Upright Handlebars for Smaller Cyclists

With many new cyclists dusting off the bikes hanging in their garages, and trying to get them road-worthy I thought it might be a good time to discuss handlebar options.

Handlebar and stem choices are two of the most important elements contributing to rider comfort.  The above chart from Fred DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling, published back in the 1970’s, provides a nice visual for the effect of hand position on the cyclist’s head and eyes.  Commuting requires attention to all one’s surroundings, so a more upright position is the absolute ideal for a commuter bike.

Velo-Orange Tourist Bars

Don’t be fooled by “flat bars”, often marketed as suitable for commuting.  Flat bars have no rise, the distance which the bar rises above the stem clamp, and no “sweep”, the degree to which the bars angle back toward the rider.  The Velo-Orange Tourist bars, pictured above, have 60 degrees of sweep, and 70 mm of rise.  Depending on your stem selection, that might be just about perfect for commuting.

However, most commuter style bars are too wide for comfort.  V-O’s Tourist bars are 57 mm wide, significantly wider that the drop bars on most road bikes.  For smaller cyclists, I find that it’s best to cut down the bars to the desired width, which will also help prevent the bars from contacting your knees while turning at slow speeds.  The above photos show this process for a Nitto City Bar, which has a slightly higher rise than its V-O counterpart.  These bars are about 52 cm in width, with a long grip area.  After determining my ideal width for these bars, I removed 3 cm of material off of each bar end. I score the bars to the desired length with my caliper gauge, then take a hack-saw to the bars, being careful to cut a straight section off of each end.  I finish that off with a file and then de-burr the inside of the bar.  The result should look clean and even, so that the grips will settle properly on each bar end.  Many commuters do not have access to a vise and the other tools needed to accomplish this.  However, any LBS will accommodate your request to cut down a set of bars to your specs.

The next question is stem choice.  Generally, a shorter stem with longer reach will be needed if you are switching from drop bars to commuter bars.  This Nitto Young stem, pictured above, is an ideal length (height of the stem) for this type of bar conversion.  These stems come in a variety of reach lengths (distance from center of stem to clamp).  Bars come in different clamp sizes, so they need to match the clamp size of the stem.  The two most common clamp sizes are 25.4 and 26.0.

Bars also come in two different diameters – 22.2 and 23.8 are the most common sizes for city and road style handlebars.  Switching from road bars to city bars means new brake levers, shifters, housing, cables, and grips.  Velo-Orange products, shown above, are generally designed for 23.8 diameter bars, but come with shims so that you can also install them on 22.2 mm bars, which is the diameter of the bars shown above.

The number of handlebar options currently available is overwhelming.  From my own experience, I’ve narrowed down my favorite suitable bars for commuting to three options:  V-O’s Tourist Bars, Nitto’s City bars (B483), and Nitto’s Northroad bars (302AA). Other considerations include the length of your top tube.  If you are riding on a too long top tube (something many smaller cyclists must endure), porteur bars are an option when used with a taller stem.

For this conversion, from drop bars, I used V-O’s Grand Cru levers and Shimano bar end shifters mounted to the bars using V-O’s thumb shifter mounts.

You’ll notice that I like to set up the shifters some distance away from the brake levers.  This is so that I can create an extra hand position, shown above, in addition to the position on the grips.  The cockpit area now looks very inviting!

And…here is the end result for the conversion of my 1990’s Georgena Terry road bike to upright handlebars.

1977 Jack Taylor Tandem Restoration- the Beginning

Mafac hood with dual cables

I’ve been waiting to get in the right frame of mind to begin restoration of a 1977 Jack Taylor Tandem that I had shipped from England back in 2012.  Clearly, I’ve been waiting quite a while, but during that time I have corresponded with the original owner’s son, who has provided valuable information about the bike’s history as well as a few family photos of the tandem’s exploits.

Jack Taylor frame at bottom left

I also needed more shop space to enable me to use two stands to aid with disassembly.  That finally happened last Fall, and I now have not only more shop space, but additional bike storage space as well, all in one location.

So I was finally able to remove the components to begin the process of bringing this tandem back to its original glory.  I had already removed the 650b Maxi-Car wheelset and worked on getting the wheels back in order.

I still need to re-glue one of the brake shoes in the front drum hub, but the rear wheel has been overhauled and adjusted.

Jack Taylor frames are built with Reynolds 531 tubing.  The specs for each Reynolds tubeset will vary based on customer request and on the particular application.  A serial number is stamped on the rear drop-out and the steerer tube.  You can see the matching numbers in the above photo – 7183 – indicating this is a probably a 1977 frame, based on the helpful chart provided by Joel Metz at his blackbirdsf.org site.  This chart was developed from information provided by Mark Lawrence, who happens to be the individual I purchased this tandem from.  He sold the bike on behalf of the original owners.  Mark was a long-time friend of the Taylor brothers.

