipped with Weinmann levers and are clamped with a one bolt stem that both tightens the bars and the expander on the steerer tube.

There are nice accents on the fork blades and full color matched fenders, with the rear painted white for visibility.

My biggest worry in restoring the bike is getting the hub in proper working order.  For these photos, and for initial assessment of the hub, I generously oiled it with some light weight lubricant.  Fortunately, the hub spins freely and may only need a flush to clean it, followed by some 30 weight automotive oil to keep it maintained.  The shifter did not perform properly, but these can be fiddly, and with the right cable tension can hopefully be brought back into working order.  If  I need to do a full on overhaul of the hub, I could attempt it myself (if I’m in the right frame of mind), or can send it out to Aaron’s Bicycle Repair in Seattle.  If I decide to do it myself, I’ll watch this video from RJ the Bike Guy, which will undoubtedly convince me to send it out…

I’m looking forward to enlisting this bike as my office errand machine.  It’s bound to offer a comfortable feel, and with the AW hub I should be able to get around on the minor hills in the neighborhood.  I’ll probably add a front basket or rear rack to make it more useful for lunch jaunts and local expeditions. Should be fun!

What to Do With a Benotto?

A few years back I wrote about a 1970’s Benotto that an acquaintance had entrusted into my care for safekeeping.  She finally decided to sell the bike to me, and now I’ve had a chance to disassemble the frame to begin the restoration process.

For a long time I wasn’t sure what model and year this Benotto was.  However, from the Campagnolo component group, with its helpful date codes, I was able to determine that this is a 1972 or 1973 model.  Meanwhile, over the years several enthusiasts have written to me, suggesting this is a 1972 Model 2500 and after looking at the few catalogs available online, I believe I agree.

This interesting lug design, beautifully chromed, has been used on much earlier models as well.

While this model doesn’t have the fancy cutouts in the bottom bracket shell, it is still nicely brazed, with chrome Campagnolo dropouts and fork ends.  It also has eyelets front and rear, adding to its utility.

I’ve been preparing the frame for some touch-up painting.  Fortunately, the areas of paint loss are minimal and pretty contained.  I also encountered a bit of rust on the fork and bottom bracket threads, so I also treated the frame with FrameSaver to prevent any further rust (after thorough cleaning of course).

As expected, the frame was built up with a full Campagnolo groupset.  The components are in very nice condition.  The above photo was taken before beginning the clean up and you can see that my job looks pretty easy.

The crankset (pictured before cleaning) is just a work of art!

The gearing is racing oriented, with a close ratio Regina 5 speed freewheel and 52/42 rings up front.  Likewise, the high-flange Campagnolo Record hubs laced to Fiamme tubular rims speak to this bike’s original function as a racing bike.  And therein lies my dilemma:  what to do with this fine old machine?  Tubulars are just not practical for most cyclists, so one thought I had was to re-lace the hubs to 700c period correct rims (I’ve got a nice NOS set of Mavic’s ready for this purpose).  Alternatively, I could replace the wheelset entirely.  However, I recently read an interesting article by Jobst Brandt about how to re-lace to a new rim without removing the spokes from the hub.  The process involves lining up the replacement rim’s “key hole” with the current rim, and, one-by-one, unlacing the spoke from the existing rim and lacing into the replacement.  Sounds interesting and even more Zen-like than regular wheel building!

Fortunately, this bike is blessed with rear spacing that will accommodate a 126mm hub.  I tried fitting one in and it floated up into the dropouts with no trouble at all, even though the spacing measures at 123.5mm.  That means that a 6 or even 7 speed freewheel is a possibility.  Likewise, clearance at the fork crown and rear brake was large enough to accommodate a 700c 32mm tire and fenders, based on a preliminary dry mount of an alternative wheelset.  So that makes for a lot of reinterpretation possibilities.

However, maybe this is a bike that should be left as is.  A new owner could decide on the tires and wheelset.  But, since my focus is on making vintage bikes accessible and rideable, I’m leaning toward something else, but I just don’t know what that is yet.  Any ideas are welcome!