The lovely & vintage TA crankset which I selected for my 1980 Meral 650b conversion has been an unusually frustrating interaction between the characteristics of vintage components and modern cycling requirements. I chose this component for two reasons: the crank arms were 160 mm, helping me to eliminate toe overlap on my 1980 sportif frame; and, since the Meral came with a TA bottom bracket, I thought it would be nice to match it to a TA crankset of the same era.
But this crankset was problematic. The big ring had a massive wobble that I had straightened a few times in my vise. And, even though I use a similarly geared crankset on my Terry – a Shimano 600 with 48/40/30 rings – there was something about the TA rings that never really came together. I never landed on my “cruising gear” even though I went through two different cassettes and two different front and rear derailleurs. And, the drive train was always noisy, even after trying a few different chains.
Some frame-up builds come together perfectly, and some require more tweaking. The Meral ended up being in the latter camp.
I decided that I might prefer a compact setup for this bike. Since most of my current riding is commuting, it is important if only for safety reasons not to have to worry about gear selection while riding. My other bikes provide easy and intuitive gear selection, so that my eyes can stay on the road.
A large tooth difference between the chain rings was de rigueur back in the heyday of French cyclo touring. So, maybe it would work for me too. I sourced NOS TA 44 and 28 teeth rings on eBay. The rings are very pretty, and gave the Meral a real “French” look.
Unfortunately, for my kind of riding, the 28 tooth ring did not work at all. Essentially, I was now riding a bike with a single chain ring plus a bail out gear, rather than a regular double crank which allows for even steps between the gears. And, shifting between the two front rings often required a triple shift to maintain cadence. To make matters worse, the small chain ring was noisy in certain gears due to the extreme angle of the chain, front to rear and side to side.
Not one to give up, I decided that a larger toothed small chain ring would be the answer. I ordered a brand new 32 tooth TA ring from Boulder Bicycle. The new ring is beautifully etched, and looks quite fine with the older crankset. Even better, after installing yet another cassette (a SRAM 7 speed 12-32) to accommodate this new gearing, and adding a few links to the chain, the bike’s gearing is perfect for what I need. My new gear inch range is 26 to 95, with even steps between the gears. My shifting pattern is normal, and I have a cruising gear on my big ring that matches a comfortable cadence on a flat surface. While I was at it, I adjusted the Simplex Super LJ front derailleur lower to make my front shifts crisper. This front derailleur uses a parallelogram with an extreme angle, so in order to make it work well, it needs be about 1 mm above the teeth of the larger chain ring, rather than the usual 2 or 3 mm, to achieve ideal shifting.
This bike was meant to take the place of my old beloved 1976 Centurion Pro Tour, which I crashed irreparably in 1999. It has been a “long and twisted road” finding the right bike which can carry me not only to work and back, but to the undiscovered as well as the familiar. But this is what I have been yearning for. A soul mate.