Tandems differ from regular bikes in a number of ways.  There are naturally two bottom brackets, one of which is an eccentric, which aids in adjusting the timing chain so that that both sets of cranks are positioned at the same angle on the spindle, and so that chain tension is properly maintained.  The matching crank arm position is important for cornering, as you want both crank arms upright when descending at speed while leaning over.  Both bottom brackets are T.A. models, and the threaded eccentric appears to say “Rogers”.  It taps out of the frame after loosening the bolts.  Adjustment is made by loosening the bolts, twisting the eccentric to the desired position, and re-tightening.

The components on this tandem indicate that it was the Super Touring Deluxe model, spec’d with Mafac Tandem cantilever brake calipers (plus a Maxi drum brake up front), Stronglight headset, Campagnolo derailleurs and shifters, Campagnolo drop-outs, SunTour Perfect 5 speed freewheel, T. A. cranksets, plus Maxi-Car 650b wheels.

1977 Jack Taylor Tandem with kiddie crank and trail-a-bike

Four cranksets was one more than expected.  Upon corresponding with the son of the original owners, I learned that this was needed to set up the “kiddie-crank” for the young stoker.  His sister contributed to the effort on her trail-a-bike.

As originally purchased 1977 Jack Taylor Tandem

As I’ve researched the history of Jack Taylor Cycles I’ve come across a few sites I hadn’t accessed before.  One of these is the Stockton-on-Tees History site, which has several wonderful posts regarding the history of the “works” building and of the Taylor brother’s exploits:

Jack Taylor Cycles

Jack Taylor Cycle Maker

While the restoration process may take some time, I’m hopeful about the result.  This is a machine worth preserving.

Bike Different

When routines are disrupted, surprising changes take place.  With the COVID-19 pandemic creating so much fear, sorrow, and loss, it’s sometimes difficult to focus on what still remains.  My own cycling patterns have changed.  I’ve had to “bike different” (sorry…Apple) now that human behavior has been altered by the crisis.

Some of the changes are good.  I’ve noticed that I now want to ride a bike that can handle a lot of “different” situations, and can give me a relaxed riding position as I go about altering my usual routes.  With pedestrians “taking the lane” I needed to find other routes for my usual commute.  And, I stopped doing many of my leisure ride jaunts due to crowding on narrow paths.  A not so good change is how many aggressive drivers are out on the road, as compared to the previous amount of way too many.  All of these shifts have meant that I’ve been riding my Rivendell Appaloosa much more frequently.

I had originally built up the frame with a full complement of vintage SunTour components, including a Cyclone rear derailleur and a Sprint double crank, with a Superbe front derailleur.  That system worked perfectly, except for not offering low enough gears for the bike to become a regular grocery hauler and errand bike.  I had reserved it only for pleasure rides, it being fairly pleasurable!

So it was time for a triple crank.  I wanted to continue using vintage SunTour but couldn’t find a SunTour crankset with the right BCD to allow for smaller rings.  Fortunately, this Sugino AT triple fills the bill with its interesting spider and self-extracting crank bolts.  After all, Sugino is the actual manufacturer of SunTour cranksets, so its kind of still SunTour anyway. I set it up with 45/38/28 rings, but still had to add 3 spacers to the 127mm bottom bracket spindle to provide enough clearance with the Appaloosa’s wide chain stays.  The bike is definitely meant to be used with very small rings, kind of mountain bike style.

I could no longer use the superb Superbe front derailleur, so needed something to handle the triple crank.  I decided to “think different” and try out a SunTour BlueLine front derailleur, designed for a double and for larger rings.  It works perfectly with this triple crankset.  Many times I’ve found that components work as not originally marketed.  This BL derailleur is just one example of a vintage component that works outside of its targeted range.

I also replaced the pretty constructeur rear rack I had originally installed with this heftier model taken off a 1980’s touring bike.  Because of the Appaloosa’s long chain stays, I added some extra brackets to get the rack stays attached to the frame.

I’ve been using this Brooks Cambium C-19 saddle, which is quite lovely, and the shape is reasonably comfortable.  However, the rough pattern in the non-leather cover causes chafing.  I’ve been hoping for the saddle to wear smooth over time, but so far that hasn’t happened.

And, part of biking different means alerting walkers and runners to my presence in a more pleasant manner than “on yer left”.  So the Riv has a new brass bell, courtesy of Velo-Orange.  I’m not sure if its reverberating ring is any less alarming to pedestrians than my vocal warning, but it looks nice.

It’s definitely more challenging to cycle right now.  It’s more challenging to do all of the things we normally do.  But, by biking different, I think we’ll come out on the other side of this pandemic with a new found respect for non-vehicular modes of transportation.